Saturday 24 August 2019

Rathnure's hurling pride will be put to the ultimate test

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball

There is a saying commonly used in G.A.A. circles that goes: 'the club comes first'. Now that may sound a little false or hollow when all the attention is focused on the county team in the build-up to an All-Ireland final, but one of the most admirable things about people involved in the G.A.A. is that they never forget where they came from.

This is why many clubs face into the most important stage of their championship campaign over the coming days, some fighting for quarter-final placings, while for others it's the challenge of staving off possible relegation.

Recent games have brought some strange results, and these have left once famous but still proud Rathnure in a precarious position as they could yet face a possible relegation play-off depending on results from the final series of group games.

I know how important the G.A.A. club is to communities, particularly to a small parish such as Rathnure. From a personal viewpoint I can relate back to those great games in provincial and All-Ireland club championships, their placing in Wexford G.A.A. along with their massive playing contribution they made to Wexford hurling.

Rathnure was once one of the top providers of players to Wexford hurling both in under-age and adult. Readers will need no promptings to remember the famous Rackard brothers, Jim English, Martin Codd, the Quigley brothers, Seamus Barron, John Conran, Teddy O'Connor, Rod and Dave Guiney, the Murphys, Paul Codd, Jimmy Holohan, just a sample of the many players from the club to wear the purple and gold.

The G.A.A. club in Rathnure is, for parishioners, like a lot of G.A.A. folk, an extension of the family, literally in most cases. So to see the status of Rathnure possibly diluted, dropping back into Intermediate ranks, would not just be a blow to the parish but to hurling in general in Wexford.

Rathnure find themselves in a similar situation to so many rural clubs in particular, with the lack of players coming through the ranks brought about by a decrease in population and emigration.

I have come across so many clubs over recent weeks while reporting on club championship games despairing at the lack of players, leading to walkovers in some cases, which is not just a concern for the present, but has long-term implications for the parish club and its status within the community.

Rathnure now face into a very tough test. They cannot emulate achievements of the past as their approach right now is built around just that single word: survival.

In recent seasons they have managed to cement their place in Senior hurling, without the threat of pushing towards ultimate glory, but with an ageing group of players, it's now quite possible that the years are about to catch up.

If we see a repeat of their last outing then relegation is a real possibility, particularly as they face into a difficult final round game, when even a victory over Glynn-Barntown may not stave off a relegation play-off, as it would be dependant on the outcome of the St. Anne's and Rapparees game.

Rathnure would gladly take the option of a final round victory and see where it takes them rather than having to face into a relegation play-off with Shamrocks, who are propping up the second group. While for the paying public it leads to a fascinating final round of games, for those caught up in the relegation zone it's a worrying time.

There are different sides with different strategies and they could all work, but only a Rathnure victory, along with St. Anne's taking full points off Rapparees, would salvage another year in Senior status for Rathnure. Their worst case scenario would be a relegation play-off.

Rathnure's recent summers have only brought consolidation of their Senior status but this campaign has been like the weather simply atrocious, as their sole point was gained with an opening round draw with St. Anne's, played out in a downpour in Cushinstown.

Rathnure would like to salvage their Senior status their own way - but come the final hour it could be taken out of their hand.

For once it's not a summer, thus far, that has brought consolidation for Rathnure, but one that could lead to the demise of the once proud standard-bearers of Wexford hurling.

All eyes will be focused on Rathnure's final group game against Glynn-Barntown, along with the clash of St. Anne's and Rapparees, with two huge games in prospect.

Wexford People

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