HomeFootballThe late James Bolger was truly one of a kind

The late James Bolger was truly one of a kind


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Even the most mundane daily tasks have been carried out with a heavy heart, and it’s tough to focus on anything else right now other than the untimely passing of James Bolger.

James was Rathgarogue-Cushinstown royalty as far as I’m concerned, even though I know such an accolade would have made him feel uncomfortable.

While his inspiring leadership brought the club’s footballers all the way to Croke Park on All-Ireland final day, he was always keen to ensure the praise this outstanding achievement so richly merited would be directed towards the players.

In local media circles, James was very much the public face of Rathgarogue-Cushinstown, given his long number of years in a successful managerial role.

And in that regard, the club couldn’t have wished for a better ambassador, because the qualities he conveyed ensured we held their entire membership in very high regard.

James was always approachable, helpful, accommodating and friendly – truly a joy to deal with, and someone whose every action highlighted that he was part of a vibrant, progressive, ambitious and welcoming GAA community on the outskirts of New Ross.

At every match, without fail, James would go out of his way to find our reporter beforehand and pass on a sheet that he had written with the exact team line-out in numbers and correct positions.

It was a thoughtful gesture that was always appreciated, and it was the true mark of a man whose animated presence on the sidelines throughout Wexford will be deeply missed.

Indeed, it won’t be easy watching Rathgarogue-Cushinstown play football without him later this year, and many tears will be shed when the green and gold colours return to championship action.

They will be performing with a 16th man to guide them from afar, and whenever they play the name of James Bolger will be foremost on everyone’s minds.

That can be taken as a given, because the man we are all mourning right now was simply too special to ever be forgotten.

My links with James stretch all the way back to 1988, and to my first year writing match reports for this newspaper as a 15-year-old on summer holidays from school.

He featured in one of the earliest county finals I covered, and from that August day onwards I grew to admire a footballer and hurler who always stood out as one of his team’s key performers.

James played at Under-12 level with Adamstown, after attending national school in their catchment area, and that first game when our paths crossed saw them defeat Shamrocks by 1-5 to 0-1 in Wexford Park to capture the Roinn 2 championship crown.

The newspaper cutting of my report is re-produced in full in Jimmy McDonald’s excellent Adamstown club history book, ‘From Distant Past To Ever Present’, and it shows that James lined out at left half-back on a team that also included such notable future stars as Richie Purcell, Jason Lawlor and M.J. Cooper.

This publication reminds me that James also won Under-12 hurling championship and Rackard League football runners-up medals that year, and his happy face beams out from the four photographs of that group adorning the pages.

That’s the one physical attribute I will always remember about James, because he never lost that boyish smile.

It was always a pleasure to see him approaching with the permanent grin that summed him up to a tee.

Fast forward four years, to 1992, and that’s when I really got to know James on a personal level. I was a selector on the Wexford Juvenile football team – along with coach Kevin Kehoe, John Burke, John Curtis, John Denton and the late Seamus Keevans – and the young man who was by then a leading light with Rathgarogue-Cushinstown was a valued member of our squad and one of the key players.

It takes a good operator to make the grade with Wexford at Minor level, but only the exceptionally talented teenagers manage to do so over two successive years.

And James was one of just three players from that 1992 Juvenile squad – along with Pat Forde and Richie Purcell – to make the grade in 1993, coming on for Pat Lacey of Blackwater in a two-point first round loss to Dublin in Parnell Park at a time when the back door didn’t exist.

That match took place a mere three days after his appearance at midfield on the Good Counsel College team that made the breakthrough for the school by defeating St. Colman’s of Fermoy in a replay in Clonmel to capture the All-Ireland Senior football ‘B’ title.

That talented team paved the way for all the riches that followed for the ‘Super Blues’ in the intervening years, and I firmly believe they mightn’t have achieved to the same extent without the pioneering role played by James and his colleagues 31 years ago.

Moving on to 1994, and the rich promise being shown by our under-age footballers brought Wexford all the way to a Leinster Minor final appearance against a Jason Sherlock-inspired Dublin, with his late goal from a Ciarán Whelan pass securing a 2-12 to 2-6 win in Croke Park.

James came on for Garrett Dunne of Fethard in that game, having lined out at centre-forward in the quarter-final success over Offaly plus the draw and successful replay that followed against Meath at GAA headquarters.

In those two Minor campaigns, I had a close involvement with the team as Coiste na nÓg PRO, and James was one of the real characters on the squad.

He had a great rapport with his fellow players and was the ideal person to break any pre-match tension with a quick-witted remark.

