THE legendary half-back line was together one last time – as it always was with Finnerty on the right, Keady in the middle, McInerney on his left – a unit we marvelled at on the greatest of days, now sharing the load on the very worst of them too.
They’ll always be immortal in our memories, but in life, no longer; this time the lynchpin was being carried by his wingmen to his final resting place.
The other heroes of our halcyon days were there too to make one last journey with the swashbuckling centre-back.
Men like his old comrade on adventures on and off the pitch, Brendan Lynskey; his lifelong friend who hurled with him for club and county Eanna Ryan; Gort and Galway greats like Sylvie Linnane, Pearse Piggott and John Commins.
Everywhere you looked was a hero of the past – Cyril Farrell, Joe Connolly, John Connolly, Sean Silke, Iggy Clarke, Pat Malone, Martin Naughton, Noel Lane, Conor Hayes, Peter Murphy, right back to Jimmy Duggan, a hero from an earlier time.
The current crop of Galway hurlers turned up privately and in numbers to pay their tribute to a man who probably inspired half of them to hurl in the first place.
Old foes came too – old friends once battle was over – from Babs and his Tipp side that were there for our highest and lowest days at GAA headquarters, from Cork, from Offaly, from GAA heartlands where they know a star when they see one.
That Tipp team of the eighties – the ones who stood toe to toe with the men in maroon in Croke Park – were now standing shoulder to shoulder in Oranmore, on the eve of an All-Ireland semi-final to see who would stand in the way of Galway this time, as they attempt to finally bridge a gap back to those glory days.
It would have been a glorious day of hurling nostalgia except for one thing – they had come to bury a hurling lion who had fallen far too soon.
And most of all, in the midst of all these hurling heroes and stories and memories, a family was trying to process the unbearable reality of losing a husband and father, brother and friend.
But, as the man himself always rose to the big occasion, so too did his family; wife Margaret, fifteen-year old daughter Shannon – inseparable from him, as she said, literally and in life – his thirteen-year old son Anthony and the eleven-year old twins Jake and Harry.
They reckoned up to 15,000 filed past the coffin on Saturday and thousands more turned out on Sunday – from the GAA’s hierarchy past and present to the ordinary fans who were lucky enough to see him in his prime.
The Kiltulla Choir did their native son proud too – and the members of Oranmore/Maree and Killimordaly GAA clubs joined the Calasantius College students and those heroes of the eighties to alternate the guards of honour on that final leg of the journey.
Fittingly the final song – led by John Connolly and sung by all – was the West’s Awake, which had once echoed around Croke Park on a September day, at the start of a golden era that the man they buried was to soon become a part of.
The symbols of that glittering career were brought to the altar during the Requiem Mass celebrated by Oranmore’s PP Fr. Fiarmuid Hogan; a Galway polo shirt, an Oranmore GAA jacket, a Killimordaly jersey, a golf ball… the last hurley he ever made.
Gerry McInerney brought his iconic white helmet to the altar; Pete Finnerty brought the hurley that Tony used when he won the man-of-the match award against Tipp in the 1988 final.
They also brought up a sapling ash tree that will be planted in Calasanctius College, where – among his many other contributions – he tended to the garden, and where in time it will grow…perhaps to make other hurleys for other heroes yest to come.