Holders survive a tough test
Naomh Eanna newcomers pushed Oulart all the way
Oulart-The Ballagh were asked plenty of questions by a game Gorey side and ultimately came up with all the answers in this competitive Pettitt's Senior hurling championship quarter-final in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.
Oulart-The Ballagh 1-21 Naomh Eanna 3-11
Nine points without reply between the 36th and 48th minutes altered the course of the game as the holders went from trailing by 2-9 to 1-8 to leading by 1-17 to 2-9.
The composure shown in that period comes from being champions, and after the dust had settled and there was time to reflect, no doubt Oulart-The Ballagh were very grateful to the impressive newcomers for giving them such a searching test. The tough game was exactly what they needed as they now prepare to meet Ferns St. Aidan's in what will be a remarkable 14th semi-final appearance since the turn of the millennium.
Oulart-The Ballagh only missed out on making the last four in 2001, 2003 and 2014, and such tremendous consistency has to be admired. However, spare a thought for Naomh Eanna too, because the young Gorey men have been a breath of fresh air in the championship.
Reaching the quarter-finals at the first attempt from a difficult group was an achievement in itself, but they weren't happy just to leave it at that and approached this game intent on causing an upset.
And with Conor McDonald his usual inspired self, and his colleagues working like Trojans all over the field, Oulart-The Ballagh really had to earn this victory.
McDonald rarely contested possession without two opponents by his side, and yet he still managed to pick off five points from play to go with his 1-2 from frees. Keith Rossiter was the first man given the thankless task of keeping him quiet, with Shaun Murphy dropping back to assist.
Paul Roche then went in on the edge of the square and the onerous job was taken over by Murphy when the former went off with an injury at a late stage.
And after leading by 1-7 to 1-6 at half-time, the Naomh Eanna contingent must have really dared to dream when Pádraig Doyle crashed home a fantastic goal just 28 seconds into the new period. It was 2-9 to 1-8 in their favour by the 36th minute, but that's when Oulart-The Ballagh knuckled down and played themselves out of trouble with a series of points.
It required polished hurling to work their way out of the mess but, by the same token, they will have to ask themselves how and why they got into such a worrying position in the first place.
Although Conor McDonald pointed Gorey in front early on, they shipped a big blow when Rory Jacob's cross from the right was grabbed and buried in the net by captain Garrett Sinnott in the third minute.
Oulart-The Ballagh went on to pick off five of the next seven points, leaving them in a relatively comfortable position at the 20-minute mark when they led by 1-5 to 0-3.
However, they had been lucky not to concede a goal when McDonald caught a Gary Molloy delivery and saw his point-blank strike turned over the bar by Conor O'Leary.
Both sides missed scoreable placed balls courtesy of Pádraig Doyle and Nicky Kirwan, but Naomh Eanna's confidence visibly lifted in the 21st minute when McDonald was fouled and crashed the 20-metre free to the net (1-5 to 1-3).
He followed up with a point from play and the leveller from a free, before Nicky Kirwan stopped the rot. Gorey ended the half on a high note though, with Darragh Hughes batting an Eoin Conroy cross over the bar before another McDonald free left them ahead by 1-7 to 1-6.
The Oulart-The Ballagh mentors clearly weren't happy, with David Redmond and Murtha Doyle introduced at half-time, and they had further cause for concern inside 30 seconds of the re-start.
A Darragh Hughes handpass found Conor McDonald who crashed his shot off the post, but there was a rare sight nowadays from the rebound as Pádraig Doyle had the good sense to drive it sweetly first-time off the ground and rattled the roof of the net.
A Redmond point yielded a brilliant response from McDonald tight on the left, and they were still four to the good after free-takers Nicky Kirwan and Pádraig Doyle swapped points (2-9 to 1-8).
Oulart-The Ballagh managed to get to grips with the situation though as Tommy Storey started a run of unanswered points that also featured valuable contributions from Kirwan (free), Des Mythen, Garrett Sinnott, two more Kirwan frees, Peter Murphy, Anthony Roche, and another Kirwan placed ball (1-17 to 2-9).
Darragh Hughes rattled the post in between the 16th and 17th Oulart-The Ballagh points, and Conor McDonald finally ended their barren spell which lasted just over 17 minutes.
A Pádraig Doyle '65 then brought the margin down to three with five minutes left, but the champions' composure shone through once more as Kirwan (free), substitute Martin Og Storey, Des Mythen and Keith Rossiter picked off points.
Doyle had fired a goal chance wide for Gorey, and they did finish on a bright note when David O'Brien netted with the second-last puck. They ought to be proud of their efforts in their first year back as a Senior club, while it's business as usual for Oulart-The Ballagh who will be hot favourites to hold on to their title at this stage.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Anthony Roche (0-1), Keith Rossiter (0-1), Barry Kehoe; Paul Roche, Shaun Murphy, Kevin Sheridan; Tommy Storey (0-1), Peter Murphy (0-1); Garrett Sinnott (capt., 1-1), Ben O'Connor, Billy Dunne; Rory Jacob (0-2), Des Mythen (0-3), Nicky Kirwan (0-9 frees). Subs. - David Redmond (0-1) for O'Connor (HT), Murtha Doyle for Dunne (HT), Eoin Moore for Sheridan (45), Dennis Morton for P. Roche, inj. (51), Martin Og Storey (0-1) for Doyle (59).
Naomh Eanna: Barry Kinsella; Peter Travers, Brendan Travers (capt.), Seán Doyle; Gary Molloy, Tom Stafford, Lee Kinsella; Eoin Conroy, Dara McDonald; William Cullen, Pádraig Doyle (1-3, 0-2 frees, 0-1 '65), Darragh Hughes (0-1); Gearóid Cullen, Conor McDonald (1-7, 1-2 frees), Aodhán Doyle. Subs. - David O'Brien (1-0) for W. Cullen (47), John O'Brien for D. McDonald (47), Kevin Harrington for Conroy (51), Conor Hughes for G. Cullen (59).
Referee: Brian O'Leary (Crossabeg-Ballymurn).