Oulart all set to atone for last year's slip-up
O'Connor a big loss as Martin's bid to pick up pieces
Former kingpins Oulart-The Ballagh have been coming nicely to the boil as they eye the return of the Dr. Bob Bowe Cup when they encounter St. Martin's in the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship final at Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday (3pm).
Oulart-The Ballagh, who lost their crown last year when dramatically knocked out in the quarter-final by a late Glynn-Barntown goal, deserve great credit for maintaining their commitment and appetite for a game they have dominated in the Model county over recent years.
But perhaps it's that little matter of the Leinster Club title that is still eating away at them, while at the same time keeping them focused on the domestic scene as they strive to get another attempt at that elusive provincial crown.
But right now Oulart-The Ballagh will be looking no further than St. Martin's as they will have learned from the disappointment of last year.
They have been coming along slowly but surely, but it was the league semi-final defeat to Faythe Harriers on home soil that provided the wake-up call the players so badly needed.
Following that loss, but more importantly the manner of it, there was much soul-searching and many harsh words spoken.
But what was of most importance was the fact that the message was accepted by the players - that they needed to alter their mental approach, rather than their hurling, if they were to achieve ultimate success.
They are now employing more of a possession game, along with a more direct approach through the attack, and this has been paying handsome dividends, particularly given the manner in which they demolished the challenges of both St. Anne's and Faythe Harriers.
Manager Frank Flannery's imprint can now be seen all over the team, with their passion, aggression and composure all over the field, but more importantly a gameplan that the players are rigorously adhering to.
For St. Martin's it's going to be a difficult week. Returning to the training ground following the disappointment of that Senior football final defeat will not be easy, but they have enough experience surrounding them to put that disappointment behind them and focus on what is ahead of them - the Oulart-The Ballagh challenge.
With the dream of the double now long forgotten about, this is the time for decisive leadership. St. Martin's will be looking towards the men at the helm - Tomás Codd, Rory McCarthy, Philip Murphy and Rúairí Quigley - to provide that, as a fully-focused St. Martin's will be needed just to avoid the disappointment of a second successive final defeat, all in the space of a little over eight days.
All of their recent performances had the Oulart-The Ballagh trademark about them but St. Martin's have a recent good history against their more famous hurling opponents, all of which should help to contribute to a marvellous final occasion.
Oulart-The Ballagh have a hard-working defence, solid midfield and skilful forwards, all of which makes them a most difficult side to beat. It's an exciting, entertaining and successful formula.
Now this final depends very much on what St. Martin's will bring to the plate.
It's very much win or bust time for the club in an effort not to end the season as runners-up in both Senior codes. It will be incredibly difficult, particularly given the injury nightmare which hit their football bid, and which will be carried over into this hurling final.
They will be forced to line-out minus midfielder Jack O'Connor, out with a broken thumb for five to six weeks.
He will prove a huge loss as midfield is the one area where they needed to at least break even with their opponents if they were to halt their drive towards regaining the title.
That loss will be cushioned by the return of Stephen Murphy from suspension, having served a two-game ban, which will go some way towards easing the pain.
In any event, now is the time for their big name players to step up to plate of which they are more than capable, particularly through the centre of the team which has been their spine in the campaign to date.
Now they will be needed more than ever to upset their opponents' gameplan.
Questions will be asked of players like Willie Devereux and Tomás Waters in defence, Daithí Waters in midfield, and both Paudie Kelly and Ciarán Lyng in attack.
Lyng has been the one bright spark in this year's hurling championship as he brings the same intelligence, positional play and explosive finishing to his hurling game as witnessed in football over so many seasons.
While they provide the experience, supporters can also expect something special from their rising young players, Joe O'Connor, Jake Firman, Harry O'Connor and Aaron Maddock, while Joe Coleman has recovered from injury to push towards regaining his place in attack, which would bring more scoring power to the side.
Oulart-The Ballagh have experience in abundance having worked off the same bunch of players over the past number of seasons. Keith Rossiter, Eoin Moore and Shaun Murphy will provide the experience and hurling expertise in defence, while David Redmond is still playing his free-flowing game at midfield.
In attack Nicky Kirwan once again proved their real scoring threat in the semi-final, but Peter Sutton has also sparkled over recent games, along with the hard-working Garrett Sinnott.
Now the day of destiny has arrived for both sides. This is the day to deliver and there will be just one opportunity to put the hard work on the training ground all year to good use.
Oulart-The Ballagh are tipped to lift the title and regain the Dr. Bowe Cup with something to spare.