Thursday 17 October 2019

Alan Aherne's On The Line column

It may happen to even the very best teams, and sometimes it's a blessing in disguise. I'm referring to that almost inevitable slump at some stage in a triumphant run when champions suffer an unexpected defeat, only to come back bigger, better and stronger with even more to prove.

Oulart-The Ballagh slotted neatly into that description after their six-in-a-row bid was halted unceremoniously by Glynn-Barntown at the quarter-final stage last year. That's always the best time to catch the favourites in a knockout scenario, because the closer they get to the finishing line, the harder they are to dislodge.

I don't think anybody was foolish enough to assume we had seen the last of this formidable team after that slip-up in 2014. I felt they were certs. to bounce back before a ball was driven in anger this season, and their path to the latest outright success reflects the fact that nobody was able to lay a glove on the twelve-time winners once the last-chance saloon was entered.

True enough, Buffers Alley managed to draw with their neighbours, but that was in the group stages, while no tears were shed either when Faythe Harriers beat them to rule out the prospect of a worthless All-County League title.

What really counts is what happens from the quarter-final stage onwards, and in that regard Oulart-The Ballagh were untouchable. Margins of eleven, nine and eight points reflected their overall superiority, and they are the most worthy of champions once again.

I know that new manager Frank Flannery wasn't universally favoured by everyone in the club at the start of the year when another backroom team was put forward with Liam Sheedy set to figure.

However, it appears that was a positive rather than a negative as it gave those backing the Carrigtwohill man's claims an even bigger incentive to reclaim the county title.

And now that the first goal has been achieved, the celebrations are no doubt over as you read this piece given that the AIB Leinster Club championship beckons in O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, next Sunday.

The numerous provincial failures over the years have taught Oulart-The Ballagh one valuable lesson: none of the remaining county champions can be underestimated in any given year, and that's undoubtedly the case this time around too.

There's some history with their opponents, Clough-Ballacolla from Laois, who pushed Oulart-The Ballagh all the way in Wexford Park four years ago before losing a semi-final by 3-12 to 2-11.

I've seen them in action once recently as it happens. There was a time not so long ago when the Sunday between the All-Ireland Senior finals in September was jam-packed with county deciders all over the country.

That's no longer the case as we're not the only ones struggling with domestic fixtures as a result of the summer obsession with meaningless qualifiers and the elite players.

There wasn't one county final worth attending on September 13 when I was seeking my G.A.A. 'fix' during a holiday from work. The next best thing was the Laois Senior hurling semi-finals so I made my way to O'Moore Park where Clough-Ballacolla got the better of Borris in Ossory-Kilcotton.

Managed by former Offaly wing-back Kevin Martin, they went on to claim the county title after a 13-point haul from Stephen 'Picky' Maher downed a Camross side which had laboured to a victory over Ballinakill in the curtain-raiser that day.

Maher forms one-third of a strong half-forward line, with the left flank manned by the prolific Willie Hyland. His prowess is scoring points from long range, enjoying a remarkable success rate when he tosses the ball into the air and takes aim.

Willie Dunphy does a lot of donkey work on the '40 between this inter-county duo, while the likes of full-back Darren Maher, right half-back John A. Delaney, centre-back Mick McEvoy and midfielder Tom Delaney have also seen a lot of action wiith various Laois teams.

This will be a difficult assignment for the visitors, make no mistake about it. Equally though, it's a game that must be won if they have genuine designs on finally ending the provincial hoodoo. Taking it one step at a time is the only way to go.

Wexford People

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