SLIDESHOW: Limerick hurlers hailed ‘inspiring role models’ by president in Áras an Uachtaráin

PRESIDENT Michael D Higgins has feted Limerick's All-Ireland winning hurlers at a special reception in Áras an Uachtaráin this Tuesday afternoon.

The Limerick hurlers, management team, family and friends and members of Limerick GAA County Board officials spent over two hours at a special reception in the historic Phoenix Park venue.

President Higgins told the gathering of his delight "to honour your magnificent achievement".

"Sabina and I are delighted to have this opportunity to personally salute your achievement and congratulate the team, your coach and manager and, by extension, acknowledge the contribution of parents, family and friends, teachers and mentors and all who helped bring each of you to the point of your great achievement – winning ‘the hurling’ for Limerick," said the president in his speech.

"It has also ensured that you have become inspiring role models for a new generation of young hurlers and thus you are playing a significant role in encouraging the participation of young people in sports. I am, therefore, delighted to acknowledge and pay tribute to your role as athletes.

"By your example and your conduct, you are inspiring young people to participate in sport at all levels. That is so important, and I thank you for that," he said to the players.

"There can be no doubt that last year was a very proud year for Limerick, a year during which you held the MacCarthy Cup high despite being ranked as seventh favourites to go all the way – behind Galway, Tipperary, Cork, Waterford, Kilkenny and Clare. Today you are widely regarded as having one of the strongest squads in the game, a squad which includes Hurler of the Year Cian Lynch and Young Hurler of the Year Kyle Hayes," he outlined.

"For the rest of us, it was a great pleasure to witness the great joy and excitement your magnificent achievement brought to Limerick last year when you defeated defending champions Galway at Croke Park in front of thousands of your delighted supporters who witnessed that historic moment and saw Limerick win the title that they had been seeking since 1973. 

"The rapturous reception in Limerick itself, where tens of thousands of people lined the streets to welcome you home, was also a joyous occasion that brought a spirit of celebration to the county that lasted for many weeks," he said.

"Your achievement is one of which you can all be very proud. It is, of course, not an achievement that came lightly or easily. The road to great sporting success is always a challenging and often a difficult one. While you as players are the ones who have to perform on the pitch on match days, there are many others who play their part as well. Sports teams and clubs can only continue through the tireless work of volunteers, so many of whom are the friends and families of players.

"Whether it is organising fixtures, maintaining buildings and pitches, or fundraising – the dedication of volunteers is vital to sustaining our clubs in every parish and county on this island, and a growing number overseas. I am sure that you will all agree that beside you and behind you from your earliest days were the people who willed you on to excellence," President Higgins told the players.

He explained: "They bought you your first hurley; they taught you how to catch and hit a sliothar; they stood on side-lines cheering you on; they analysed games so that you could do better next time; they marked the pitches you played on; ferried you to matches; cleaned your kit; organised training and they traveled the length and breadth of the country to see you play. 

"So, I thank the coaches, parents, friends and volunteers who played such an important part in bringing such glory to Limerick. I thank you for everything you have worked to achieve, the long hours, the training sessions, the willing on, the guidance, and the many sacrifices you had to make to be there for the team."

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