Oulart laid down a serious marker in this convincing win
Published 12/11/2016 | 00:00
Oulart laid down a serious marker to any would-be challengers to their Leinster Club crown when they outclassed and outfought a disappointing St. Rynagh's outfit in a freezing Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday.
The gulf in class was further emphasised by the absense of Keith Rossiter and Nicky Kirwan allied to the early loss of Eoin Moore (to a very questionable tackle) and the dismissal of Paul Roche 90 seconds into the second-half.
This also served to underline the serious credentials the men in red and black carry into this championship where their strength in depth is superior to anything certainly in Wexford if not in Leinster.
Whilst not in any way dismissing the challenge of the Kilkenny men in two weeks' time, Oulart must be seen as strong contenders to reclaim the title and maybe go a little further, with the shock exit of Thurles Sarsfields throwing even more intrigue to the mix.
For me Cuala, who underperformed last year, could be the dark horse but either way we should have a very entertaining few weeks of club fare in store to shorten the winter.
Going in to the park I couldn't help but reminisce about the great battles Buffers Alley have had with the Offaly men since the inaugural final of 1970. St. Rynagh's, led by men like Pádraig Horan and Damien Martin, came out on top in Croke Park (if memory serves me well as I was very young at the time) in a game that was remembered for more than it's hurling, with exchanges proving to less than friendly.
We took a good lead into the last quarter of the 1982 final but were pipped at the post, but eventually turned the tide in 1992 with an unexpected win again at headquarters.
The win was against the odds given the quality of a Rynagh's side containing Shane McGuckin, Hubert Rigney, Martin Hanamy, Aidan Fogarty and Michael Duignan amongst others, and for me that was one of the finest displays given by the Buffers Alley team of that era.
The Rynagh's at the moment are clearly rebuilding but on Sunday's evidence they don't resemble anything like the quality of their teams of the past, although in fairness they were themselves dealt a number of personnel blows before the throw-in.
Oulart for their part brought an energy and touch to the game that was at a different level to anything the Offaly men had met before. The two goals were lessons in team play.
Firstly Kevin Sheridan manufactured a four-pass move which was finished by Murtha Doyle, and in the second-half the icing was put on the cake with a wonderful move of selflessness from Peter Murphy to Billy Dunne to Martin Og Storey.
They will be hard to stop but it doesn't take an expert to predict that O'Loughlin Gaels with provide a much different type of challenge on Sunday week.
The All Stars is a scheme that has over the years served more to annoy me than excite me. The hurling team this year had no huge shocks although I have a firm belief that the system hasn't been kind to Joe Canning who, because of the standards he sets, is consistently harshly judged.
For me his performances this year have been superior to two of the recipients.
There is no doubt that Austin Gleeson has been spectacular this year but I feel young hurler of the year and overall should be kept separate with different winners of each.
Seamus Callanan's nine points from play in the All-Ireland final topping a good overall year would normally see him through, but in honesty the highlight of 2016 for me was Gleeson's spectacular fielding, skills and amazing scores.
He plays the game by reaction and without the restrictions imposed by some of the modern-day coaches.
My final criticism of the selection process is that it appears more than ever now that if your team doesn't reach the All-Ireland semi you can't be considered one of the top 15.