To stand on the saturated Quay on Monday night really was something special. Rarely has a team which has lost an All-Ireland final been so magnificently received by its own people.
While the rain fell from a grey Waterford sky, tears rolled down many a cheek – be it player, fan or politician. It was that sort of occasion.
The affection emanating from the estimated 14,000-strong crowd enveloped the players and management like a big warm blanket. It was just what the sports psychologist ordered.
Having gone to what must have been for many players the darkest place they’d ever been to in hurling terms, this homecoming proved a magnificent morale booster.
It also provided another reminder of the stuff Waterford people are made of, with local pride hanging heavier in the air than the bulbous clouds overhead.
As the big screens erected along the riverside provided close-ups of several players on the homecoming stage, it was difficult not to well up. For the men before us were hurt ones. Deeply.
Not a single muscle on Ken McGrath’s face betrayed what he was feeling within for this was a man laid bare before us without having to utter a single word.
So too the magnificent John Mullane, who will surely be named as his county’s hurler of the year come annual awards time.
At times last Sunday, in the face of the greatest onslaught inflicted upon a team in the modern hurling era, the De La Salle attacker defiantly stood out like a beacon.
To witness his lung-bursting, sinew straining 70-minute effort in Croke Park was to witness a manifestation of something we all need not just in sport but in everyday life – hope.
And by God did the flag-waving Deise fans provide the hurlers with buckets of it on Monday night. It made me want the opening round of the National League to be played next weekend so one can only imagine what it did for the players.
That to a man they were, as Davy Fitzgerald said, “flabbergasted” by the reception afforded them was as evident as the disappointment they will feel for quite some time after Sunday’s defeat.
Standing outside any Waterford dressing room following a reversal has never been something I’ve relished in my professional capacity.
As someone who’s been involved in team sport for over 20 years, I know what goes through my mind after things don’t go your way out on the pitch. Chatting isn’t one of them.
Yet when you’re operating at inter-county level, with thousands in the stands and thousands more back home watching in their sitting rooms, hoping and expecting, the stakes are cranked up a few notches.
Learning to cope with that is something that comes to all top sportsmen, some quicker than others. Like the joy of success and despair of defeat, that coping mechanism comes with the territory.
After Sunday’s match, victorious Kilkenny manager Brian Cody spoke of how motivation comes from within.
For the vast majority of an athlete’s time, the internals are the only source one requires when it comes to geeing one’s self up before entering the arena. You look inside yourself. You visualise the prize that awaits when you break the tape.
But then something like Monday night on the Quay in Waterford happens and one sees how motivation can be drawn from outside one’s self and sourced from exterior sources – fans, for example.
“Waterford will be back,” said Davy Fitzgerald. Of course they will. And all the magnificent supporters who came out to salute their heroes will be too.
To borrow some Munster Rugby phraseology: “To the brave and the faithful, nothing is impossible.” And that sentiment, just like the Deise’s new adopted song states, means none of us can stop believing.