Remarkable rise continues in the football and hurling fields of Crossabeg/Ballymurn 8 months ago

Remarkable rise continues in the football and hurling fields of Crossabeg/Ballymurn

There was despair in Crossabeg/Ballymurn when, after 12 years as a senior hurling team, they sank down to intermediate in 2000.

Looking back on the heady days of the 90s they thought things were going to get better until before they knew it, things were getting worse. It didn't seem that long ago that they pushed Oulart-the-Ballagh all the way in the 1994 senior hurling semi-final but to 2003 the gap was even shorter.

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And to junior hurling, the drop was even starker. As a once proud senior club, it felt like rock bottom when they fell down to junior only to find out, in the choppy aftermath of 2003, that this was no stroll in the park either. Crossabeg/Ballymurn were in free-fall with nothing to grab onto.

Oisin Foley was only a chap back then so growing up, he knew no different than to consider his own club as a junior club. And if the wheel was about to start turning, it had a funny way of picking up speed.

"I'm the only fella that plays GAA from my class in primary school and in the year above me, there's no-one at all that's still playing," says Foley, a brother of Wexford senior hurler Paudie.

"Most of our teams would have only had 16/17/18 players and there'd be some fellas playing rugby and soccer instead so, because of that, all our underage teams were division five and division four and we needed a few amalgamations to keep some of them going."

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It's the rugby and the soccer clubs doing the chasing now.

"The parish is growing now because we're on the outskirts of Wexford and Enniscorthy, but Crossabeg and Ballymurn - they're just two half-parishes outside of Wexford town and we wouldn't have a massive pick..."

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Then after the drought came the deluge.

It didn't happen overnight that they re-joined the senior ranks but it was certainly quicker than any of them could have imagined. That they ascended to senior level not just in hurling but in football too seems barely believable, especially when you consider that, in the big ball, they were floundering in Wexford's sixth tier just a decade ago.

Back then they couldn't have known that winning the county Junior B football title would set them off on a decade of undreamt of success but,  with a Leinster intermediate quarter final against Laois champions Park/Ratheniska coming up this Saturday, they certainly do now. They defeated St James' by 2-8 to 0-4 in that final (then known as Junior D) and in the ten years that have followed, they have competed in no fewer than 15 county finals between both codes.

So from the outside looking in, Crossabeg/Ballymurn's bounce back began in 2011 but having been looked after the way he's been looked after, Oisin Foley knows that, in reality, it began a few years earlier kickstarted by the volunteers that couldn't do enough for them.

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"I suppose the real turn-around, and the moment we really realised we were there or thereabouts was in 2015, when we won the Premier under-21 double. That would have been unheard of for us, beyond our wildest dreams but those wins were special. They were special because, even though we were struggling at underage the whole way up, down in division four and five, it was the same lads who were coaching us then that were coaching us that day in 2015 when we won the double. And those same lads are still involved now too," the younger Foley brother says.

Oisin Foley was DCU's Fitzgibbon Cup goalkeeper for a couple of years.

"The important thing for us was that there was a couple of lads in the club with a vision to get the club back going again when it was going bad and things were on the slide. They set their sights on a ten year plan and put in hours and hours of work in coaching and encouraging us."

"That's what makes the wins and the promotions even sweeter now. It's not only brilliant for players to say I'm hurling senior and I'm playing senior football, it's for those lads who put everything into us. They can say that they played such a big part in that too."

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Their dual approach is similar in a way to the men of the moment in Loughmore-Castleiney but while the Tipperary club were traditionally footballers rather than hurlers, it's the other way around here in this Wexford district.

"It was always just give the football a rattle when you were knocked out of the hurling. Hurling was always given more time within the club in years gone by because of that tradition from the 90s. But now we give them both the same time and effort and as players that mix is really enjoyable and that has helped us along the way.

"We might hurl away for 45 or 50 minutes and then we'd go down and kick football for half an hour then. The majority of lads would play both, there's only a handful that wouldn't because we all enjoy it.

Next year, they'll be senior footballers and for now, it's all football as, after a decade in which they've won Junior B (2011), Junior A (2012), Junior (2014) Intermediate A (2017) and Intermediate (2021) county titles, they've set their sights on a run in Leinster.

"Two of the boys that were on the panel when they won the Junior D in 2011 are still with us. One of the lads is only 28 and he's played football in every single grade in Wexford from Junior D to senior. It's crazy, since 2011, there's only been one year (2011) since then we haven't made it to a county final.

"We still have a relatively young team now. Our oldest fella is only 32 and he's still a chap at heart. There's a good few 25/26 year-olds. It would have been the same core group of lads that would have come through and would have won things together. They came straight into the senior then at 17 and that has stood to us all.

"We've probably lost nearly more than we've ever won. We've played in 15 county finals in the last ten years and we've only won seven. Losing finals is probably more important than winning them. You see how devastated everyone is and you have to to get over it together. After going through the hurt of that, the memories you make and the things you remember then when you win, they'll stay with you forever."