Newtownshandrum stalwart James Bowles: ‘It’s 11 years since we won a county... that’s what I want’

Newtownshandrum pair James Bowles and Jerry O'Mahony are the only current senior hurlers in Cork with an All-Ireland club SHC medal
Newtownshandrum stalwart James Bowles: ‘It’s 11 years since we won a county... that’s what I want’

FAMILY FIRST: James Bowles pictured at Newtownshandrum’s pitch this week with his girls Sophie, aged 4, and Lilyella, aged 6. Bowles is the only current senior hurler in Cork with an All-Ireland club SHC medal. Picture: Brian Arthur

James Bowles thinks the interview request is a wind-up. He may be the elder statesman of the Newtownshandrum panel.

Along with club-mate Jerry O’Mahony, he may be the only current senior hurler in Cork with an All-Ireland club SHC medal. But in this dressing room that doesn’t mean he can’t be got.

This Newtown set-up are a group of equals, you see. Everyone is fair game.

On his Wikipedia page, Bowles is nicknamed “Penalty stopper (ask Hoggie)”.

The origins? “A rare penalty mishit by Patrick Horgan,” says a bashful Bowles, referring to his save from the Cork captain in last year’s county quarter-final. “That’s why I didn’t believe the phonecall was genuine. You can’t be too careful.”

From poacher when Newtown were dominating Cork and Munster to gamekeeper these last three seasons, it’s appropriate that the 35-year-old is cautious. In recent years, some of the remaining vestiges of that great Newtown era have disappeared, with the likes of John Paul King stepping away. That had been Bowles’ intention before his reinvention.

“I was nearly going to pack it in because hurling had changed, especially in the forward line. The legs weren’t what they used to be. You’d know where a ball was going but getting to it was the thing. Our goalie left and they said they’d try me in goals, did it for a match and I’m still there.”

James Bowles (right) pictured with Ben O’Connor in 2004 after the All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final draw with Kilkenny’s O’Loughlin Gaels in Thurles. Newtown would lift the Tommy Moore Cup in 2004, and Ben O’Connor and Bowles would return to Croke Park to claim the county crown with Cork six months later. Picture: Dan Linehan
James Bowles (right) pictured with Ben O’Connor in 2004 after the All-Ireland Club SHC semi-final draw with Kilkenny’s O’Loughlin Gaels in Thurles. Newtown would lift the Tommy Moore Cup in 2004, and Ben O’Connor and Bowles would return to Croke Park to claim the county crown with Cork six months later. Picture: Dan Linehan

Newtown were flying it when Bowles joined the panel in 2001. Backboned by the O’Connor twins Ben and Jerry and that passing style honed to perfection, three county titles were paired with provincial titles in the next nine seasons. In 2003, he had a dream Munster final scoring 2-3 against Patrickswell before Dunloy were dismissed the following St Patrick’s Day.

After a third county title in 2009, the club were crowned the best of the decade only for things to slide from 2012.

“From 2000 to 2011, we were in the semi-finals every year but a couple (2008, ‘10). I don’t think we’ve been in one since. There was a big difference there between contesting finals, winning four, losing three of them and what happened afterwards. We’ve got to the quarter-finals the last couple of years, Midleton and the Glen have beaten us by a point so we’re hoping that we’re moving in the right direction.

“Back then, you had Ben, Jerry, and Pat Mulcahy and they were there for years together. A lot of that team won three U21s in a row whereas the underage success hasn’t been there the last while. It’s one or two fellas every year. Newtown won the intermediate in ‘96 and with the young lads coming through it made for a good blend and then the young lads took over. They had a lot of time to gel together.”

Six months after John McCarthy lifted the Tommy Moore Cup in 2004, Ben O’Connor lifted Liam MacCarthy from the same Hogan Stand plinth. Populating the stairs below him were five club-mates, Bowles having received a late call-up after John O’Callaghan broke a cheekbone three weeks prior to the final.

It was an occasion of mixed feelings for Bowles. “I had been involved in a few A v B games. You were young and you were only there for a couple of weeks so it was hard to get to know lads. If you were there all year, it would have felt more special. Obviously, I didn’t feel like I deserved it. I was more lucky than anything. Ben was captain too so it was special but I was only helping out.”

As good as that period was for Newtown, Bowles isn’t one for looking back. Not when he sense there are more glory days ahead.

“This is still a special club with a lot of special people. A lot was achieved but it’s always about the next one. It’s 11 years since we won a county and that’s what I want.”

James Bowles pictured at Newtownshandrum’s pitch. Picture: Brian Arthur
James Bowles pictured at Newtownshandrum’s pitch. Picture: Brian Arthur

Under the management team of Cork selector Mulcahy, Gary Morrissey, and Joe Ryan, and a promising clatter of tyros, that belief courses throughout the set-up.

“Pat is over us and he’s brilliant, to be honest. He’s very highly rated in the county, we’re lucky to have him, and Gary and Joe are excellent.

The panel of players we have at the moment, there’s a great spirit there. It’s good fun. The next fella might be 15, 16 years younger than you but everybody gets on with one another. 

“We’re all there to win a county — that’s our main objective at the start of the year. I have a wife and two kids now and if I felt we didn’t have a chance of winning a county you wouldn’t give the effort because it’s a big commitment, like.

“You’re there three or four nights a week but when you know there is a chance of something good there, you don’t want to miss out on it. You see fellas like Cormac O’Brien and Cormac, to me, is the player. On his day, he is brilliant. He was a Cork minor last year and now with the U20s.”

Belief was evident in their stunning late 11-point turnaround against Bishopstown last weekend, which ensured a winning championship start. Six points from the bench helped as did the breather in the second half.

“It was remarkable,” recounts Bowles. “The water break gave us a hand because it allowed Pat, Gary, and Joe to have their talk and people realised that it was now or never, that it was 10 or 15 minutes to come out with a victory or our season could be over.

With Blackrock on Sunday and Erin’s Own in the group, that’s what was facing us and there are no guarantees against any team in Cork. The subs played their part. The three boys had been saying all year that it was going to be a year for the panel and that’s how it has turned out so far.

This year is the first time in a while that we have 22, 23 players who are good enough to be playing. They came on and got six points between them. It’s good to have scoring forwards.”

Bowles can appreciate that as much as his vantage point is from the other end but even there he still has a role in attack. “Pat would just say possession is key. The ball has to be kept. If the short one is on, do it. Twenty years ago it was a case of hitting the ball as long as you could but possession starts from the goal.”

Newtown, as Newtown as ever. That’s no joke.

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