Rosenallis are in full bloom
By John Harrington
If you drove through Rosenallis, County Laois yesterday, you probably did so at a crawl.
Your progress was surely slowed by the group of locals out lining the road in vivid green and white paint.
Even if you knew little about the area before passing through, the many green and white flags, dressed mannequins, and daubed signs decorating the small village would have let you known what the road-painters were celebrating.
This is a special time to be a Rosenallis native. Their club has won both the Intermediate Hurling and Junior A Football championships in Laois this year, and are now dead-set on claiming a historic double in Leinster too.
On Saturday they will play Bracknagh of Offaly in the AIB Leinster Club Junior Football Championship Final, and then next weekend they’re out against Ratoath of Meath in the AIB Leinster Junior Hurling Championship Semi-Final.
Both Rosenallis teams are drawn from largely the same relatively small pool of players, the majority of who are in their late teens and early twenties.
It’s been a remarkable year for everyone associated with the club, and not surprisingly they’re reveling in it.
“It’s unprecedented, it's been brilliant, it's brought the place to life,” says Rosenallis club chairman, James Dooley.
“I suppose we started from scratch around 16 years ago with some of these young lads. Now it's coming to fruition.
“I think we're the only club outside of Portlaoise in Laois that field teams in both codes all the way up from juvenile level to U-21 and senior on our own. The rest of them are amalgamated at underage levels.”
The Rosenallis success story is a testament to the value of foresight and hard-work.
They have a proud history stretching back to their founding in 1904, but until relatively recently the prospect of them achieving the sort of success they have this year would have seemed extremely unlikely.
The club was in a bad place at the turn of the Millennium, but crucially a few good people were determined to lay the foundation for a brighter future.
“Around the end of 2000 a decision was made to do something with our juveniles, they were on the floor,” says Dooley.
“Players were going to different parishes. Some of our juveniles were playing with the likes of Mountmellick and Clonaslee.
“To an extent here had been no work done in the club with the juveniles for a period of time. The club was just going backwards generally. The structures just weren't there.
“The whole thing had drifted, we had no set-up really. So a decision was made that we had to do something about it.
“We were lucky. We had a few people who moved into the club at the right time from outside. Where we are today is really thanks to that.”
Campaigning on two fronts with the same pool of players is no easy thing for obvious reasons, but it’s been made possible by strong communication lines between hurling team manager Declan Conroy and football manager Paddy Dunne.
Dual-players aren’t being overloaded like they might have been in previous years, and every effort is being made to ensure both teams are successful rather than prioritise the fortunes of one or the other.
“Players aren't out as much now,” says Dooley. “If you were a hurling man you'd say they're not doing as much ball-work as they should be doing. But it's all about trying to keep them fresh at the moment.
“I think last year we were out 21 days out of 30 in June. Between training sessions and matches with both teams. We had to have a look at that.
“This year we're trying to keep the players fresh, especially the dual players that are on both teams. Maybe drop them out of a session if needs be.”
The club’s success this year hasn’t just been an energising one for everyone in Rosenallis, to some extent it has also been a healing one.
Their community was devastated last April when one of the club’s talented young players, Dillon Creagh, took his own life. A team-mate and friend of the generation of players that dominate the club’s hurling and football teams, his death hit everyone hard.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, the club held a counselling service in the local community centre for the young people of the area with the approval of the Creagh family.
“We tried to do what we could do at the time,” says Dooley. “I do think it was beneficial. Listening to some of the parents it was beneficial. At the time you'd wonder was it, but as time goes by it certainly was.
“Dillon was a superb hurler and footballer. He would have played with these players all the way up.
“It was an awful shock. I had him at U-6 right the way up to U-16 training. It was a fierce blow.
“I don’t know if it brought everyone together a bit more, but the lads have all certainly put in a huge effort this year. A huge effort.”
What Rosenallis GAA club has achieved this year is already something seriously special, and they’re not finished yet.
The fact that their hurling and football teams have so far followed up their two county final successes with two wins each in Leinster is a testament to just how driven a bunch of players they are.
Winning two Leinster titles in one year would be a historic achievement, and in Rosenallis they’re allowing themselves to dream.
“It would never be forgotten,” says Dooley. “Even to reach two Finals would never be forgotten. We're underdogs in the football now going into it, but we were underdogs the last two times away as well and came out on top.
“To win one would be fantastic. To win two would be incredible. It's really dream-time at the moment around here.
“Realistically it will be a big ask to even win one. But they're young lads and they're buying into it.”
The acorns planted 16 years ago have grown into mighty oaks.
All images are courtesy of the Rosenallis GAA Club Facebook page.