Double scores delight for Oulart
A smothering performance was too much for Clonkill to overcome as Oulart-The Ballagh booked their spot in the AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship final with victory in Cusack Park, Mullingar, on Sunday.
Oulart-Ballagh 0-16 Clonkill 0-8
The Wexford champions earned a respectable eight-point lead playing with the elements in the first-half and refused to allow their opponents the momentum they needed after the break.
The best Clonkill managed was four points in a row at the mid-point of the second-half, but it was a goal they desperately needed to lift morale. Oulart-The Ballagh weren't in the mood to give one away.
Indeed, knowing their opposition would need a major to have any chance makes the winners' effort all the more impressive. The only half-opening came in the first period and was snuffed out by Keith Rossiter when Niall Dowdall attempted to feed Anthony Price in front of goal.
It was an important moment in the game as the score was deadlocked at 0-2 each at the time. A goal against the breeze could have changed the complexion of the clash but Oulart-The Ballagh marched up the field straight away, pointed from the superb Des Mythen, and never looked back.
That point proved to be the first of a five-score showing from attacker Mythen. Often the groomsman of the Oulart-The Ballagh forwards, the experienced hotshot led the way with the stand-out individual performance on a wet and dreary afternoon.
Yet, this win was based on a monumental effort by the defence. Conor O'Leary was sharp when called upon but it was far from a busy afternoon for the shot-stopper as Keith Rossiter marshalled two lines of unforgiving defenders playing at the top of their game.
Such is the strength of the defence that manager Frank Flannery was able to whip county man Eoin Moore off after he picked up a yellow card nine minutes into the second-half and replace him with a player, in Dennis Morton, who slotted in seamlessly, almost unnoticed.
Clonkill popped over the first point through Niall Dowdall in the fourth minute but Oulart-The Ballagh responded immediately when David Redmond made the most of a poor clearance to score. Michael Heffernan made it 0-2 to 0-1 moments later but that was to be the last time the Wexford side trailed.
Rory Jacob levelled the scores before that key passage of play when Rossiter broke up the hosts' attack and started a move that Mythen finished. Nice crossfield passes by Paul Roche, and then Mythen, allowed Garrett Sinnott to make it 0-4 to 0-2.
Nicky Kirwan - returning from the injury which forced him to miss the Clough-Ballacolla win - ended the opening quarter with his first point and would add another in a run of Oulart-The Ballagh scores that also saw Jacob, Redmond and Mythen on target as the visitors eased 0-9 to 0-2 ahead after 26 minutes.
Brendan Murtagh ended a 22-minute spell without a Clonkill score with a dead ball point in the 28th minute.
However, Kirwan responded immediately to re-establish the seven-point advantage.
Kevin Sheridan's long ball sent Tommy Storey in on goal as the first-half slipped into added time but his low shot was well saved by the excellent Gary Healy.
Kirwan still pointed the resulting '65 to send his side in at the break 0-11 to 0-3 ahead.
The all-important first score of the second-half came from Mythen, a point that sandwiched two wides from the Westmeath champions. Tommy Storey made it 0-13 to 0-3, his side's largest lead of the afternoon, before Clonkill finally showed signs of life.
Two Anthony Price frees started a run of four points in a row, the second of which ended Moore's afternoon.
Price added his third shortly after but the fourth, a Niall Dowdall score, didn't follow for another seven minutes.
Leading by 0-13 to 0-7, Oulart-The Ballagh had almost wrapped the game up before Dowdall's point when Garrett Sinnott's pulled effort, at the end of a flowing move through the middle that involved Redmond and Tomás Dunne, was brilliantly saved by Healy in the hosts' goal.
Mythen's fourth point settled an Oulart-The Ballagh side which was far from panicking. Clonkill's chances floated away with three poor wides before Redmond missed another opportunity to put the tie out of reach when a typical marauding run ended with Healy saving once again.
This time the ball was worked out to the '20 to Mythen, who hit the target again, meaning out of the three good goal chances Oulart-The Ballagh came away with two points - not exactly a disaster when, on another day, a couple of those opportunities find the net.
Michael Heffernan and Paul Roche exchanged points as Oulart-The Ballagh ended with a double scores victory.
It's a pity that Shane Power marred a very sporting, open and fast-paced game by pulling off Rory Jacob's facemask in the final minute to receive a red card, but it won't bother an Oulart-The Ballagh team which has glory there for the taking.
Next up is the battle for that elusive title against Cuala. Any game against a team which has seen off the Offaly and Kilkenny Senior champions is bound to be tricky, but at this stage Oulart-The Ballagh know what's needed and have the players to make November 29 an historic day for the club.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Eoin Moore, Keith Rossiter, Barry Kehoe (capt.); Paul Roche (0-1 free), Shaun Murphy, Kevin Sheridan; David Redmond (0-2), Rory Jacob (0-2); Tommy Storey (0-1), Tomás Dunne, Peter Murphy; Des Mythen (0-5), Garrett Sinnott (0-1), Nicky Kirwan (0-4, 1 free, 1 '65). Subs. - Dennis Morton for Moore (39), Peter Sutton for P. Murphy (42), Murtha Doyle for Kirwan (46), Michael Jacob for Storey (48), Lar Prendergast for T. Dunne (59).
Clonkill: Gary Healy; Shane Power, Cathal Scally, Kelvin Reilly; Luke Foran, Brendan Murtagh (0-1 free), Alan McGrath; Paddy Dowdall (capt.), Eoin Price; Michael Heffernan (0-2), Adam Price, Ciarán Crentsil; Alan Dowdall, Niall Dowdall (0-2), Anthony Price (0-3, 2 frees). Subs. - Darragh Egerton for Crentsil (26), Niall Mitchell for P. Dowdall (46), Andrew Mitchell for Adam Price (48).
Referee: Patrick Murphy (Carlow).