Another step in a golden era as the holders march on
Published 22/10/2016 | 00:00
A quick glance at the updated Pettitt's Senior hurling championship roll of honour after Sunday's final reveals all there is to know and admire about Oulart-The Ballagh's golden era.
When Cloughbawn won the last of their three titles in 1993, they were following in the immediate footsteps of the Buffers Alley side which shared supremacy with Rathnure for so long.
The two super-powers of the 1970s and 1980s had broken Oulart-The Ballagh's hearts more than once, and that 1992 victory was a twelfth for the Alley.
Yet, when the final whistle brought Sunday's proceedings to a close, it saw the red and blacks leapfrog their neighbours from just up the coast road to Gorey as it was their 13th title in the course of the last 23 campaigns.
This is a quite phenomenal record, and the only club above them on the roll of honour now on 20 is Rathnure who, as a matter of interest, are experiencing their longest barren spell since making the breakthrough in 1948.
When the 2017 campaign begins they will be searching for a first crown in eleven years, but in the past they never had to wait any longer than six championships before upping their overall tally.
Returning to Oulart-The Ballagh, it should also be factored in to the equation that they have lost finals in 2000, 2006 and 2008 since their initial breakthrough in what was the first year for Pettitt's to back the competition as sponsors in 1994.
Therefore, 16 of the last 23 county finals have featured the club's presence, and while that may be getting boring for neutrals, Oulart-The Ballagh don't have to make any apologies for the consistent excellence which has seen them emerge as one of the most formidable outfits in the history of club hurling in Wexford.
They have proven their worth by beating no fewer than seven outfits to claim the Dr. Bob Bowe Cup on final day, with Cloughbawn the latest team to be added to the list.
St. Martin's have suffered more than most with four final defeats, and that's why they cherish 2008 so much when they managed to turn the tables.
Glynn-Barntown, Rathnure and Buffers Alley all succumbed to the masters twice, while Faythe Harriers and Ferns St. Aidan's came up short in 2012 and 2013 respectively.
No matter what way one looks at it, this record of consistency is one of the finest ever managed in the annals of Wexford sporting history.
And yet, a slight warning note must be sounded, because I think even the most partisan of Oulart-The Ballagh supporters would have to accept that the overall performance produced on Sunday wouldn't be enough to see them go at least one step further than earlier this year when they brought Na Piarsaigh of Limerick all the way to extra-time in the All-Ireland Club semi-final in Thurles.
Frank Flannery is certainly shrewd enough to realise that, but he's probably delighted as a result because he can show his charges the DVD from this final and point out to them, if they didn't realise it already, that they are far from the finished article.
Coaches just love winning a game without playing to full potential.
Sunday's game was very close until the last ten minutes, and to give the titleholders their due, when the outcome hung in the balance they were able to step it up to another level.
Cloughbawn deserve immense credit for the part they played in a first final for the club since 2002. Only Noel and Alan Carton, plus M.J. and Tomás Furlong, had playing experience from that game, so for most of their charges it was a new experience and they should be proud of their efforts.
The next goal will be to build on that which is never easy, although the more immediate aim will be to gain something tangible from 2016 first in Friday's Intermediate 'A' football final.
Sometimes a close game can be confused with a good one, as it's an easy trap to fall into.
In my own opinion, while it was tight for over three-quarters of Sunday's clash, the standard was mediocre at best. That is the conundrum now facing Davy Fitzgerald, because fresh talent for inter-county duty is thin on the ground in my view.