Oulart hold aces
Goalscoring threat a big advantage
Could it be unlucky 13 for Oulart-The Ballagh when they meet Cloughbawn in a mouth-watering Pettitt's Senior hurling championship final at Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday (3.30 p.m.)?
Senior hurling championship final preview
Seeking to put titles back-to-back, having regained the Dr. Bowe Cup last year following a hiccup in 2014 when being knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Glynn-Barntown, Oulart-The Ballagh have been the dominant force in Model county hurling, having won five-in-a-row prior to that 2014 slip-up.
But on this occasion they are not alone putting the Blue Riband of hurling in Wexford up for grabs, they are also defending their AIB Leinster title, which they won for the very first time last year, only to lost out to eventual All-Ireland champions, Na Piarsaigh (Limerick), after extra-time in a drama-filled game.
All of this leaves Cloughbawn as very much the underdogs. The Clonroche-based outfit will be seeking their fourth title, having last won in 1993, with previous victories way back in 1949 and 1951. Their last final appearance was in 2002 when they lost out to neighbours, Rathnure.
When the two sides lined out in their respective semi-finals, the games threw up contrasting pictures. The reigning champions stormed to a hugely impressive victory over Ferns St. Aidan's, possibly producing one of their better performances of the campaign.
As for Cloughbawn, they had to battle right to the final whistle before overcoming Glynn-Barntown.
Right now Oulart-The Ballagh have been installed as warm favourites to retain their crown, but one should not write off the qualities which this Cloughbawn side possess, such as hard work, passion, hurling played in a direct manner with skill and composure, traits that see them as serious challengers to their opponents' long-held dominance of Model county hurling.
The pressure will be on Oulart-The Ballagh to deliver which brings its own concerns. In manager Frank Flannery they have a man at the helm who will help his players cope with the pressure the defence of titles brings.
He will get through to his players the importance of avoiding all the hype, concentrating on their own preparations, and then bringing their quality hurling to the table.
All the heavy preparations were concluded over the weekend, with a high-powered 15 on 15 training game down in Waterford, which should help the selectors in any selection dilemmas they may have.
Cloughbawn have also fine tuned their hurling with some intense training sessions over the past ten days. They will be happy with their build-up to the game, with their only concern being an Intermediate 'A' football semi-final last Saturday, but the victory should bring an extra pep to their step.
Oulart-The Ballagh have only one injury concern, and that surrounds defender Paul Roche, who missed out on the semi-final victory with a calf problem.
Although progress has been reported, he still remains a major doubt. Cloughbawn, on the other hand, have no injury problems as they wind down their preparations.
Should the teams line-out as per semi-final, there will be some interesting head-to-heads, the outcome of which will heavily influence the eventual destination of the title.
Oulart-The Ballagh's veteran of so many historic victories, Keith Rossiter, will clash with the goal-hungry Paul Foley, while Shaun Murphy will have the task of curbing the influential Alan Carton.
Cloughbawn's outstanding centre-back, Colm Kehoe, will not alone hope to impose himself on the game, but also cut out the threat of Tommy Storey, one of the hardest-working attackers in his side.
But it's the impact which the respective midfield set-ups bring to the game that could have a huge bearing on the eventual outcome, particularly as the champions have David Redmond and Eoin Moore back to fitness following their recent injury spell.
However, a further plus for the reigning champions is the impact inside forwards Nicky Kirwan and Garrett Sinnott are having on recent games, with Sinnott bang in form and playing a captain's role.
Cloughbawn will look to midfielders Barry Carton and Páidí Cullen, along with their half-forward trio of Harry Kehoe, Alan Carton and Minor player Connal Flood, to win their share of possession around this area.
But given the experience and hurling quality that Oulart-The Ballagh bring to midfield, coupled with the goalscoring threat of both Kirwan and Sinnott, the reigning champions should lift the cup for a 13th time.