Sunday 19 November 2017

Giveaway goals kill off Oulart challenge

Excellent early work spoiled as soft scores help O’Loughlins to gain foothold

Alan Aherne

Oulart-The Ballagh's outstanding performer, team captain Garrett Sinnott, tussles for possession with Huw Lawlor of O'Loughlin Gaels
Oulart-The Ballagh's outstanding performer, team captain Garrett Sinnott, tussles for possession with Huw Lawlor of O'Loughlin Gaels
Oulart-The Ballagh attacker Peter Murphy attempts to pick the ball up as O'Loughlin Gaels defender Anthony Forristal challenges

Oulart-The Ballagh relinquished their AIB Leinster Club Senior hurling championship title in Innovative Wexford Park on Sunday, and the manner of their surrender is likely to bug them for a long time to come.

O'Loughlin Gaels 3-17 Oulart-The Ballagh 0-17

The fact that O'Loughlin Gaels were gifted two soft goals, as well as a handy pointed free for a foolish third man tackle, will surely gall the holders over the winter months, particularly as they had started the game with admirable drive and finishing power.

Indeed, Oulart-The Ballagh had nine fine points on the board before striking the first of just five wides in the 22nd minute, with the Kilkenny city side opting to defend into the low sun first after multi All-Ireland winning captain Brian Hogan won the toss. Unfortunately, they only led by one though despite those well-taken scores, because O'Loughlin Gaels had pounced for two goals.

And while the second was a complete giveaway, it could be argued that the first was avoidable too. Certainly midfielder Tommy Storey deserved a lot better by way of an outcome after he tracked back to make a brilliant tackle on Sammy Johnston who had been set up for a goal chance by an astute run and pass by the lively Mark Kelly.

However, one of his defensive colleagues was very casual in attempting to clear, with the ball swept from under his feet and eventually finding Kelly who drilled it to the net.

That was the first score for the visitors, in the twelfth minute, and it undid a lot of the excellent work that had seen Oulart-The Ballagh racing into a 0-5 to nil lead.

While Nicky Kirwan - back to full fitness after missing the quarter-final - hit the post with an early point attempt, he earned and then converted a free for their opening score in the fourth minute.

The corner-forward ventured out to midfield to knock over his second after a foul on David Redmond, with defender Barry Kehoe very prominent in the early exchanges as Oulart-The Ballagh laid down a marker.

Team captain Garrett Sinnott couldn't have done any more to prevent defeat, and the first of his five points from play arrived in the seventh minute after a surging run and handpass by Anthony Roche.

He quickly doubled his own tally, scarcely believing his luck when he wasn't followed out from the edge of the square to collect a David Redmond delivery and point at his ease.

Mark Bergin missed a scoreable free for O'Loughlin Gaels, and it was looking very good indeed for the home side when David Redmond won Conor O'Leary's puck-out at the second attempt and split the posts for a 0-5 to nil lead inside eleven minutes.

That first goal followed for the Kilkenny champions and it helped them to settle, although Oulart-The Ballagh responded well initially with a couple of points.

Nicky Kirwan latched on to a Peter Murphy delivery for the first, and he added another from a free after referee Alfie Devine unfortunately didn't allow the play to develop when Kevin Sheridan was fouled but still found Garrett Sinnott in a dangerous position.

A Martin Comerford handpass picked out Mark Bergin for the visitors' first point in the 16th minute, with the scorer having drifted outfield as O'Loughlin Gaels deployed a two-man inside line while Dennis Morton stayed back to sweep.

With Rory Jacob, as is the norm, also moving out around the middle at the other end, it led to a congested central area but resulted in plenty of room for both attacks to prosper.

It was still all about Oulart-The Ballagh though as a Morton clearance picked out Des Mythen to make it 0-8 to 1-1, and Eoin Moore then found Garrett Sinnott who rifled over his third.

O'Loughlin Gaels were so concerned by the ease of movement afforded to the rival attack that Brian Hogan was moved to left half-back, with Alan O'Brien going into the centre.

And the game's huge turning point went decisively in their favour in the 19th minute. Huw Lawlor and Paddy Deegan combined before Mark Bergin drove in a hopeful ball from long range, probably attempting a point but certainly never expecting to see it nestling in the net.

However, netminder Conor O'Leary made a complete mess of a meat-and-drink catch, and the soft goal reduced his side's lead to 0-9 to 2-1.

Given the levels of quality hurling Oulart-The Ballagh had produced up to that point, it was almost inconceivable to countenance that they might retire for the half-time break in arrears.

That's exactly what transpired though, because they were outscored by 0-5 to 0-1 after that gift goal to leave O'Loughlin Gaels somehow in the driving seat at the interval (2-6 to 0-10).

Mark Bergin tapped over a free after a foul on Mark Kelly, with Nicky Kirwan striking the first Oulart-The Ballagh wide before the second followed from Peter Murphy.

The first glimpse of Martin Comerford's enduring class was witnessed in the 25th minute when he caught the ball over Dennis Morton's head in the right corner before turning and firing over a sweet equaliser (2-3 to 0-9).

