Champs clinch it with late flourish
Cloughbawn’s stiff resistance finally broken down in the closing ten minutes
It took a run of six points without reply between the 51st and 59th minutes for Oulart-The Ballagh to eventually shake off the persistent challenge posed by Cloughbawn and clinch a magnificent 13th Pettitt's Senior hurling championship crown since 1994 in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
Oulart-The Ballagh 0-17 Cloughbawn 1-11
The complete outsiders offered brave resistance for three-quarters of the game and ensured that the holders didn't have matters their own way, but ultimately the favourites showed the true hallmark of winners as they somehow dug out another victory despite playing poorly for long spells.
Of course, that was due in large part to the battling qualities displayed by Cloughbawn who showed from the outset that they weren't there simply to make up the numbers. Indeed, they played so well in the first-half that they led by 0-7 to 0-6 at the break after playing against the wind, with the much-vaunted Oulart-The Ballagh forward line malfunctioning.
Colm Kehoe came into this final with a growing reputation and absolutely lorded it in the air in particular, while the experienced M.J. Furlong plus the tenacious Davin Murphy were winning their personal battles with Garrett Sinnott and Rory Jacob respectively.
However, true champions simply don't do panic, and there was no sense that Oulart-The Ballagh might completely disintegrate. Their strong panel has been mentioned more than once this season, and once again they were able to shake things up with the introduction of five substitutes.
The fresh legs alone made a telling impact, whereas the majority of Cloughbawn's bench had featured in Saturday's Junior 'A' final loss to Monageer-Boolavogue. And with Johnny Cullen and Corey Bolger hampered by injuries, it meant that Billy Wickham was the sole viable option among their replacements and he was only introduced when the game was lost.
Oulart-The Ballagh tweaked their attacking formation endlessly in a bid to come up with the best formula, and they eventually clicked near the end when team captain Garrett Sinnott was deployed at right half-forward and suddenly the space started to open up.
They also looked to the wise head of full-back Keith Rossiter to restore calm at a key juncture. His display was understated but completely effective, making a series of telling interceptions and clever clearances which left him as a deserved winner of the man of the match accolade.
If that award had been based on first-half performance alone, then Colm Kehoe would have been a unanimous choice no doubt for the judges, but Oulart-The Ballagh must be praised too for the manner in which they curtailed his influence after the interval. The ploy of landing high balls on top of him was axed, and replaced by a crisper, more thoughtful approach featuring an array of their trademark crossfield passes into space.
The reigning champions had opened brightly as Rory Jacob shortened the hurl to scoop over the bar from an outfield Garrett Sinnott pass following an Eoin Moore free after 54 seconds.
Tommy Storey and Paul Foley (line ball) swapped wides before Barry Kehoe blocked Peter Murphy and the ball spun out to county Minor Connal Flood who duly delivered the equaliser in the fourth minute.
Conor O'Leary had to be alert to prevent what would have been the huge tonic of a Cloughbawn goal, darting off his line to get there just ahead of Bob Whitty after Martin Kehoe sent a dangerous ball in from an M.J. Furlong clearance.
Shaun Murphy darted out of his own square with possession after a Barry Carton line ball briefly caused problems, while Whitty displayed nice skill from a Colm Kehoe delivery but struck his shot wide in the seventh minute.
The Cloughbawn backs had settled down well, and Paul Roche didn't stand on ceremony when Colm Kehoe darted forward on the type of run that broke Glynn-Barntown's resolve in the semi-final. Surprisingly, referee Justin Heffernan kept his yellow card in his pocket but the challengers were rewarded as Harry Kehoe's accurate free pushed them into a 0-2 to 0-1 lead.
Roche went on to make three clearances in a row as he was rewarded for good positioning to cut out Cloughbawn deliveries. The third saw Des Mythen fouled by Davin Murphy, with Nicky Kirwan duly equalising in the twelfth minute.
Garrett Sinnott was booked for a high challenge on Colm Kehoe before Oulart-The Ballagh hit the front again from a Kirwan free after a trip on Peter Murphy.
And after the rival number 10s, Harry Kehoe and Des Mythen, posted wides, a good pass from right to left by Murphy gave Kirwan the room to slot over his sole point from play (0-4 to 0-2).
Kehoe was off target from a long-range free before a Davin Murphy clearance reached Cloughbawn captain Alan Carton, and his handpass was dispatched between the posts by Connal Flood whose bright start continued.
Kirwan was fouled by Barry Kehoe and tapped over the free for a 5-3 lead, with Garrett Sinnott's slight flick from a David Redmond centre taking the ball away from the grasp of Cloughbawn netminder Noel Carton but ending up wide.
Des Mythen had another miss on an afternoon when Oulart-The Ballagh hit ten in total while their rivals registered eight.
Martin Kehoe was booked for a foul on David Redmond, but Cloughbawn clearly weren't fazed by the size of the challenge facing them and narrowed the gap to one when Harry Kehoe pointed under pressure from Keith Rossiter after a Davin Murphy clearance broke off Martin Kehoe into the path of Paul Foley.
No doubt Oulart-The Ballagh had hoped to bury their rivals early after winning the toss and opting to utilise the wind first, but it wasn't working out that way. Harry Kehoe latched on to a poor puck-out after his score and fed Bob Whitty for the leveller, but Oulart-The Ballagh edged in front again despite losing their first choice free-taker in the process.
Nicky Kirwan didn't resume in the second-half after going down under a challenge from Gavin Murphy in the 25th minute, with the placed ball duties handed to Rory Jacob who scored at his first attempt.
