IT was like the good old days but with plenty of new faces in Thurles yesterday.
Boys and girls clutched their parents’ hands or skipped ahead as they joined the sea of red pouring into Semple Stadium ahead of the minor throw-in.
Older fans settled back into the familiar rhythm of Munster Final Sunday, with a bodhrán setting the beat for cheers outside Lar Corbetts.
By the time the thousands of fans reversed their journey hours later, the young supporters now knew what it felt like to claim a Munster double and strode out of Semple Stadium, bursting with pride in their Cork colours.
Rebel fans began pouring into Thurles hours before the first match.
Durlas Óg’s ground was open for parking and the stewards reported fans arriving from 9am.
One of the passengers was Oliver Cahill, who turned 70 on Friday.
He was with his son Kevin and two grandsons, aged nine and four, who made straight for the nearby pitches after the drive from Kinsale.
“The boys are so excited, it gives them a chance to run around after being stuck in the car,” Oliver said. “Normally they might sleep on the way but they were just too excited today.”
The Cahill boys were just two of dozens of kids, all in Cork red, knocking sliotars around the field.
Oliver said his grandsons have embraced the recent hurling success.
“We’ve been at every game and it has been magnificent. The excitement for them, seeing the Cork players, they are loving it all.”
Further up the field, the Motherway clan from Midleton fortified themselves with tea and sandwiches before heading to the game. It was seven-year-old Orla’s first Munster final but she already looks like a seasoned supporter, debating her favourite player with her dad and three older brothers.
They joined extended family, including 13-year-old Riain, who flew home from a US holiday to make the game.
Brothers Joe and Cathal Browne, aged seven and 10, and cousin Jack Browne, aged nine, got some practice on their air horns before they headed into the stadium.
“They can’t wait to make noise,”said dad John Browne.
The boys, who all play for Blackrock, have been inspired by the minors as much as the seniors.
“They can see lads just a few years older than them getting to play in finals and it encourages them,” John said. “They are Rockies and love the hurling, we were in Páirc Uí Rinn on Monday and the atmosphere was incredible.”
Cork fans are not the only ones pleased to see their team in the finals; Tony Cleary lives in the shadow of Semple Stadium and was thrilled to see the Rebels in town.
“Cork are a great crowd, the best crowd we get coming to Thurles,” he said.
“They’re great craic, passionate about their hurling and they are great spenders too. I watched all the great Cork teams going back to the ’60s, Ring and Cashman, brilliant hurlers and tough. It is great to see the Cork jerseys.”
For the Under-14s from Carrignavar, it was a first trip to the match, with excitement levels “through the roof” as they travelled up by bus.
Boys and girls were supervised by trainers Martin O’Regan, Eddie Murphy, Pat Dunphy and Vincent Connolly as they almost jogged towards the stadium in their enthusiasm. As Eddie said: “What more could you want? A double header in Thurles for them to watch.”
Between the two games, fans in the stadium were torn between celebrating the minors’ comprehensive win and wondering could the seniors match their result.
Eoin O’Regan, from Buttevent, was adamant they would, “no bother to them”.
His 82-year-old grandfather Micheal, a 60-year veteran of Munster finals, was less sure: “It will be marginal,” he said. “There will be very little in it.”
John Buckley from Midleton was a little more optimistic, saying: “Hopefully they can win by three or four points.”
In they end they went one better, five points ahead when the final whistle went and a wave of red erupted across the field.
The faces of the children as they tore off to congratulate their heroes told the whole story, memories for life and fans forever.
Plenty of older supporters also took the opportunity to go into the pitch for the presentation. Being a fan during dark periods makes you all the more determined to enjoy the good times when they happen.
The Carrignavar kids piled onto the bus with the promise of a stop for chips on the way home, while other groups looked forward to a celebratory pint or two back in Cork.
The fitting conclusions to a victorious day in Thurles.