Ferns primed to end great reign
THIS GAME will weigh heavily on the shoulders of Oulart-The Ballagh as will the expectation to deliver five-in-a-row when they clash with Ferns St. Aidan's in this eagerly-anticipated Pettitt's Senior hurling championship final at Wexford Park on Sunday next.
In some ways many have been writing off the chances of Oulart-The Ballagh but the reigning champions have survived each passing game, albeit some by the skin of their teeth, but they still showed enough with that late final quarter surge to see off Shelmaliers in the semi-final to suggest that there is still a kick in the old legs.
The growth of the Ferns St. Aidan's challenge has been steady over the past few years. They proved against the reigning champions in last year's quarter-final they have the skill and ability to match their opponents. On that occasion it was only a lack of self-belief that ensured they allowed a game which they looked like winning to slip away from them.
There was evidence that this is the side the club has been waiting for to bridge that 44-year final gap. They gathered momentum from the outset this year, being hugely impressive in the majority of their games, showing enough skill, passion and commitment to suggest the time could have arrived for this impressive young side to deliver on the big stage.
These days it's only winners that are remembered. Oulart-The Ballagh may be under-performing this season, and perhaps the years at the top are beginning to tell, but they will still be the bookies' favourites going into this final. No one doubts the quality that is everywhere in this side but they have not enjoyed the cruise of the past four years where they were the dominant force in each passing game. Apart from that final quarter flourish against Shelmaliers there has been little indication that this quality will surface on final day.
Ferns St. Aidan's will believe that the time has now arrived for them to take a big scalp. They have stood on the fringes over the past two years but now they have given themselves an opportunity to become the side that will be remembered for ending the reign of Oulart-The Ballagh at the helm of Wexford hurling.
Now it's all about getting across the finishing line and they would be very happy to just come out at the end of a narrow victory. No doubt they believe that it will be very, very tough, but they will be hoping that the glamour of the county final occasion will see them deliver the quality of hurling which the side possesses.
The results have shown that Ferns have been the more impressive side in their path to the final, but against that, Oulart-The Ballagh are a battle-hardened side, with the players knowing only too well what it takes to get over the finishing line. Manager Martin Storey will be calling for one final effort from his troops, but only the players know if they have that type of resilience left in the legs. This will be possibly the side's biggest game of the past four years as they aim to lift the Dr. Bowe Cup for the fifth successive season.
Before a ball is hit in anger, Oulart-The Ballagh will be determined not to hand over the baton. They will believe they are capable of pushing themselves into that elite group of winning five successive county titles. They are a serious outfit and it will take a big performance to beat them.
Ferns have had a long wait for this occasion so they will be determined to make the best of it. They have got a serious amount of momentum going this year. They battled their way to a semi-final victory over Glynn-Barntown, but while the margin may have been only five points, they were by far the more skilful and superior side on the day.
Now they will be hoping to step up further. This extra step is needed if they are to end that long barren spell. You need a lot of things to go right for you on final day. Ferns are in a place none of their players have been before. Defending a county title is very different to trying to win one after so many long years.
If championship form is a pedigree Ferns are in with a great chance. But Oulart-The Ballagh will be looking to their greater experience for survival. It will make for an interesting clash, one to whet the appetite of supporters, even neutrals.
Oulart-The Ballagh will lean heavily on players like Ben O'Connor, Keith Rossiter, Darren Stamp, Shaun Murphy, David Redmond, Rory Jacob and Nicky Kirwan, along with the back-in-form Michael Jacob and team captain Darren Nolan.
Ferns St. Aidan's have the players to stand up to this challenge in the likes of James Tonks, Tommy Dwyer, Ian Byrne, John Breen, Patrick Farrell and Paul Morris, who along with Byrne will be expected to lead the forward charge.
I have a feeling that manager John Barron is getting things right as he moves through the current campaign. I'm taking Ferns to win by a couple of points after what hopefully will be a thrilling final.