Wednesday 23 October 2019

Brendan Furlong's Hop Ball column

Dual star Lyng my club hurler of the year

Brendan Furlong
Brendan Furlong

By Brendan Furlong

With the rest of the club players just about to put their feet up, Oulart-The Ballagh are revelling in an Indian summer, with that small matter of a Leinster Club final against Cuala in Netwatch Cullen Park on Sunday.

Having stepped out in their search of a provincial title five years back with this particular group of players, they will want to end the roller-coaster run on a high. They have been sticking at it, a prime example of the commitment of a small rural parish, as they sauntered their way back to the top of Model county hurling after last year's hiccup with such ease that they have not been severely tested.

So looking back on the domestic hurling scene is no easy task, as there has been no particular stand-out game despite many being hard-fought and going down to the wire, but when it came to delivering it was always going to be Oulart-The Ballagh's title.

Team of the year: Without a doubt the team of the year accolade must go to Oulart-The Ballagh.

Many had felt when they bowed out of the title race to Glynn-Barntown at the quarter-final stage last year that it was the beginning of the end for this particular group of players. After last year's defeat they needed to review their approach and they had the right man at the helm in Frank Flannery.

If you compare their tactics this year to previous years, the difference is like night and day.

Gone were the open spaces in front of the defence, replaced by a structured and organised shape that was difficult to break down. The greater focus on the defensive side of their game meant that some individuals had to sacrifice themselves for the good of the team.

It has allowed Oulart-The Ballagh to deviate away somewhat from their open attacking style of play, but it was served them well so far.

Manager of the year: Frank Flannery may have come in for some criticism early on, particularly after that All-County League defeat on home soil to Faythe Harriers, but that game proved the turning point in his side's season.

He can take so much of the credit for changing the mindset of the players and turning things around.

Player of the year: It was by no means a vintage year for club hurling in the county mainly because of the dominance of the eventual champions.

Some outstanding individual defensive displays came from players like Keith Rossiter, Shaun Murphy and Liam Ryan, along with players further afield in Andrew Kenny, David Redmond, Rory Jacob, Brian Malone and Ciarán Lyng.

But the one player to do consistently well through the championship was Lyng, even though St. Martin's quest for a Senior double ultimately fell at the final hurdle in both codes.

Lyng was the stand-out hurler, showing the flair, first touch and scoring ability that many of the Senior inter-county attackers lacked.

Game of the year: The best games of the championship came in the group stages, but I can recall no real stand-out games. I enjoyed the exploits of sides like Cloughbawn and Buffers Alley, the battle for survival which brought Rathnure to the brink of relegation, and St. Martin's bid for the double.

A championship can best be gauged by its county final but like so many other games it turned into a damp squib, mainly through Oulart-The Ballagh's control.

Disappointment of the year: Teams set out to lay down early markers, but after the first few rounds, many had already fallen into a battle just to preserve their Senior status. The one-sided nature of the championship was the real disappointment of the year.

Surprise of the year: Predictions are easily made but few saw the emergence of a very young St. Martin's outfit at this particular time.

A team backboned by Under-21 and Minor players, they managed to give the championship some hope and flair with the manner in which they continued to deliver victories. Their achievement on reaching the final was quite remarkable.

I doubt if the St. Martin's club expected such a season but it's great to hear followers talk about the talent that is within the club, backed up by their double Premier Minor success.

Flop of the year: Rathnure's season went downhill after drawing their opening round game with St. Anne's. After this year followers would have to start doubting their ability to remain in Senior hurling much longer.

They were drawn into a relegation battle to preserve their long-held Senior status, which they only just about managed against a Shamrocks side which struggled all season, and that just about summed up Rathnure's campaign.

Wexford People

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