Holders overcome adversity
Injury-hit Oulart-The Ballagh survive Roche dismissal
A far tougher challenge is virtually guaranteed for Oulart-The Ballagh next time out, but Sunday's commanding AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship quarter-final victory over St. Rynagh's in an ice-cold Innovate Wexford Park did underline their undoubted strength in depth.
Oulart-The Ballagh 2-13 St. Rynagh's 0-9
Forced to start without injured duo Keith Rossiter and Nicky Kirwan, they also lost Eoin Moore midway through the second quarter and then had to play with 14 men for practically all of the second-half after Paul Roche ruined a strong individual display with a straight red card.
Despite the absence of such key figures, their nine-point interval lead was never seriously threatened, with a miserly defence restricting their limited rivals to just five points from play over the hour.
Next up for the provincial holders is the visit of Kilkenny's O'Loughlin Gaels to the same venue on Sunday week, and that will surely be a different kettle of fish entirely. St. Rynagh's had captured the Offaly title for the first time since 1993 with a victory over Birr, and that was the limit of their capabilities.
Competition outside their own county proved a bridge too far on this occasion, with their cause hampered considerably by the absence of inter-county duo Pat Camon and Stephen Quirke. Then again, Oulart-The Ballagh's missing men cancelled matters out, but the Wexford side had a considerable advantage in terms of experience at this level and it clearly showed from the off.
It was a sparky affair at times, with the crowd warmed up by some tetchy onfield exchanges as erratic referee John Keenan awarded 30 frees in all, or an average of one every two minutes.
Oulart-The Ballagh won the toss and opted to play into the town end, with their rivals immediately setting up with a sweeper as county man Niall Wynne dropped back to assist his defence.
The favourites only needed 20 seconds to get off the mark as Paul Roche picked out Rory Jacob for a well-worked point, with Tommy Storey doubling the advantage one minute later.
Centre-back Aidan Treacy got St. Rynagh's going from a free after county footballer Joey O'Connor was fouled on a solo run, with their captain, Seán Dolan, booked for a heavy frontal challenge on Eoin Moore in the seventh minute. Moore was on the receiving end of another knock near the end of the first quarter and was eventually replaced by Michael Jacob.
Paul Roche (free), Des Mythen and David Redmond all fired wides in the first ten minutes, but Oulart-The Ballagh were steadier when shooting thereafter and ended the half with just one more miss, from Rory Jacob.
Their third point was a well-worked move featuring Peter Murphy and Jacob before Des Mythen applied the finish. Jacob made it 0-4 to 0-1 after catching an indirect Conor O'Leary free to re-start the game after that second injury to Eoin Moore, with Matthew Maloney pulling back a point from a St. Rynagh's free after David Redmond tripped Joey O'Connor.
The first Oulart-The Ballagh goal was a shining example of glorious teamwork, and once that went in the writing was on the wall for the Banagher side. It arrived in the 19th minute when Kevin Sheridan - selected in the unusual role of right half-forward - exchanged quick handpasses with Garrett Sinnott before unselfishly sending the ball across the square from the left for teenage attacker Murtha Doyle to crash home from close range (1-4 to 0-2).
St. Rynagh's didn't help their cause with a couple of wides from an overall first-half tally of seven, and an excellent long-range point by Paul Roche was followed by a converted Rory Jacob free after Peter Murphy caught a Conor O'Leary puck-out and was fouled.
Temperatures rose in between when David Redmond was booked for a high challenge on Matthew Maloney, with Garrett Sinnott and full-back Dermot Shortt continuing their running battle elsewhere.
And although Joey O'Connor finally grabbed the first Rynagh's point from play in the 30th minute, Sinnott responded inside 30 seconds. It was a superb effort too from tight to the right sideline, with the Oulart-The Ballagh captain patting Shortt on the back as the ball sailed over to remind him who was boss in that particular battle.
There was still time for Rory Jacob to knock over a couple of frees before the half-time break arrived with the Wexford kingpins ahead by 1-9 to 0-3.
The second period was only under way a mere 20 seconds when the sound of a clatter off the ball directed eyes in the stand to a grounded Joey O'Connor. Westmeath linesman Michael Murtagh raised his flag immediately, and Paul Roche was duly sent-off to heap unnecessary pressure on his colleagues.
However, they responded superbly, with Kevin Sheridan reverting to his more accustomed role at left half-back, Michael Jacob shifting over to the right wing, and the seven players remaining at midfield and in the forwards realising that they would have to work their socks off more than ever before.
That didn't prove to be a problem, with scores in short supply for the rest of the third quarter which ended with Oulart-The Ballagh holding a 1-11 to 0-6 lead.
A Rory Jacob free was cancelled out by Matthew Maloney with a good effort from play on the right, and David Redmond then split the posts before Maloney had to be content with a pointed free after referee Keenan called play back even though Seán Dolan had picked out Paul Quirke who had space ahead of him to trouble the defence.
Aidan Treacy narrowed the gap to eight from a free, but the Oulart-The Ballagh backs were in no mood to lie down as they converged on Ronan Hughes as he raced forward with menace before Peter Murphy relieved the danger with an uplifting clearance.
The hard-working Joey O'Connor registered his second point but the response was impressive, with David Redmond passing to Rory Jacob who had the vision to switch play to the left wing from where Des Mythen raised another white flag (1-12 to 0-7).
Substitute Ger Scales pointed and then came close to adding a goal with a head-high shot after an Aidan Treacy free which fizzed narrowly wide.
Peter Murphy caught the resultant puck-out, exchanged passes with Des Mythen, and got his name on the scoresheet via the right post.
Aidan Treacy struck the last Rynagh's point but Oulart-The Ballagh finished on a high note by adding a second goal in the last minute of normal time.
Joey O'Connor miscued a delivery which only went as far as Rory Jacob, with the experienced attacker finding Peter Murphy. He in turn spotted substitute Billy Dunne completely unmarked close to goal, and the teenager - on the field for a mere four minutes - duly parted to another replacement, Martin Og Storey, who beat Conor Clancy with a composed finish.
One incredible fact to note is that in winning this game, Oulart-The Ballagh became the only one of Wexford's eleven teams, across four different codes, to win a game in the current provincial championships! As our sole standard-bearers, they should have the entire county behind them when Brian Hogan, Martin Comerford and their colleagues make the short journey from Kilkenny on Sunday week, with Cuala (Dublin) or St. Mullins (Carlow) meeting in the other semi-final.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Anthony Roche, Dennis Morton, Barry Kehoe; Eoin Moore, Shaun Murphy, Paul Roche (0-1); David Redmond (0-1), Tommy Storey (0-1); Kevin Sheridan, Des Mythen (0-2), Peter Murphy (0-1); Murtha Doyle (1-0), Garrett Sinnott (capt., 0-1), Rory Jacob (0-6, 4 frees). Subs. - Michael Jacob for Moore, inj. (22), Martin Og Storey (1-0) for Doyle (53), Billy Dunne for Redmond (56), Niall Redmond for Mythen (60).
St. Rynagh's: Conor Clancy; Daniel Maloney, Dermot Shortt, Ben Conneely; Conor Hernon, Aidan Treacy (0-3, 2 frees), Seán Kenny; Ronan Hughes, Garry Kelly; Paul Quirke, Seán Dolan (capt.), Joey O'Connor (0-2); Niall Wynne, Matthew Maloney (0-3, 2 frees), Ger Rafferty. Subs. - Ger Scales (0-1) for Rafferty (HT), Nigel White for M. Maloney (52), Eoin Woods for Quirke (54).
Referee: John Keenan (Wicklow).