Champs survive scare as Anne's come close
ONE OF the issues that Oulart-The Ballagh have faced in the course of their four-year reign at the top is the lack of quality games in the early stages of the Pettitt's Senior hurling championship.
Well, they certainly won't have that complaint after Saturday's Group B opener in Killurin where they were pushed all the way by an impressive St. Anne's side before pulling through by a flattering five-point margin.
Indeed, that scoreline is most unfair on the losers as they still harboured ambitions of a dramatic late win before Nicky Kirwan's last-minute long-range free from the left was fumbled into the corner of his net by unfortunate netminder Joe Codd.
It looked like we were in for a one-sided affair when the holders raced into a 1-4 to 0-1 lead after eleven minutes despite facing into the breeze, with Rory Jacob getting the goal midway through the first quarter after racing away from Joe O'Connor in the right corner and finishing with aplomb.
However, two good points by veteran Franny Simpson shook St. Anne's out of their lethargy, and they were back in business with a well-worked goal in the 15th minute.
David O'Connor had been placed at right half-forward to utilise his height advantage, and he duly caught a puck-out before feeding Redmond Barry. The county footballer handpassed to Aidan Rochford and the diminutive attacker nailed the finish to reduce the gap to 1-5 to 1-3.
St. Anne's had drawn level by the 21st minute (1-6 each), with Diarmuid O'Keeffe scoring one memorable point off his knees in the course of a display which showed how big a loss he is to the Wexford squad.
Ace predator Rory Jacob was at his very best at the other end as well, and his two late points helped his side to an interval lead of 1-9 to 1-7.
Nicky Kirwan and David O'Connor (free) swapped points on the re-start before Aidan Rochford narrowed the gap to the minimum, and half-time substitute Jess Codd then set the cat amongst the pigeons less than six minutes in when Liam Rochford and Redmond Barry combined to set him up for the lead goal (2-9 to 1-10).
Oulart-The Ballagh had a real battle on their hands and they had to earn every score even though they were favoured by the elements. Nicky Kirwan (free), Garrett Sinnott, Rory Jacob and Kirwan (free) edged them ahead again (1-14 to 2-9) with twelve minutes left, but they lost Eoin Moore to injury before David O'Connor pulled one back from a free.
The game was hanging on a knife-edge when a stray Anne's handpass at midfield was punished by a swift Des Mythen pass to the unmarked Rory Jacob who made it 1-15 to 2-10. However, the hot favourites still couldn't breathe easy until that lucky late goal from Kirwan, but the tough test should do them the power of good in the long run.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Ben O'Connor; Dennis Morton, Keith Rossiter, Lar Prendergast; Eoin Moore, Darren Stamp, Shaun Murphy (0-1); Conor O'Leary, Aaron Kenny; Darren Nolan (capt.), David Redmond (0-2), Des Mythen (0-1); Rory Jacob (1-5), Garrett Sinnott (0-2), Nicky Kirwan (1-4, 0-3 frees). Sub. - Michael Jacob for Moore, inj. (49).
St. Anne's: Joe Codd; Tomás Cullen, David Fogarty (capt.), Joe O'Connor; Pádraig O'Keeffe, Diarmuid O'Keeffe (0-1), Kenny Cloney; Jonathan Fogarty, Kevin Whelan (0-1); David O'Connor (0-4 frees), Aidan Rochford (1-1), Franny Simpson (0-2); Pierce White, Redmond Barry, Liam Rochford (0-1). Subs. - Jess Codd (1-0) for White (HT), Rich O'Connor for Simpson (49).
Referee: James Flood (St. Mary's, Maudlintown).