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Saturday 21 October 2017

CHAMPS MAKE IT FOUR

DEAN GOODISON In Wexford Park

OULART-THE BALLAGH FAYTHE HARRIERS

2-12 0-13

WITH STYLE, with grit, with superior hurling, and with a sensational defence, Oulart-The Ballagh claimed the Pettitt's Senior championship yet again. Four-in-arow, and there's no end in sight.

The clash, billed as the experienced champions against the popular up-and-comers, was certainly as enthralling as neutrals would have hoped. However, in the end it was the four-timers who had a little extra class in possession, and a little more know-how in the forward ranks; that simply proved vital at the critical junctures of this match.

Keith Rossiter, Oulart-The Ballagh's lynchpin at fullback, chose the 2012 county final as the place to have one of his best games in any jersey, county or club, and he's had plenty of great ones. The champions' captain was simple unbeatable, his full-back line impenetrable, and it was that compete dominance that set the tone for this victory.

The Wexford town men simply couldn't find an answer inside the Oulart-The Ballagh half, and it's telling that the Harriers came out on top in the middle third but couldn't win the match. This county final was truly won in the other two-thirds of the field.

Rory Jacob, almost aloof as he fired three early wides, was always going to have an impact. That Oulart-The Ballagh inside forward line's ability to get out in front and constantly gain possession eventually wore the Harriers down and told for Jacob's vital opening goal, and again as the 29-year-old created Nicky Kirwan's clincher later on.

It's something the other sides in the county have to aspire to, something they have to work towards, because Oulart-The Ballagh have been up there to be shot at for four years now, and they proved yet again that it takes a serious shot to take them down. At the moment nobody has managed it.

In fairness, Faythe Harriers couldn't have given it any more effort from the very first whistle to the last. Maybe their day will come in the seasons to follow but they certainly know what it takes to become county champions now and there's no reason why they can't be challengers for the foreseeable future.

Colm Heffernan and Jacob both had wides on the board before Oulart-The Ballagh opened the scoring through the marauding David Redmond in the fourth minute. Jim Berry picked up a yellow card for a stamp on Garrett Sinnott but Emmet Keeling set up Paul 'Curly' Lambert soon after for the equaliser from wide on the right wing.

Drifting from outside the right upright to inside, Des Mythen grabbed his side's second point but Keeling clawed in a Keith Rossiter clearance and launched over from halfway to level the scores again at the end of the opening quarter.

Despite getting on top in their half-back line, the Harriers then surrendered four consecutive points to the champions. Redmond notched his second following a Mythen lay-off, a point Nicky Kirwan added to after midfielder Redmond was taken down.

Sinnott hauled in his goalkeeper Ben O'Connor's puck-out and pointed for his side's fifth minor, and Rory Jacob finally got his name on the scoresheet when bursting clear of a packed defence to point from 30 metres (0-6 to 0-2).

Just when it looked like Oulart-The Ballagh were building up a head of steam with the light breeze at their backs, Faythe Harriers came roaring back with some fantastic midfield play. Lee Chin fed Kevin Gore for the first of his five points from play and Jim Berry added a free after powerful wing-back Chin was felled.

Richie Kehoe, exemplary in the first period, found Gore with a long pass just before the break and the superb centre-fielder pointed from 80 metres out, a score that left the tie right in the balance at the interval (0-6 to 0-5).

Oulart-The Ballagh added experience at the interval with the introduction of Paul Roche, but it was the Harriers who got on the board first as Gore grabbed score number three just seconds after the resumption. It meant the sides were level for the third time but Oulart-The Ballagh were never headed in the contest and gained the perfect fillip just moments later.

It was Jacob again causing the consternation, collecting a Garrett Sinnott diagonal ball and turning his marker. The manner of his finish to the Harriers net was just as emphatic as the run as he lashed a shot to the top left corner of Ian Scallan's goal from an incredibly tight angle.

Shell-shocked, the Wexford town side fell further behind when Jim Berry was blocked down in defence and Peter Murphy flighted over from close range, and the lead grew to five (1-8 to 0-6) when Jacob pointed on the turn.

Berry popped over a free after he was fouled 55 metres from goal and Rhys Clarke finally evaded the clutches of Keith Rossiter when he picked up at the second attempt and pointed running away from goal on the right.

Kirwan shakily added his second point from a closerange free that clipped the upright on the way through, but Berry replied with his only score from play after good work by young gun Colm Heffernan (1-9 to 0-9).

Another Kirwan free, which was followed by David Redmond's third point, left Oulart-The Ballagh five ahead at the start of the final quarter, but again the Harriers came back and pointed through Wayne Mallon. Then the holders inflicted the second dagger through the Harriers hearts.

Jacob again cut in from the wing, this time from the left side, and took on the shot which was well saved by Scallan, but Nicky Kirwan picked himself up off his knees to pull home the clinching goal (2-11 to 0-10).

The Páirc Charman side kept flooding men into the Oulart-The Ballagh half, with Jim Berry moving in to full-forward, and cut the deficit with scores from Gore and Berry.

Jacob rounded off his contribution of 1-3 in the 55th minute to give Oulart-The Ballagh a six-point lead (212 to 0-12) before Gore fired over from halfway again for his fifth score of the county final.

Harriers put the pressure on at a late stage but only a Berry 20-metre free came close to penetrating the Oulart-The Ballagh goal-line, and in the end captain Rossiter came away with possession from that melee, as he did the 'man of the match' trophy and the Bob Bowe Cup which he collected from Diarmuid Devereux, County Chairman, on behalf of his side.

So, for now, Oulart-The Ballagh go forward into the Leinster championship, again full of hope but maybe with a little less confidence than they exude in Wexford. The fact is, this year they look like a team which has yet to peak, maybe gearing their run to Leinster glory at the right time. Dublin champions Kilmacud Crokes present the first hurdle in three weeks' time and maybe, with a bit more luck, this will be the year for that major breakthrough.

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