2016 Will Never Be Forgotten.
A reflection by Colum Thompson
It’s hard to believe that our epic All Ireland Semi Final victory over Sarsfields of Galway happened in this calendar year. It seems like a lifetime ago now but February and March 2016 brought a new high water mark for our club.
The semi final glass ceiling that had halted Ruairi Og progress on eight previous occasions wasn’t just broken, it was smashed in a million pieces as our lads tore the form book to shreds pulverising Galway’s standard bearers. The 6th of February 2016, on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in Páirc Tailteann’s ageing colosseum Paddy McGill’s brace of first half heat seeking missile points signalled Ruairi Og’s intent. Though not registering anything on the scoreboard Eoghan Campbell’s bone crunching shoulder collision with Sarsfield’s marquee name Joseph Cooney sent tremors through the crowd. A ferocity and aggression coupled with a cerebral and steely calmness oozed from the men in maroon.
Ryan Mc Cambridge rose like a thoroughbred plucking ball after ball from the clouds lighting up the grey sky and commander in chief Arron Graffin was dousing flames, rendering potential infernos little more than brief sparks. Neil Mc Manus goaled from the penalty spot and at half time Ruairi Og were in front 1-4 to 0-5.
The trickle of hope running through Cushendall people in the first half soon began to flow as the second half maroon tsunami engulfed all in its path. Mc Manus pointed a free and soon after the unyielding Sean Mc Afee tore a ball out of the sky, obliterated two tackles and serenely finished to the net. Even a Sar’s goal, very much against the run of play could not derail the Ruairi Og juggernaut. Points from Mc Manus(0-3) and Alex Delargy rendered it little more than a bump in the road. In stoppage time Karl Mc Keegan fittingly tapped home a third goal to send the Dall supporters into ecstasy. Full time score Ruairi Og 3-12 Sarsfields 1-6.
Arron Graffin isn’t the first Cushendall man to run out onto Croke Park but when his boot hit the sod on St. Patrick’s Day leading out his team it was a first. The first time Cushendall men have taken the field in their own native maroon and white. They took the field, not for county, province or school. They took the field as Ruairi Og Cushendall. We are well aware that we were beaten in the final by a superb team. We were under the cosh from the very first minute but there was no collapse, no throwing in the towel. Vanquished yes but in a display of honest effort our all was given. It is impossible to deliver and irrational to demand any more than that. We live, train and work with the ambition of returning to Croke Park in the future and going one better.
What does that epic journey of early 2016 mean to our club? Success breeds success and this is a link in the chain of progress, perhaps the strongest link so far. No longer will any young hurler from Cushendall dream of hurling on St. Patrick’s Day as if it was an impossible ambition, a privilege only bestowed on kids from places like Birr, Portumna or Ballyhale. With the right attitude, hard work and commitment it is as realistic and achievable a goal for someone from Cairns, Bellisk or Ballymacdoe as well. We must all put our shoulder to the wheel, take up the slack and make sure we drive on and promise ourselves that we will leave no stone unturned in an effort to return. 2016 is another chapter of progress in our history. Ruairi Og Abu.