Oulart always held edge
A spirited second-half showing from Ferns St. Aidan's made this Pettitt's Senior hurling championship Group B clash more interesting than it threatened to be, but ultimately Oulart-The Ballagh maintained their unbeaten run without ever looking like surrendering the initiative in Bellefield on Saturday.
Oulart-The Ballagh 1-22 Ferns St. Aidan's 1-16
Last year's clash between the sides was won in a canter by the holders on a 6-26 to 1-15 scoreline, and Ferns' prospects of reversing that result didn't appear promising given the absence of such heavy-hitters as injured duo James Tonks and Gavin Bailey, along with Ian Byrne who is out of the country.
And even though Oulart-The Ballagh were minus the services of Des Mythen, Eoin Moore, Shaun Murphy and David Redmond, it looked like another big winning margin was in store for a club with a vastly superior panel as they raced clear by 0-12 to 0-4 at half-time.
It was all about movement and speed from the reigning champions as they bamboozled their rivals with quick passes and clever use of the open spaces.
They held an 0-8 to 0-2 lead by the end of the first quarter, with half of that tally coming from Nicky Kirwan while Rory Jacob, Billy Dunne (two) and Peter Murphy also got in on the act.
One possible concern for Oulart-The Ballagh mentors will be their failure to test Ferns netminder Mick Walsh even once before the break, but they were content to pick off the points as a third from Dunne plus a late trio from Kirwan frees widened the margin to eight by half-time.
The Ferns responses had arrived from hard-working midfield partners Tommy Dwyer (two) and Benny Jordan, along with a Christopher O'Connor free.
However, they still looked to be on a hiding to nothing when play resumed, even with the breeze now in their favour. And the third quarter went along predictable lines, with the gap only dropping below seven on one occasion as Oulart-The Ballagh remained comfortable.
They might have put the game completely to bed in the 44th minute but Derek Thorpe of Ferns made a vital interception of a Garrett Sinnott handpass.
The start of the last quarter saw Paul Morris narrow the margin to six once more, only for Kevin Sheridan to respond quickly from long distance.
However, a glimmer of hope appeared for Ferns in the 49th minute when Ryan Nolan - who had switched to corner-forward for the second-half - beat the advancing Conor O'Leary to flick a delivery to the net and leave his side just four in arrears (0-19 to 1-12).
Four became three when Benny Jordan converted a free, and suddenly some life had been injected into proceedings. Indeed, the tension was ratcheted up a notch as Ferns substitute Anthony Dwyer - only five minutes on the field - and Oulart-The Ballagh defender Barry Kehoe received straight red cards for digging, rather than striking, each other off the ball.
It was an eventful evening for referee Justin Heffernan, who had been momentarily shaken in the first-half after colliding with Ferns midfielder Benny Jordan, and he brandished a third straight red to the losers' full-forward, Peter Codd, after another off-the-ball incident which left Peter Murphy grounded in the 58th minute.
Oulart-The Ballagh still held a three-point lead at that stage (0-20 to 1-14), and they finally wrapped things up from the resultant puck-out. It was caught by captain Garrett Sinnott who delivered a long handpass to the strong running Tommy Storey, and he rattled Mick Walsh's net to leave the holders in pole position and already with one eye on the quarter-finals ahead of their last group game against Rathnure.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Anthony Roche, Keith Rossiter, Barry Kehoe; Michael Jacob, Paul Roche, Kevin Sheridan (0-1); Tommy Storey (1-0), Rory Jacob (0-3); Peter Murphy (0-1), Nicky Kirwan (0-11, 8 frees, 1 '65), Billy Dunne (0-3); Martin Og Storey (0-1), Murtha Doyle, Garrett Sinnott (capt., 0-2). Sub. - Ben O'Connor for Storey (57).
Ferns St. Aidan's: Mick Walsh; Tomás Hawkins, John Breen, Brian O'Neill; Ryan Nolan (1-0), Declan Byrne, Ciarán Roberts; Benny Jordan (0-3, 1 free), Tommy Dwyer (0-4, 1 free); Derek Thorpe, Paul Morris (0-3), Jonny Dwyer (0-1); Paddy O'Leary, Peter Codd, Christopher O'Connor (capt., 0-5, 3 frees). Subs. - Anthony Dwyer for O'Leary (48), Colm Whelan for Hawkins (56).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).