Friday 9 December 2016

'We were the only ones who believed we weren't past it' - Keith Rossiter on Oulart's Leinster glory

Rossiter basking in Leinster glory after Oulart finally shed ‘bottlers’ tag

Michael Verney

Published 22/12/2015 | 02:30

Oulart the Ballagh players Keith Rossiter, Shaun Murphy, Eoin Moore, Barry Kehoe and Kevin Sheridan – picturexd here walking off the pitch at half-time in the Leinster Club SHC final against Cuala at Dr Cullen Park – will enjoy the Christmas break before turning their thoughts to the All-Ireland semi-final. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE
Oulart the Ballagh players Keith Rossiter, Shaun Murphy, Eoin Moore, Barry Kehoe and Kevin Sheridan – picturexd here walking off the pitch at half-time in the Leinster Club SHC final against Cuala at Dr Cullen Park – will enjoy the Christmas break before turning their thoughts to the All-Ireland semi-final. Picture credit: David Maher / SPORTSFILE

It seemed Oulart-The Ballagh were destined to join an unwanted roll of honour including illustrious company such as snooker's Jimmy White, golfer Jean Van de Velde and the Mayo footballers.

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They all have one thing in common, having come excruciatingly close to sporting immortality before crossing the finish line second. You can only be bridesmaid at so many weddings.

That's why the win over Cuala on November 29 is a day that will live long in the memory of Keith Rossiter and Oulart. Four consecutive Leinster final defeats had driven them to breaking point.

The cruellest of those came when they were the hottest of favourites against Mount Leinster Rangers in 2013, but it was activity off the field which hurt most.

"I remember I met Liam Dunne a few years ago and he sent me a picture message. Liam's home place is right on the crossroads as you drive into Oulart and on the cross it's signed for Oulart, and in big black marker underneath it, it said 'the bottlers'," Rossiter says.

"He said 'don't ever forget it' and it's something we haven't forgot. It cuts deep. If anything at all it's the bottle that we showed to come back - how many teams come back from what we've been through?

"You'd nearly throw your hat at it and say 'are we ever going to win one?' but we kept going and showed the bottle to come back and do it."

For a team steeped in county glory - winning six of the last seven Wexford titles - they were always remembered for defeat. And it was the 2014 county quarter-final loss to Glynn-Barntown that proved the catalyst for breakthrough.

Hurling folk in the sunny south east had consigned them to the scrap heap but Rossiter and his Oulart army never lost faith: they had lost many battles but they would win the war.

"The hardest kick we got was losing last year," the full-back admits. "But when you sat back a couple of weeks later you probably realised it was one of the best things that could happen the team. Lads were tired and needed a break. And we needed a break from each other to be honest with you.

"Everyone in Wexford had written us off, we weren't even going to win Wexford again. We were an old team, a beaten team, we were past it. It wasn't true but we were probably the only ones who believed it wasn't true."

For so long Oulart have chased in the shadows of their camogie counterparts, who are reigning All-Ireland club champions, with villagers often questioning 'why can't the boys be as good as the girls?'.

The two Leinster trophies now lie side by side this winter, and with eight brothers and sisters involved between the two panels, the release of emotion at the final whistle in Dr Cullen Park was something special.

Rossiter (31) says: "The word is relief. All the defeats, everything comes into your head. I remember asking the referee what's left and he said 'two and a half gone' and I knew then we weren't going to be beaten.

"All the hard work that has been put in to it, to finally win one. . . If we had been beaten I would have found it very hard to get over it because we're not going to get to play in many more Leinster finals or county finals again."

Having soldiered with the likes of Rory Jacob, Paul Roche and Stephen Doyle since childhood, this victory was even sweeter. As next door neighbours, Jacob and Rossiter have lived in each other's pockets as long as they can remember.

Rossiter was recently followed into inter-county retirement by Jacob, and he acknowledges that the adaptation was quite difficult, so much so that he decided to flee the country when Oulart manager Frank Flannery offered his squad a 10-day mid-season break, when Wexford were facing Cork in the qualifiers.

"I experienced my first summer holiday. I was sitting in a pub in Gran Canaria and it was probably a great place to be because nobody knew me. I watched Wexford playing Kilkenny and it's hard to stand looking at it. But life has to move on and change," Rossiter says.

Speaking of change, Christmas will have an unusual feeling in the village, he says: "It's great to finally have the Leinster cup at home. We've waited a long time for it and I'm looking forward to Christmas for a change - the last couple of years have been tough, there have been a lot of bitter pills to swallow. It's going to be a different.

"I'll be watching the few calories but for the December 25 everything will go out the window. We'll enjoy that but we'll be training around it too. The pressure is off now and for this bunch of players to be one step away from Croke Park is unbelievable.

"It looked unlikely for a long, long time. It's the sort of things that dreams are made of, we couldn't be happier."

Oulart is a happy place for the holidays. Dreams have finally become reality and the bridesmaids finally had their day walking down the aisle.

Irish Independent

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