As the Loughmore-Castleiney players warmed down in a corner of Semple Stadium on Sunday following their heart-breaking one point defeat by Na Piarsaigh of Limerick in the AIB Munster Club senior hurling quarter-final, a couple of hundred strong group of parishioners gathered round and after Manager Declan Laffan had said a few quite words to the encircled players, there was a warm and appreciative round of applause from the assemblage.
Spontaneous and sincere, it spoke volumes of the place this bunch of clubmen hold in the hearts of their community.
Against all the odds, crippling injuries and illness, which sidelined four of their players, the red-carding of two more, one after only four minutes and the second after thirty three minutes, they had come within a whisker of pulling off what would have been one of the greatest victories ever by a club accustomed to significant successes.
They led their illustrious opponents until the last minute of ordinary time when a David Dempsey goal pushed the Limerick champions ahead by two points but even then, Loughmore-Castleiney did not capitulate and almost snatched the draw that their efforts deserved as a minimum in the hectic minutes of added time.
It was not to be however, and Declan Laffan summed up the emotions of all in the club when he said afterwards – “We are devastated. I thought we might hang on at the finish but the lads had put in so much effort and were just very, very tired. They are an unreal bunch. I know I am saying the same thing week after week but they are”.
The manager had no comment to make on the red-carding of Derek Bourke and Willie Eviston.
“I did not see the incidents so I cannot say. We will knuckle down and get on with it. We cannot turn back the clock. We have the opportunity to create a bit of history next week-end by doing a county senior double if we can beat Aherlow Gaels in the county football final. If any group of lads can pull it off, this group deserve to,” he added.
Declan reminded us that Loughmore-Castleiney lost to Aherlow in 2010 but had twice come close to the unique county double in 83 and 87 His hope now is that their injuries would have cleared so that he would have a full panel of players to select from.
“We have had a long year. We have had highs and lows over the period. Today is a real low but the pride and courage of these lads is unreal,” he added.
For Loughmore-Castleiney there is the consolation that whatever the outcome in the football final, they will contest the Munster club championship representing Tipperary because Aherlow Gaels are a combination team, Aherlow and Lattin-Cullen, and so ineligible to play in the provincial club championship.
What this means is that the 2013 Loughmore-Castleiney story has at least two more chapters to run – and who will rule out the possibility of this extraordinary bunch of young men taking the story even further?