We Speak With Rathgarogue-Cushinstown's Manager Ahead Of Tomorrow's All-Ireland Semi-Final

Wexford club side Rathgarogue Cushinstown will feature in an All-Ireland semi-final clash tomorrow afternoon…

The Wexford side faces Monaghan and Ulster champions Blackhill in tomorrow’s decider, which takes place at 1:30pm in St Conleths Park Newbridge [Kildare].

Ahead of tomorrow’s clash, Wexford Weekly caught up with Rathgarogue-Cushinstown manager, James Bolger, where we spoke about the team’s performances to date, tomorrow’s All-Ireland semi-final, and what it means to the local community.

Rathgarogue-Cushinstown’s rise has been somewhat meteoric. Few would have expected them to come this far, but Bolger isn’t one of those few. He knew he had a good, and very capable team on his hands:

“Starting out in the Wexford Championship, after winning the Junior last year, we always felt that after winning the Junior, we could have a right good go at Intermediate [B]. It was just getting that monkey off the back, to get the ball rolling.”

However, the year didn’t really start as planned for the Rathgarogue-Cushinstown team. They lost on their first day out to the Volunteers, despite being five points up in the first-half and looking dominant.

In the second-round, they played St Martins, and although they were seven-points down at one stage, they came back to win by four. Bolger admits that game was crucial and “gave them a chance, after getting one win from two.”

It was the kick they needed ahead of the third-round against Kilmore. However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing; a number of players went to America, others were injured, and others were in hospital. It wasn’t ideal for management.

Many headaches and a twelve-point loss ensued against Kilmore and really, it was the Kilmore loss that gave them the real kick. Despite the loss though, Bolger knew the eventual return of some key players was imminent, so his hopes remained high for the team.

A few weeks later, the Rathgarogue-Cushinstown team drew with Adamstown, with Bolger nothing that it was nothing short of a “titanic battle”.

But that draw was vital. It meant that if Rathgarogue-Cushinstown won their last two matches, they would go through to the quarter final stages of the Wexford [Intermediate B] Football Championship.

They played Craanford in a must-win group game:

“I haven’t seen, in all my time playing or managing teams, I’ve never seen a team more savage than that day. We were winning by about twenty points and lads were still eating each other for doing the wrong thing.”

“But, I knew at that point, we were on the right road.”

“And we haven’t been beaten since.”

Since that tough beating on the hands of Kilmore, Bolger’s side haven’t lost a game. A win against Cloughbawn in the Wexford quarter-final, a four-point bitter-sweet revenge win against Kilmore in the semi-final, and a win against Clongeen would evenutally crown Rathgargoue-Cushinstown Wexford [Intermediate B] football champions.

Since then, in Leinster, they’ve came up against Kilkenny champions, Mooncoin, and the Dublin champions, Chraobh Chiaran. On beating the Dublin champions, Bolger says:

“Not many gave us a chance…”

“But I knew in New Ross we’d have a fair chance.”

“We did a good bit of homework on them.”

Shannonbridge of Offaly were the next opponents standing in their way, and they faced them in the Leinster Junior Football semi-final. That game would again, be vitally played in New Ross and Bolger had no doubts in his mind that his team would emerge victorious.

And they did, with a 1-08 to 0-07 point win.

December 7th and Leinster final day quickly came around. Unfortunately, this time, they were really up against it. They would face Meath champions, Clann Na Gael, and this time they’d have to travel a bit further than New Ross, as the match was fixtured for Navan [Meath].

“They’re as close to Navan as we are to New Ross, so it was a pure home game for them. But, for a Wexford team to go up to beat a Meath team in their own back-yard at any grade – or at any level of football – is a fair achievement.”

The Wexford representatives won by the minimum, after a thriller of a game, that went to extra time. A 0-13 – 0-12 win in favour of the Wexford natives would see Rathgarogue-Cushinstown lift their first-ever provincial title, a win that would subsequently propel them into the All-Ireland semi-final stages.

Tomorrow, Saturday 11th Jan, Rathgarogue-Cushinstown take on the Monahgan champions, Blackhill, in St Conleth’s Park, in Newbridge.

Because of that, the Christmas season was a bit different for many of the players, management and locals alike this year:

“The preparations are all done. We took a week off after the Leinster final. We’ve trained a good bit over Christmas, five or six times over the period. The lads really bought into it, everyone turned up and it’s a great dressing room to be in. They’re a great bunch of lads. It’s serious stuff once we put our minds to it.”

Other than training for competetive football during the festive period, the structures remain the same ahead of tomorrow’s clash, despite the fact that there’s a place in an All-Ireland final up for grabs. Preparations remain the same, as there’s no need to change a winning formula:

“We won’t be meeting tonight or anything like that. We’ve never met the night before a match. Lads would only get more pepped up otherwise.”

There’s a lot of people looking forward to the All-Ireland semi-final clash in Newbridge tomorrow, but none more so, than those from the local Rathgarouge-Cushinstown communities. But, this team needs that community, the same way the community needs Gaelic football within it. Without the support, Bolger doesn’t believe the team would be playing in an All-Ireland semi-final tomoorrow:

“Getting to an All-Ireland final would be unbelievable. The support we’ve got, off young and old has been fantastic. And not even the parish itself, but the amount of good wishes we are getting from all over the place. I had my godfather today, Oliver, a staunch Adamstown man – and he was even wishing me well!”

“It’s fantastic everyone getting around us. People want us to do well. Obviously, in the local championship, lads want to kill ya, but now, these people are getting behind us. Different people, from all over the place; good football people and good GAA people want us to go and do well.”

“We’ve had huge support – and we hope to have huge support now again tomorrow. Without a shadow of a doubt, we wouldn’t have won that match [Leinster final] in Navan without the support we had that day.”

One game now stands in the way of Rathgarogue-Cushinstown making it to Croke Park for All-Ireland final day. Bolger notes that they’re not even thinking about Croke Park and that they are taking it one game at a time.

The players, the management, the locals, and supporters are all looking forward to tomorrow’s clash – and although they’re under no allusions as to what to expect from the Monaghan outfit, Bolger is adamant that they are going up to Newbridge to win:

“We’re going up there to win, and if we don’t win, we’ll leave very disappointed.”

A win tomorrow would see Rathgarogue-Cushinstown face the winners of the other semi-final, either the Kerry or Mayo champions, in an All-Ireland final in Croker.

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