As referee James Owens blew the final whistle on the 19th August this year, the iconic stadium of Croke Park was lit up into a sea of green. After 45 years, Limerick had ended their drought and were crowned All-Ireland Senior Hurling Champions.
It was a day that Limerick hurler Aaron Gillane will not forget in a hurry. We sat down with Aaron to find out what it is like to play on the hallowed turf of Croke Park.
What are your earliest memories of Croke Park?
But over the last few years, I have actually become very good friends with him. He was my idol growing up and he still plays with our club now. We watched him from the Hogan Stand in the 2007 Final. All I can remember is him shifting and flicking the ball over his head!”
When was the first time you played in Croke Park?
“It was actually the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Semi-Final this year against Cork. It was a huge game and some people would think that playing in Croke Park for the first time in front of 70,000 people would phase them but I just got on with it.
I had been talking to Ciarán Carey before the game and he told me ‘it was just another game.’ What he meant was going out there and shaking hands with President and walking in the parade, is just part of the event. It is still a hurling field at the end of the day and he told me to go out and do what we always do. And that did kind of settle me a bit, to be honest!”
Do you feel that playing in Croke Park is different to other stadiums?
“I suppose you can get wrapped up in it all but the main thing I took from Croke Park was the fact that it is the best field that I have ever played on. I used the whole idea of playing there for the first time to my advantage. It’s such a good field and it was a lot easier to get on the ball, so I can’t complain.”
Would it make you more nervous?
“To be honest, I thought it would but it didn’t. We were well clued in before we went out and it didn’t affect us. We had one goal and that was to win the match, so we were focused on nothing else.
We learned our lessons. We were letting teams get a 7 or 8 point lead on us, and then we could have an uphill battle of trying to come back. I think we did it against Clare and Galway in the League, so it was something we worked on in training. The first ten minutes of any game are so important, to get off to a good start, and thankfully, it worked in the Final.”
What is your favourite thing about playing in Croke Park?
“For me personally, it would have to be when I got a score or when someone else got a big score in a match. The roar that comes out of the crowd, would spare you on a bit more as well.”