Sunday 15 December 2019

Martin's can go the distance

SHC final preview: Challengers tipped to repeat outcome of May meeting

Rory O’Connor and Shaun Murphy clash in May’s group encounter
Rory O’Connor and Shaun Murphy clash in May’s group encounter

Brendan Furlong

Onlookers should not doubt the capacity of St. Martin's to go the distance and lift the Dr. Bob Bowe Cup.

Any team that has gone toe-to-toe with the reigning champions, Oulart-The Ballagh, in the past deserves to be recognised as serious title contenders.

In fact, when one looks back on this championship campaign it was St. Martin's who handed the reigning titleholders a defeat in their opening round clash.

This makes next Sunday's Pettitt's Senior hurling championship final clash at Innovate Wexford Park all the more intriguing.

In all the championship action of the past three months involving both hurling and football, it's easy to forget the hype that St. Martin's victory created and the explosive nature of their hurling, to which the Oulart-The Ballagh side had no answer on that occasion.

Oulart-The Ballagh have been a serious team over the past ten years in particular, a period in which they have held a dominance of Wexford hurling. They are still very talented, but question marks are beginning to surface as to their ability to perform for a full 60 minutes.

That is only natural after so long at the pinnacle of Wexford hurling, which has also seen them gather a provincial title. This will pose a challenge in itself that only time can answer.

St. Martin's have recovered from that final group game defeat to Rapparees, re-gathered and re-focused on the title race.

They will ask serious questions of the reigning champions, so if Oulart-The Ballagh can come up with the right answers yet again, they will have legitimate claims on being the best Wexford club team of all time.

But there is a school of thought surfacing around the county that these St. Martin's players have arrived. At times in the past it appeared that they were lacking something small to get them over the line, but this year the club has been revolutionised with a double at Junior level and the Premier Under-21 hurling title to coincide with the ladies' football Intermediate success and the Senior camogie title.

These successes are sure to galvanise the players.

This year this young St. Martin's side seems to have matured into a real hurling power. They appear to have got the balance right, with the blend of youth and experience - and more of an emphasis on youth - helping to develop them into a powerful force.

This will create a dilemma for Oulart-The Ballagh, who are at their best when hurling from the front. Given the mileage in the legs of each individual player though, they have been inclined to run out of gas at a certain juncture of each game, most noticeably in the opening 20 minutes of the second-half against Rapparees, when a more clinical forward line would have put them away.

The problem for the reigning champions is that St. Martin's have so much youth on their side. Their ability to run down the centre will create problems for the reigning champions' defence, so the question now arises: have Shaun Murphy and Keith Rossiter the strength, and more importantly sufficient support, to curtail this?

They will be required to make some really good decisions if they are to close down the St. Martin's attack.

In doing this they will have to seek a way of curtailing the in-form Rory O'Connor. The 19-year-old, who made his Senior inter-county debut this year, is in the form of his life at the moment, as shown in that semi-final victory over Naomh Eanna.

He has the quality to pick off points from a variety of angles both from play and frees, but more importantly it's his ability to avail of his goal chances that stamps him out as a forward of real class.

For the final he will have the experienced Ciarán Lyng beside him, back from a one-game ban that saw him miss the semi-final, and with Jake Firman and Jack O'Connor also figuring prominently up front they will test the opposing defence right through what will be 60 intense minutes.

The smart bet for Oulart-The Ballagh is to take the game to St. Martin's from the outset and upset their opponents' gameplan, forcing them into a more defensive game. Tommy Storey's huge workrate is crucial, but David Redmond is finding the going really testing in midfield of late.

There has been much talk of width being the answer. Oulart-The Ballagh like to play an expansive game which was so evident against Rapparees where Des Mythen was in sparkling form, contributing five points from general play, while Nicky Kirwan was his goal-poaching self along with his accuracy from frees.

Garrett Sinnott up to the semi-final was in explosive goalscoring form, but was reasonably well held by the Rapps defence, which throws question marks over the scoring power of the champions' attack, but they will seriously test the spine of the St. Martin's defence.

Paudie Kelly and Patrick O'Connor will have big roles to play, while both Willie Devereux and Aaron Maddock have been providing a defensive road block that even their opponents may find difficult to break down.

For Oulart-The Ballagh the novelty of county finals may have worn off but they will still be determined to add another title. But St. Martin's are capable of doing it against the county champions who may be vulnerable to that wide-held belief that the legs are beginning to show signs of tiredness.

St. Martin's are coming not just to play but to win. They have the capacity to give that final push and lift the Dr. Bowe Cup.

Wexford People

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