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History-Making Wexford Champions Dreaming Of Croke Park Glory

History-Making Wexford Champions Dreaming Of Croke Park Glory

Rathgarogue-Cushinstown made history earlier this month when they beat Blackhill in the AIB All-Ireland Junior Club Football Championship semi-final.

Victory over the Monaghan side made them the first Wexford club to qualify for an All-Ireland club football final.

"It felt like the fastest game that I ever played in, the time just went by like a shot," said Rathgarogue-Cushinstown midfielder Matthew Cody of the one-point win at St Conleth's Park in Newbridge.

"But I was speaking with some people who went to watch us that day and they said they never sat down once. The game was tight — we were up by a point, then they were up by a point — and I think the teams were level five times.

"The conditions were absolutely awful so a point was actually a big lead at any stage in the game. We dug deep in the end and managed to get over the line against a very good side.

"We had to be disciplined to break them down, and I think we got a rub of the green too when we had a goalline clearance early on. But you need that luck, which is something we didn’t get for many years."

Cody is 27 and in his time with the club, hurling has been its main focus. Winning the Wexford junior football title last year means they are now at intermediate level in both codes.

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"There are mainly two cohorts: lads my age who are around 27, and then there is a bit of a gap to the lads who are around 21 or 22," he said.

So it’s a mix of them really. I have two brothers, Peadar and Tadhg, on the team and a first cousin too. We don’t have a huge pick. The parish is a large area but it’s very rural and we don’t even have a village.

There is huge excitement [about playing in Croke Park], none of us have ever played there. It’s sort of on the bucket list of every GAA player to play at Croke Park, so it’s a dream come true to set foot on it.

But we don’t want lads to get there and say ‘oh Jesus, it’s Croke Park’ and get overawed by it, you want them to play the game and not the occasion. We’re obviously trying to get a result. I suppose when the dust settles after the game, that’s when all of this will sink in.

In Saturday's final, they face Na Gaeil of Kerry, who have senior inter-county panel members Jack Barry and Diarmuid O'Connor among their numbers.

Teams from the Kingdom have been hugely successful at this level down the years. Since the All-Ireland Junior Championship was introduced in 2002, Kerry sides have won the title nine times, and been finalists on two other occasions.

"They're a very strong team overall, it’s not just those two players," said Cody.

"You don’t win the Kerry championship for nothing, and they’re certainly going to be the biggest challenge of our lives. We have a great spirit, and we have been underdogs in almost every game we have played this year, except for against Mooncoin (of Kilkenny) in the Leinster championship. We’ll attack the game the same way and please God we’ll get the right result.

"It has just been brilliant in around our club, the place is hopping. The flags are up everywhere and it’s nothing but excitement really. I’m on the committee in the club and my phone has been going mental, we have clubs around the area all wishing us well and sending us messages on social media too. It’s great to have that support at home and from the clubs all around us.

"God almighty, it would be seen nearly as a miracle [if we won]. Especially compared with years ago when there was very little attention given to the football. Whereas now you have children showing up for the games and even going down to our training, it’s been mental, it would mean the world.”

AIB is in its 29th year sponsoring the GAA Club Championship and is delighted to continue to support the Junior, Intermediate and Senior Championships across football, hurling and camogie. For exclusive content and behind the scenes action throughout the AIB GAA and Camogie Club Championships follow AIB GAA on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.

Top photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

See Also: Tyrone Legend Wants Club Finals Played On St Stephen's Day

PJ Browne
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