However, he also knew when it was time to get serious, and the respect he showed to his mentors and the County Board officers was something that highlighted his upbringing as part of a fine family.

Five years down the line, in 1999, James captained the Rathgarogue-Cushinstown footballers and top-scored with 1-4 in an Intermediate championship final loss to St. Patrick’s, having also featured on the team defeated by neighbours Gusserane in a replayed decider two years earlier.

That led to his selection on the Wexford Junior football team in 2000, and there was an added bonus when he was appointed captain by manager Michael Murphy (Kilrush) and selectors Oliver ‘Hopper’ McGrath (Shelmaliers) and John McCormack (Gusserane).

James Bolger lifting the trophy after captaining Wexford to the Leinster Junior football championship title in 2000.

The front cover of the Yearbook I edited and compiled at the end of that year features a photograph – re-produced here – of James lifting the trophy after guiding his team to a four-point victory over Dublin in the Leinster final in Carlow.

They had earlier overcome Meath in Navan before James kicked a spectacular point from a line ball during a drawn clash with Offaly in New Ross, one of his happiest hunting grounds.

The replay in Tullamore was won by eight points, and the campaign ultimately ended at the All-Ireland semi-final stage with a defeat to Kerry in Nenagh. That loss paled into insignificance after the death of midfielder David Kinsella from Marshalstown in a road accident just one day later.

James made one fleeting final appearance with the Juniors in the 2001 campaign, and after that his distinguished playing career was fully focused on his beloved Rathgarogue-Cushinstown.

In all those years donning the purple and gold, he was following in the footsteps of his father, James Snr., who had the distinction of making three appearances with the Wexford Senior hurlers in the winter campaign of 1968-’69, when they were All-Ireland champions.

He was the first hurler to represent the fledgling club at the highest level, just a short few years after the amalgamation of Cushinstown and Rathgarogue, and he also represented the county at Intermediate level in the championships of 1969 and 1972.

It meant James Jnr. was following in capable footsteps, and his son, Dáire, did the same when he represented Wexford in Under-21 football in 2017, before lining out with the Seniors in last year’s O’Byrne Cup against Westmeath. I know that appearance in The Downs club grounds on a cold January afternoon filled James with immense pride.

He was a handy hurler also, scoring two points from right half-forward when Rathgarogue-Cushinstown defeated Geraldine O’Hanrahans in a local derby to claim the Intermediate crown of 2006 and secure a return to Senior ranks.

James was centre-forward on the Junior football team that went down to Crossabeg-Ballymurn in a county final replay ten years ago, and he moved seamlessly from playing to managing as his own on-field career started to wind down.

Among the many fond memories I have of James, one 24-hour period in October of 2018 stands out more than the rest.

On a Friday night in St. Patrick’s Park, 30 years after I first saw him play in that Under-12 final with Adamstown, he gave his all at full-forward as the club’s Junior ‘B’ footballers beat Craanford in a replay to clinch the county title.

On the Saturday night, back in Enniscorthy but this time under the Bellefield floodlights, James managed the Juniors to a long-awaited championship crown at the expense of Monageer-Boolavogue, having lost the previous year’s decider to St. Martin’s.

Rathgarogue-Cushinstown were on a roll, and their manager was like the Pied Piper as he led them to the Intermediate ‘A’ crown at the first attempt against Clongeen in 2019.

That memorable campaign will be forever remembered with pride by every club member, because it didn’t end until defeat to a superb Na Gaeil side from Kerry in the All-Ireland Junior final in Croke Park.

Along the way there was a Leinster final success after extra-time in Navan against Clann na nGael from Meath, and an equally special victory at the first All-Ireland hurdle over Blackhill from Monaghan in Newbridge.

James was beaming from ear to ear after those memorable victories, and I was delighted to be there for those special occasions to witness first-hand how much their popular manager was adored by the people of Rathgarogue-Cushinstown.

Last year brought an Intermediate final appearance against Naomh Éanna and the promise of more to come, with James still at the helm and planning another determined bid to reach the top flight.

He left a lasting impression on so many people, and that’s why his sudden demise is hitting everyone extremely hard this week.

James’ funeral will arrive at the church in Raheen for Mass at 12 noon on Friday and, in celebration of his life, the family request that those attending wear bright colours.

My deepest sympathy is extended to his wife Trish, children Dáire, Caoimhe and Tomás, father James, brothers, sisters and wider family circle.

James was truly one of a kind, and I was privileged and honoured to have known him for so long and to regard him as a friend.

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