Oulart in five-in-a-row bid
OULART-THE BALLAGH bid to become the first-ever Wexford club to achieve five Senior hurling titles in a row on Sunday next and going on semi-final evidence deserve the favourites tag going into their battle with John Barron's Ferns.
Martin Storey will appreciate however that this game will be anything but straightforward with the most intriguing aspect being the teams' similarity of styles. Ferns still bemoan letting the men in red and black off the hook in last year's quarter-final but the downside of that performance is that Oulart will surely be forewarned of the Ferns men's capabilities.
If we are fortunate enough to have a good dry day this game has the potential to thrill, with serious stickmen on both sides and there are a number of key areas where an advantage gained could be critical. Midfield is an area where Ferns have shaded almost every contest to date but Benny and Tommy face their biggest battle to date, with David Redmond and the in-form Mick Jacob providing formidable opposition.
Another key battle will be Garrett Sinnott and James Tonks who assume serious leadership roles for their teams, and supremacy gained here would be a massive tonic to the respective team. At the other end Paul Morris v. Darren Stamp and John Breen's joust with Keith Rossiter will be critical because to upset Oulart it is vital to disrupt the spine of their defence and both Ferns men possess the capability to do this.
Oulart are experienced campaigners at this stage of competition and a lot will depend on how Ferns react to the occasion of the town's first final since 1969. Their best approach is to enjoy the occasion and leave the pressure with their opponents, and I suspect they will hold no fears of what lies ahead which should ensure that we have an open, top-class final.
There is no doubt that we have the two best teams in the county competing on Sunday for the Bob Bowe, but when in doubt, conservatism steers me in the direction of the experienced, and that is why I tip Oulart to just about shade it. 2013 has thrown up a lot of unexpected results and if Ferns defy my prediction it will probably just fit in with the year just gone by.
Good luck to both teams as well as Glynn-Barntown and the Rapps in the Minor decider, and always remember there is no greater honour than representing your club in a county final. Admittedly there is a pressure involved but you won't thank yourselves for not enjoying the occasion. After all there are no guarantees you will play in another, 'so seize the moment'.
People remarked to me on Saturday last that the Buffers Alley players and supporters looked very calm and subdued when the final whistle sounded at the end of The Courtyard Intermediate hurling final.
On the surface that appeared to be the case but when one wandered in amongst the players who huddled with those closest to them there was as strong an after-match emotion as I have witnessed in all my years connected to the club. The joy and relief was palpable and the appreciation felt towards all the people responsible for this victory very evident, with a clear realisation of how great an achievement this was to bounce back to Senior from such a competitive Intermediate championship after just one year.
There was also a respect for their young rivals from Gorey who showed enough, particularly in the second-half, to suggest that it won't be long before the work at under-age in the town pays dividends and returns them to Senior ranks.
The Alley had hit them with a hammer blow almost on the stroke of half-time but Davy Morris' men fought back valiantly to ensure a very uncomfortable last ten minutes for the winners. All through they had top-class performers in Benny and Peter Travers (Billy Byrne calls him 'Pedro', wherever that came from), and Darren Kelly and Eoin Conroy contributed hugely to the second-half comeback.
They possibly over-relied on young Conor McDonald up front as Bobby Kenny did a good job in tying the Minor up and they possibly needed that second goal to make more serious inroads on the Alley's lead. If Carlsberg did hurlers it would probably be Ciaran Kenny who (not for the first time) gave an absolutely tremendous display at centre half-back.
At the other end his brother Andrew did huge damage with a top-class scoring display which earned him a much-deserved man of the match award. Kevin Roche, Willie Doran and Sean Og Whelan all put in a good hour but it was the overall team strength of the Alley that propelled them to a deserved victory.
Finally, my belief that the eight-team Division 1A league system would get the green light didn't come to pass and a new proposal of an equally distributed Division 1A and 1B seems now likely. It would offer some attractive fixtures to our local public and good high standard games to Liam Dunne and his men in preparation for next year's championship.
Whatever is decided I hope it is given a proper time trial as the amount of changes has been unacceptable over the past decade or so. It's also important not to forget the Carlows and Westmeaths of this world when making our decisions as we need to get as many to the top table as possible.