June 26, 1992
DOWN'S AMBROSE ROGERS
As graceful as the South African Springbok, blessed with the vision of a Dutch midfielder and housing the heart of a lion. That's Down's Ambrose Rogers in a nutshell. There are few more animated characters in gaelic games these days. The Longstone utility man is a character alright, easily the most distinctive and arguably the most colourful footballer operating at the very highest level in G.A.A. circles.
It must be said that the Down farmer is a natural born crowd - pleaser, one of a small breed of amateur sports people who can actually make turnstiles click without even stripping off. Long after colleagues Peter Rooney and Colm McAlarney had decided to give the opposing defences a well earned break. Rogers continued to tease, thrill and titillate Gaels across the country. Long before livewires like Mickey Linden and James McCartan began to electrify the crowds, Rogers was causing shockwaves among defensive formations.
For one so frustratingly omitted from the mainstream of things over the last eighteen months, the near 33 year old schemer is still as popular, still as identifiable province-wide as when first he began to strike a chord of appreciation among the purists of the game. Twelve years on from the day he made his debut in a League match against Monaghan, Ambrose Rogers has had every right to feel slightly hard done by as he reaches the twilight of his career. Injuries and not the ravages of time have bedevilled Rogers in his quest of one mighty, lengthy and memorable curtain call. A walk-on role last season, many felt, cheated him of his more rightful central role in the scheme of things. The quality and success of the production justified Peter McGrath's casting however. That said and with all due respect to his blissfully talented attacking colleagues. Rogers is a man for the big stage. A bit-part would suit Laurence Olivier better, one would suggest.
Married to Bronagh (nee Brown) from Hilltown near Clonduff, the versatile Rogers has fitted in surprisingly well in his new found supporting role on the all conquering Down senior side. A lover of the game and a Longstone devotee, the 1981 and 1991 Ulster senior medallist has had no choice but to knuckle down and bide his time in the hottest race for places in the Down team for decades. "I've been working as hard as I've ever done on the training field but with this present Down squad, it's so tough just to maintain your place on the panel", acknowledged one of the game's most approachable activists.
In light of his recent injury trouble, some would say that Ambrose 'ought to be glad he's reached the stage that he's now on the periphery of first team selection, a recent All Ireland winner and an integral part of the possee hunting for it's second prize catch. He is glad, but luck has had nothing to do with his recovery from an injury suffered last April which had swansong written all over it for the Down veteran.
Playing against Donegal in a National League tie at Newry last April Rogers contested a floated centre but fell awkwardly. His right knee locked, immediately. Stricken years before with cartilage trouble in his other knee, big Ambrose realised the seriousness of the trouble, or at least he thought he did. He never imagined that almost five months of recuperation under the supervision of Irish Rugby team medic Dr.O'Shaughnessy would be his lot. Nor did be ever expect "to enjoy the best year, the best memories I've had with the Down team". A paradox? Not if one is familiar with the Rogers Psyche.
A product of Saint Columban's Primary School in Kilkeel and now a full-time farmer with 50 acres and another 30 leased, Ambrose hasn't much spare time to think on things that might have been. After his dreadful injury he expresses his gratitude that for two minutes against Kerry and another four in the final against Meath, he had the opportunity to "earn" his one and only All Ireland medal. He had only rejoined the panel after the Ulster final and he faced up to the prospect of a long spell bike-riding. It proved an experience for him. One which was to make his September reward even sweeter. He admits to being a good spectator, a factor which helped him through his agony on the sideline. His club duties broke the monotony, provided a distraction too. They were duties close to his heart anyway. A most loyal servant of Longstone, people will tell you there that on the evening that Down won last year's Ulster final, Rogers was serving tables at the ceile organised in the local hall that night. On the previous Wednesday, he had walked to the same venue from his home two miles away to clear the hall after Bingo, to make way for a playgroup on the following morning. Skilful, enterprising and one of the most intelligent readers of a quick-fire action sequence, he's well-liked in Longstone and further afield. A pleasant character, locals would tell you
Needles to say, he played a key role in his club's progression to this year's County Senior Championship quarter final. His performance as an emerging defender in his side's defeat of Newry Shamrocks was typical of the man. Fielding underneath the crossbar and then delivering a succession of intelligent passes to relieve the situations of danger. It was a display which had all the hallmarks of a double Railway cup medallist and long-time perfectionist of the game of football.