Kirwan was off target from a long-range free before Michael Jacob came into the fray for Dennis Morton at wing-back, with Eoin Moore reverting to the sweeping role.

The Noresiders hit the front for the first time in the 28th minute courtesy of midfielder Paddy Deegan, but Rory Jacob replied quickly from a Des Mythen handpass.

However, O'Loughlin Gaels wouldn't be headed again after Mark Bergin restored their lead from a free, with Huw Lawlor leaving them with that two-point interval lead after Martin Comerford and Sammy Johnston re-cycled the ball back to him on the right.

Oulart-The Ballagh resumed with Peter Murphy partnering David Redmond at midfield and Tommy Storey gone to left half-forward, and Murphy only needed 13 seconds to reduce the gap to one from a Rory Jacob handpass.

Mark Bergin cancelled out that score after good work by a grounded Paddy Butler, but Jacob again provided the assist for Des Mythen to make it 2-7 to 0-12 after a long Conor O'Leary free.

The last Oulart-The Ballagh equaliser arrived in the 36th minute when David Redmond finished off a good move involving Rory Jacob and Kevin Sheridan.

A needless third man tackle ensured that Mark Bergin edged the visitors ahead once more, and their third goal came gift-wrapped as an unexpected very early Christmas present in the 38th minute.

Anthony Roche's intentions were quite clear as he moved out of defence on the right - to find Keith Rossiter with a lateral handpass. However, he gave it straight to Sammy Johnston instead and, although the corner-forward still had a lot of ground to cover and plenty of work to do, he sprinted away and finished emphatically to the net for a 3-8 to 0-13 lead.

It was a crushing blow for the reigning champions, and their race was well and truly run over the next nine minutes as O'Loughlin Gaels added another six points without reply.

Danny Loughnane provided the finishing touch to a flowing move featuring Alan Geoghegan, Paddy Deegan and Paddy Butler before Johnston robbed Barry Kehoe but saw his weak shot for goal saved.

Mark Bergin and Deegan both fired over from distance before Martin Comerford followed up a point from a move involving Loughnane and Mark Kelly with a brilliant score from tight to the right sideline under the stand.

The rot was eventually stopped with a brace of Garrett Sinnott points, both set up by Keith Rossiter, but Oulart-The Ballagh needed a couple of goals and there was no sign of them coming.

Instead, three of the last five points scored in the closing ten minutes plus added time went to the leaders.

Comerford drew the foul that led to another for Mark Bergin, with substitute Billy Dunne drilling a rising shot over the bar at the other end in the 54th minute after Eoin Moore didn't connect properly with an attempt on goal (3-15 to 0-16).

Veteran attacker Comerford was really enjoying himself at this stage, positioning himself perfectly to grab a Paddy Butler delivery in between Keith Rossiter and Anthony Roche before picking off his fourth point.

Mark Bergin also added his fourth from play, with another substitute, Murtha Doyle, knocking over what proved to be the last score of the game in the 58th minute.

Rory Jacob lobbed in a late free which was deflected wide, while a Garrett Sinnott handpass found Martin Og Storey who drilled his pull off target to the left.

Impressive O'Loughlin Gaels netminder Stephen Murphy also swept the ball out of his square before a last-gasp David Redmond shot was blocked, leaving Oulart-The Ballagh with nothing but regrets.

The Kilkenny side march on to meet last year's runners-up, Cuala from Dublin, in the final on December 4 when they will hope to collect their first title since beating last Sunday's opponents by 0-14 to 1-8 in the delayed final of 2010 which was played in Carlow in January of the following year.

Nine of that successful team featured again in this success, while a similar number from the Oulart-The Ballagh 15 from that day also tasted the action at some stage.

Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Keith Rossiter, Dennis Morton, Barry Kehoe; Anthony Roche, Shaun Murphy, Eoin Moore; David Redmond (0-2), Tommy Storey; Kevin Sheridan, Des Mythen (0-2), Peter Murphy (0-1); Rory Jacob (0-1), Garrett Sinnott (capt., 0-5), Nicky Kirwan (0-4, 3 frees). Subs. - Michael Jacob for Morton (27), Eamonn Murphy for Rossiter, temp. (29-HT), Martin Og Storey for Sheridan (44), Murtha Doyle (0-1) for Mythen (45), Billy Dunne (0-1) for T. Storey (47), Niall Redmond for P. Murphy (52).

O'Loughlin Gaels: Stephen Murphy; Anthony Forristal, Andy Kearns, Eddie Kearns; Huw Lawlor (0-1), Brian Hogan (capt.), Alan O'Brien; Paddy Butler, Paddy Deegan (0-2); Alan Geoghegan, Mark Kelly (1-1), Danny Loughnane (0-1); Sammy Johnston (1-0), Mark Bergin (1-8, 0-4 frees), Martin Comerford (0-4). Subs. - David Burke for Loughnane, temp. (30-HT), Seán Bolger for Johnston (55), Eoghan Grant for Geoghegan (59), Shane Mahony for Hogan (59), Burke for Butler (60+1).

Referee: Alfie Devine (Westmeath).

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