Ulster champions Blackhill an hour from 'the big house' in All-Ireland junior semi-final against Rathgarogue-Cushinstown
All-Ireland club JFC semi-final: Rathgarogue-Cushinstown (Wexford) v Blackhill (Monaghan) (tomorrow, Newbridge, 1.30pm)
BLACKHILL are “living the dream” says thrilled clubman Paul West as he prepared for this afternoon's trip to Newbridge where the Monaghan champions take on Wexford's Rathgarogue-Cushinstown for a place in the All-Ireland final.
Like their Wexford opponents, Blackhill are in uncharted territory. Managed by Cavan native Aidan McCabe who is in his first season at the helm, the Emeralds beat Drumhowan in the Monaghan decider and went on to see off Donegal's Buncrana (1-11 to 0-9) to win their first Ulster crown before travelling to Ruislip where they beat British champions Thomas McCurtains 2-11 to 0-10.
Both of those victories were built on a solid defence that is anchored by full-back Donal Courtney and his brothers Anthony and Tomas while corner-forward Michael Geehan has been the spearhead of the attack throughout this campaign.
His younger brother Tommy (scorer of 1-2 against Buncrana) has also been prominent while Philip Donnelly, a playmaking centre half-forward, has been called up to the Monaghan senior set-up on the back of a series of virtuoso performances.
Meanwhile, their Wexford opponents made history late last year by becoming the first club from the Garden County to win a Leinster Junior title. James Bolger's side had beaten Kilkenny's Moincoin, Dublin's Craobh Chiarain and Offaly's Shannonbridge to reach the decider against Meath's Clan na Gael at Pairc Tailteann.
The Meath men led by three points early on but the teams were deadlocked at 0-7 apiece by half-time and the game finished 0-11 apiece at the end of normal time. Daire Bolger had kicked six of his side's scores but it was points from Matthew Cody and Jason Dunne in the first half of extra-time that sealed victory for the Model County representatives.
“It's a fantastic place to be in,” said manager Bolger.
“Blackhill are something we have never faced before, they are a Monaghan team and Monaghan are a Super 8 county nearly every year so the football up there is strong. They are actually the complete opposite of Clann na Gael if anything from what I've seen in the videos.
“They are a physical, strong team whereas Clann na Gael were young and light like ourselves. But we've adapted to every challenge put in front of us this year so we're looking forward to the challenge. Maybe we'll play out of our skins and fall short but I genuinely feel that if we play to our ability we'll win the match.”
Blackhill had accounted for Fermanagh champions Maguiresbridge and Cavan's Killenkere before their victory over Buncrana made them the sixth club from Monaghan to win the Ulster junior title.
“This is living the dream for us,” said club PRO West.
“We have had very little success in the last 60 years but a crop of these players have come together and, in a place as small as what we are, you wouldn't be expecting to win a Monaghan championship never mind get to where we are now - an hour from the big house! (Croke Park)
“Everybody is fit and raring to go, we have no serious injuries. Just to be going to Newbridge tomorrow is brilliant for a wee, small club and these semi-finals are all about trying to win, getting over the line.”