GAA

Wexford Club's Junior Football Title Mission Is The Most Inspirational GAA Story Of 2017

Wexford Club's Junior Football Title Mission Is The Most Inspirational GAA Story Of 2017

The past year has been a momentous one for Wexford club Gusserane O'Rahillys. Last year, they won their first Wexford SFC title in 41 years and their U21s were also crowned county champions.

Over the weekend, they claimed a title which they have been chasing since 2008 - the Wexford Junior A Football Championship. The reason behind their mission was a special one: the cup they lifted on Saturday is the Duffin-Browne Memorial Cup. It is named after two former Gusserane O'Rahillys players who tragically died in their late teens in 2003.

Ivan Duffin and David Browne were both killed in a car accident. The tragedy hit the club hard. It took them years to recover, as it would any tight-knit rural area.

Duffin and Browne both played from underage to senior for the club. "They actually played a senior game a week before they died," tells Michael Hennessy, who managed the club in Saturday's victory against Halfway House Bunclody.

In 2004, the families of the two players donated the cup which is now named in their memory. Four years on, Gusserane requested that the club be allowed drop down from the top grade of junior football to the Junior A level. Winning the cup and honouring their former clubmates became a crusade.

In 2008 they made their first final at the grade. They would lose by four points to Glynn-Barntown. That final appearance was a feat they would not replicate until this year. In between, there were six semi-final defeats. "We've had a lot of heartbreak over the last 10 years. Any team that beat us in the semi-final seemed to go on and win it," says Hennessy.

Saturday's game was a close fought one, just a goal separated the teams at the final whistle.

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The age profile of the Gusserane side was at the higher end of the playing scale - there were only five players under 30.

Former Wexford senior footballer John Roche, who turned 50 earlier this year, played the entire game at midfield. Roche lined out in four senior finals with Gusserane - he was on the losing side in all four. Prior to Saturday, the only medal he had won with the club - in an adult football career which started in 1986 - was at intermediate level.

Manager Michael Hennessy with Ivan Duffin's father Mick Duffin
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Though the entire panel felt a duty to win the competition, Roche's midfield partner Robert Browne felt it more than most. Robert is the older brother of David Browne.

"Robert would have sacrificed playing senior football for years to play junior. He would have been there or thereabouts at senior if he wanted to but he wanted to play this to win it," explains Hennessy.

Saturday was also a great day for the two bereaved families.

The two families were delighted. It's taken 10 years to win it. We always took it serious, we got to six semi-finals, every year we tried to win it but we were always coming up against first teams which is always hard when you're a second team. It's always a hard competition to win.

Michael Hennessy has been manager of the Gusserane junior side since 2007. He took up the role two years after a tragic event in his own life. Hennessy has been in a wheelchair since a 2005 car accident.

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It was a single-vehicle car accident. The road was tarred with chippings and there were no signs up. I was coming around a bend and the back of the car hit a ditch and went into a field. I went out through the car. I didn't have many cuts but I had a bruise on my back, it did enough damage.

Though he would have been a couple of years younger than them, Hennessy is connected to Ivan Duffin and David Browne through mutual time spent together on the pitch. He's also vice-chairman of Gusserane O'Rahillys.

Hennessy doesn't see his situation as a major roadblock to managing a team. The toughest aspect: the softer pitches common in the latter part of the year. Heavy going makes negotiating the sideline a more arduous task.

Some of those pitches are fairly mucky. In the summer it's fine.

Usually, you get a good response from lads. You nearly have a better way of handling lads from a different point of view: your own life, what you've gone through yourself in life, I suppose.

After Gusserane beat St. Anne's in the semi-final, Hennessy thought something extra would be required to get his side over the line in the final. That something extra was Mickey Harte. The Tyrone manager arrived last Wednesday to give the panel a talk three days before the game. "I got a contact for Mickey and he was delighted to come down. He was absolutely brilliant, the lads absolutely loved it."

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Hennessy told the panel on the Monday that Harte would be paying a visit. Schedules were cleared, no one wanted to miss out.

Harte emphasised to the players the importance of going out and performing well not just for their families and their club but also themselves. Simple words, but coming from a figure like Harte, they had added significance.

Playing centre-forward for Gusserane on Saturday was former inter-county star Phillip Wallace. In 2008, Wallace lined out at fullback as Wexford fell to Harte's Tyrone in the All-Ireland semi-final. Wallace actually scored two points that day from his defensive station. "He hung on every word Mickey was saying, all the lads did - they were like children," reveals Hennessy.

The Gusserane players and supporters enjoyed a night of celebration following the game. It was there, for many of the players at least, that the party had to stop. The club has another final to contest: a junior hurling decider.  "We actually got beat in the junior hurling final last year as well. We got beat in a replay. We're hopeful," tells Hennessy.

Even if they do not add to the silverware collected over the last year, it has been a great year for the parish - not least because it's mission complete to honour the memory of their friends.

See Also: Three Stories Which Beautifully Capture The Lunacy Of Tommy Walsh

PJ Browne
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