Galway footballers, still reeling from Sunday’s agonizing defeat, felt the warm embrace of the crowd at Ballybrit yesterday.
Amiens Comer couldn’t walk five feet without players reaching out to shake his hand and tell them how proud they were of him and ‘the boys’.
Damien’s mother, Marie, spotted him from a distance as he walked to the edge of the ring.
After she hugged him, he Irish Independent asked her an obvious question.
“Mrs. Comer, are you very proud of him?”
“Yes, of course. Absolutely always. Even when he’s not playing football.”
There is no antidote to the pain of defeat in Ireland, but perhaps the only thing that comes close is a day at the races in Galway among relatives around the county.
Galway manager Padraic Joyce agreed.
He said he was “disappointed and deflated, but it’s great to be out there.”
“The racing is brilliant. We always come here. I do a couple of horses with Michael O’Callaghan so it’s always a great day.
“You have to remind people that this is not a wake or anything.
“We did everything possible. People say sorry for this and that, but you have to be proud of our lads on Sunday for what they did and the satisfaction they brought to the county.
“The last six or seven weeks have been brilliant. We have to build on it now and move on. We will enjoy the race week and we will see where we are next December.
“It hurts but the lads are a credit to their families and their clubs for what they have done. And guys need to appreciate and understand what they have achieved. Let’s hope the pain and hurt pushes them to achieve bigger and better things next year.
“They are relatively very young and very ambitious guys. We are in a good place.”
Jim Comer (84) of Belclair, picking up his cane, said he’s still in no rush to go, “but I’m not as comfortable now,” he quipped.
“Unlucky today but I think it’s more a matter of rest,” said Jim, who spent decades working on construction sites in London before returning to his native Galway in the mid-1990s.
“I love everything about racing. I have always loved coming here,” he said. “I’ve been to the races in England a lot but it’s hard to beat Galway.”
Liam Casey, of Mill Street, Cork, left his daughter Orna to look after the farm for a few days and he and his wife are living the best life in Ballybrith.
“It’s a family outing — we’ve been coming here for so many years,” he said.
“I’d hate to tell you how long we’ve been going. At this stage, we lost count. It’s nice to meet people year after year, but we don’t make a lot of money.
“There are many of us here from the same district. Over the years, we see the same faces, but we all get a little grayer.
“My daughter Orna takes care of the farm. She also loves horses, but she doesn’t mind letting me go. She’s a good girl.”
Tom Buckley, also from Mill Street and also a farmer, said he enjoyed the day but after the pandemic it was harder to predict a winner.
“For the past three years, everything has been tied up, so the form is harder to read.
“I like to spend the day, but I also like to win,” he says confidently.
Racecourse manager Michael Moloney says he’s been dreaming about the roar of the crowd for the past three years. “It’s an incredible feeling to see people having fun again.
“There’s a lot of excitement about the place and I think everyone is just excited to meet people again.
“We had 15,200 spectators yesterday, so we’re really happy with that. Things have clearly changed over the past few years.
“We’ve been coming here every day for the last three years and it’s been such a quiet, lonely place. To see so many people here yesterday was really special.”
Clergalway milliner Magella Dalton finished the hat at 5.30am yesterday.
“I had to do everyone else first,” she laughed.
Her friend Susan O’Toole was dressed in one of her creations, which took Magella a grueling 12 hours.
But it was worth every second, Susan said.
“This hat was at Ascot, it was in the royal corps. Then I also received good comments,” she said.
But how to get into the royal enclosure?
“You have to be sponsors at the start, but then after a few years, if you’re a British citizen, you’re eligible for membership. Now I can invite my Irish husband over.
“It’s my first time in Galway so I’m just learning the ropes but it’s buzzing. I was in town last night and I couldn’t believe all the people were here and around.”
Sinead Sheridan, from Longford, is spending three days racing with her mother before returning to Hong Kong on Friday.
A lecturer in exercise physiology at China University, Sinead specializes in jockey health.
She speaks passionately and hopes the racing industry will invest more in their welfare.
Sinead faces a week of mandatory hotel quarantine where she can’t even open a window or door when she arrives in Hong Kong, so she’s enjoying every minute of it.