Old versus new in a battle to savour
SHC final preview: St. Martin’s given a tentative vote
Many of the witnesses to St. Martin's victory over Oulart-The Ballagh early in the summer felt that this game was a warm-up for the ultimate battle to decide who would give a home to the Bob Bowe Cup for the winter of 2017-2018.
Their feelings were justified and, despite a few bumps on the road, we look forward to a final which, given the right conditions, could provide a thriller next Sunday.
The clubs have taken slightly different routes to the final, with Oulart having a one hundred per cent record since that early setback and St. Martin's having looked almost unbeatable in the early rounds before stumbling somewhat with a loss to Rapparees and only overcoming a game Alley side deep into injury time in a game full of incident.
As an aside, the championship overall has been very satisfactory in my book with the emergence of the Enniscorthy and Gorey men being a major plus for hurling in the county.
Oylegate-Glenbrien who, don't forget, were many people's tip for the drop were a revelation in the league part of the championship with players like Seamus Casey and Jamie Reck catching the eye.
The Alley, although hugely disappointed with their exit, can look back on a year of progression with a real leadership coming from some of the elder statesmen, with Willie Doran in particular driving from the front (there's plenty left in you Willie).
It was disappointing to see Cloughbawn make the drop but it highlights the small margins that exist in a twelve-team championship, having contested the final just a year ago.
I feel there is enough talent and tradition within the Clonroche men to bounce back and look forward to seeing them return to their rightful status very shortly.
Back in the '70s when I started to attend club games, the county player always stood out, and I feel there has been a re-emergence of this trend this year, particularly in the forward division.
Conor McDonald's performances, particularly in the quarter-final, Rory O'Connor all through the year, Jack Guiney's consistency, Kevin Foley's energy around midfield and, although a grade down, Dee O'Keeffe (a forward option) and Aidan Nolan turned in some exceptional performances for their clubs.
Being able to easily identify inter-county class should be a benefit to Davy going forward.
Sunday's game is a real old versus new clash. Can Oulart squeeze another championship or two out of the legs or will the Piercestown and Murrintown men signal a new era of dominance in Wexford hurling?
For me it is a real battle of pace versus movement. St. Martin's carry legs and an ability to burn teams whereas Oulart have an incredible movement ability to find that five-yard space and expertly pick their man out.
The doubt that surrounds the availability of the two key forwards could be decisive. Des Mythen and Rory O'Connor are on the doubtful list and the loss of either of these players could be devastating to their team's chances.
A prediction is hard to make without clarification of their availability, but I think Oulart have more experience and options to overcome the loss of Dessie than the Martin's have if Rory misses out.
All over the field there will be questions to answer. The Martin's ability to cope with the aerial threat of Garrett Sinnott will be crucial.
If Mythen plays will Aaron Maddock track him or shore up the centre? Will Oulart man-mark Rory O'Connor or play collectively to snub out the threat?
I would imagine both backroom teams will burn the midnight oil deliberating, but my only advice to both sides is maybe not over-think because final ambitions were often derailed by 'paralysis of analysis'. The teams that adapts and reacts to the day will win.
I believe Oulart are stronger at the back and St. Martin's have more pace in their forwards, so the margin of victory will be tight.
My gut feeling (and this is not based on information received) is that Rory O'Connor will start and Des Mythen probably won't, and in a game so finely poised that points me in the direction of a St. Martin's victory.
The beginning of a new era maybe, but I respect my old friends in red and black enough to realise they will have different ideas come Sunday.
Good luck to you all lads, there is no greater honour than to carry your club jersey on county final day.