Along with his father Hugh (Club Treasurer for 38 consecutive years now) and brothers Sean and Hugh Lawrence (a County Senior panelist in '78) Ambrose Rogers is very much a True Blue Longstone clubman. As dedicated a servant of the 1982 Division Two League winners as his uncle, Emmet Hughian, another man synonymous in setting up the Down Supporters Club prior to last year's provincial Championship match against Armagh, Emmet has the distinction of lining out with his son Emmet junior in the Longstone colours during the Senior County Championship campaign of 1988. Now assisting team manager Martin Slevin, Emmet describes Ambrose Rogers as "one of the most loyal clubmen that I've ever heard about or known".
An SDLP Counciller in Newry, Emmet Haughian, former chairman of the South Down Board is still agog at the level of fanaticism and interest generated in Down footballing circles in the aftermath of the County's 1991 All Ireland success. "Before last year the kids around the County would have a lot of soccer stars for idols" Now it's men like Ambrose Rogers. Paddy O'Rourke and Mickey Linden that they all want to be seen with", remarked the long time club secretary who still enjoys recalling the celebrations which took place in Portmarnock, Dublin among some two thousand people on the night of last year's All Ireland final.
As the fundraising and underlying support for the Down team garnered by men like Emmet Haughian has grown, Ambrose Rogers believes that the current Down panel has grown in stature in leaps and bounds. The money raised by Emmet and Co. in the Supporters Club has been well spent. Booklets printed, daces organised, membership cards sold have all contributed to the business of raising standards all round in Down G.A.A. circles. A sort of semi professional approach is Rogers is one player who feels "it is inevitable and a good thing as long as there's no rip-off along the way".
An All Ireland minor Championship winning medallist alongside fellow survivors Pat Donnan and Paddy O'Rourke, the 6 feet 2 inches and 13 stone sure-footed marksman shares with the clans of the Haughians, the Treanor's and the Burdens, a great family G.A.A. tradition in Longstone. Ambrose's uncle John represented his county and club with distinction in the early sixties and he and his brother Hugh Lawrence formed integral parts of the Longstone team beaten by a Tommy McGovern - powered Buren side in the County Championship final in 1986. Ambrose Rogers has a good pedigree alright. He's a thoroughbred, that's for sure.
Comparing the current Down team with the county provincial winning side of 1981. Ambrose firmly believes that the 1992 model has a better pedigree. He even goes as far as to suggest that this year's panel is stronger than last year's unit. With fully fit operatives like Austin, Donnan and Rogers in the wings, the point is well- founded but still not in any way subjective. As for winning back-to-back All Ireland's the self admitted "late developer" and 'erstwhile double provincial under 21 medalist, believes that the Down set-up are looking no further than Ulster at present
"Sure the squad have ambition and the hunger to win this year again, but it's to win the Ulster Championship semi final. Any other talk of hunger is in the minds of the media. It's not part of the players thinking at the minute", explained the maker and executioner of some of the best scores seen over the last decade and more. Curiously, when pressed, Ambrose admits that he personally thought that 1990 would have heralded the Down breakthrough. Injuries to messrs. O'Rourke, Blayney and Kane against Armagh that year, he added, put a spanner in the works though.
Twelve years on from his emergence on the inter-county scene and twenty-four years on from the never-to-be forgotten Down All Ireland win in 1968, Ambrose Rogers is a veritable colossus among his people in tiny Longstone. A hero to all men and a model sportsman to all impersonators. He remembers specifically waiting for five hours in Newcastle to catch a glimpse of the returning 1968 heroes, men like Colm McAlarney and Danny Kelly, of whom he managed to catch a glimpse of as they descended from the team bus. The memory is still fixed in his mind. It was an inspiration. Just like 33 year old Ambrose Rogers!
Written by Kevin Carney
Taken from Hogan Stand Magazine 26-06-92
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