Cloughbawn ended the half full of intent though and, despite a weak attempt from Paul Foley which fell short, they were back on level terms by the 28th minute after M.J. Furlong fed Harry Kehoe on the right.
A Barry Carton delivery was then finished over the bar by Bob Whitty, leaving the outsiders with a 0-7 to 0-6 half-time lead. And given that Oulart-The Ballagh had only managed two points from play with the wind, their rival supporters were entitled to be more than happy with the exchanges up to that point.
Eoin Moore resumed the second-half at right wing-back on Connal Flood while Michael Jacob was David Redmond's partner at midfield, while Paul Roche was replaced after four minutes by Kevin Sheridan as Shaun Murphy found himself re-deployed at centre-back.
Rory Jacob had brought Oulart-The Ballagh level by that stage from a free earned by Garrett Sinnott, while Alan Carton fluffed his shot when presented with a goal chance from a Colm Kehoe assist.
Barry Carton entered the referee's notebook 50 seconds before a foul on Eoin Moore led to another placed ball converted by Rory Jacob to leave the holders in front by 0-8 to 0-7.
A crossfield pass from Michael Jacob picked out David Redmond for a well-taken point in the 38th minute, while Nicky Kirwan's interval replacement, Murtha Doyle, made a great catch from an Anthony Roche clearance to find Des Mythen for another score to open up a gap of three for the first time.
It was shortlived though, with Cloughbawn showing admirable resolve to recover with unanswered points in the 40th, 43rd and 46th minutes.
Alan Carton caught a puck-out and was tripped, with Harry Kehoe knocking over the free before also scoring from a '65 moments after a booking for David Redmond.
Colm Kehoe intercepted a goal chance fashioned by Murtha Doyle, Rory Jacob and Des Mythen before Eoin Moore (free) and Mythen struck wides, with the latter called ashore just before a weak shot by Kevin Sheridan was punished at the other end when Alan Carton levelled from a Barry Kehoe pass (0-10 each).
Now was the time for Oulart-The Ballagh to show their true qualities, and in fairness they came up trumps. Garrett Sinnott had moved to right half-forward, followed as ever by the diligent M.J. Furlong, in between Cloughbawn's ninth and tenth points, and he was heavily involved in that late surge to the line while Keith Rossiter and David Redmond featured prominently behind him.
The ball emerged from a throw-in on the 45-metre line in the 51st minute to Peter Murphy who fed the overlapping Eoin Moore for the lead point. It proved to be first of six without a response as the huge effort involved in staying in contention up to that stage eventually told on Cloughbawn.
Sinnott created and finished the next point, diving initially to flick the ball away from M.J. Furlong before receiving a pass from Tommy Storey and making it 12-10.
A Keith Rossiter interception and clearance led to a point for Storey, while a Sinnott catch and a Storey pass ended with Peter Murphy widening the gap to four in the 54th minute. That score ensured all six of the Oulart-The Ballagh starting attack, plus both original midfielders, made the scoresheet despite their earlier travails, a tribute in itself to their variety and persistence.
Shaun Murphy cleared a dangerous Harry Kehoe free into the square before Des Mythen, briefly re-introduced as a blood substitute for Anthony Roche, marked his return with a point from Garrett Sinnott's pass from right to left (0-15 to 0-10).
A Rory Jacob free piled on the misery for Cloughbawn, and everyone knew it was a mere consolation when Harry Kehoe responded from a placed ball with their first score in 13 minutes.
A Martin Og Storey catch led to another pointed free for Jacob, before Cloughbawn managed a consolation goal with the second-last puck, just before the four added minutes elapsed.
Colm Kehoe arrowed in a head-high free from the right which struck a defender's hurl and landed invitingly into the hand of Martin Kehoe who rattled the net, but it wasn't enough as the game ended with Oulart-The Ballagh still on the throne and awaiting a home clash with Birr or St. Rynagh's on November 6.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Anthony Roche, Keith Rossiter, Barry Kehoe; Michael Jacob, Paul Roche, Shaun Murphy; David Redmond (0-1), Eoin Moore (0-1); Rory Jacob (0-6, 5 frees), Tommy Storey (0-1), Peter Murphy (0-1); Garrett Sinnott (capt., 0-1), Des Mythen (0-2), Nicky Kirwan (0-4, 3 frees). Subs. - Murtha Doyle for Kirwan, inj. (HT), Dennis Morton for P. Roche (34), Kevin Sheridan for M. Jacob (40), Martin Og Storey for Mythen (46), Mythen for A. Roche, temp. (55-57), Ben O'Connor for P. Murphy (60), also Michael O'Dowd, Billy Dunne, Darren Nolan, Eamonn Murphy, Niall Redmond, Ian Storey, Cormac Finn, Anthony Storey, Seán Murphy, Gary Murphy, Adam Nolan, Colin Sunderland, Tomás Dunne.
Cloughbawn: Noel Carton; Gavin Murphy, Tomás Furlong, M.J. Furlong; Barry Kehoe, Colm Kehoe, Davin Murphy; Barry Carton, Páidí Cullen; Harry Kehoe (0-6, 3 frees, 1 '65), Alan Carton (capt., 0-1), Connal Flood (0-2); Bob Whitty (0-2), Paul Foley, Martin Kehoe (1-0). Subs. - Billy Wickham for Foley (57), also Michael Muldoon, Colin Doyle, David Doyle-Murphy, Thomas Foley, Joey Lawlor, Cathal Spratt, Leslie Monahan, Michael Kavanagh, Eamonn Buckley, Johnny Cullen, Corey Bolger, Shane Flood, Garrett Murphy, Colin Murphy.
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).