Oulart secure four in a row
EEW All-County Hurling League Division 1 Final: Oulart-Ballagh 0-25 St Martin's 2-13
Reigning champions Oulart-The Ballagh completed an impressive four-in-a-row of EEW All-County Hurling League Division 1 titles with a fairly routine victory over a more depleted St. Martin's outfit in this generally low-key decider in St. Patrick's Park, Enniscorthy, on Friday.
The holders had first use of the strong wind blowing towards the dressing-room end and put it to effective use in the opening quarter, surging clear by 0-10 to 0-2.
The gap was back to a more manageable 0-14 to 1-7 from St. Martin's point of view by the interval though, with a typically opportunist Ciarán Lyng goal handing them a lifeline in the 26th minute.
However, Oulart-The Ballagh had a considerably better range of scoring options than the team they had also beaten in the 2016 final to kick-start this fine sequence of victories, and that made all the difference.
Not for the first time, Nicky Kirwan was an opportunist supreme in the left corner, claiming five of his 13 points from play, while Garrett Sinnott was his usual handful and wing-forwards Rory Jacob and Peter Murphy chipped in with three points apiece.
And although the loss of the injury-prone Paul Roche early in the last quarter was something Oulart-The Ballagh could have done without, the performance of his cousin, Anthony, was certainly eye-catching in the right corner of defence.
The free-taking of Joe Coleman for St. Martin's was every bit as good as Kirwan's accuracy at the other end, but his side only managed a fairly miserable 2-2 from open play.
It goes without saying, of course, that a game with both teams at full strength and availing of the services of their county-tied players wouldn't necessarily have a similar outcome.
Oulart-The Ballagh had six points on the board before striking the first of just four wides in the opening half, with four from Kirwan (two frees) supplemented by wing-back Kevin Sheridan and Peter Murphy.
The first five Martin's scores all arrived from Coleman placed balls and, while his striking into the wind was admirable, their rivals maintained a healthy gap as Rory Jacob and Garrett Sinnott also chipped in on the scoreboard.
Coleman soloed away from Sheridan but had a shot on goal saved by Conor O'Leary at the start of the second quarter, but a major swing followed in the 26th minute.
Oulart-The Ballagh were leading by 0-13 to 0-5 when Murphy and Jacob combined to find Kirwan whose flick was guided out of the danger zone by full-back Paddy O'Connor.
Seconds later the ball was in the opposite square, with Ciarán Lyng latching on to the break after a scramble to find the net with a ground stroke.
Coleman converted another two frees before a long-range Rory Jacob effort left Oulart-The Ballagh clear at the interval by 0-14 to 1-7, and it wasn't a particularly wonderful lead given the strength of the wind.
Their superior combination play and general appetite ensured that St. Martin's never got too close for comfort on the re-start all the same.
Moving into the last quarter it was 0-18 to 1-10 in their favour, and the margin grew to nine as Kirwan added two pointed frees before youthful substitute Billy Dunne and Kirwan from play split the posts.
Incidentally, Oulart-The Ballagh's top marksman was up to his usual tricks again just 48 hours later when he came off the bench to score a vital championship goal for their Intermediate 'A' side versus St. Patrick's.
The chances of a possible late Martin's revival grew in the 53rd minute when new arrival Sam Audsley got on the end of a long delivery by Willie Devereux and rattled the net (0-22 to 2-10).
The ever-accurate Joe Coleman made it a four-point game from a free, and added two more before the end, but Oulart-The Ballagh went one better as Kirwan brought his tally to 0-13 while the other Billy Dunne - Liam's son, who started at midfield - hit one in between.
The victors had seen off Glynn-Barntown in the last two finals, and there may be more silverware to come as their second string also have a league decider ahead in Division 3 against Craanford.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O'Leary; Anthony Roche, Eoin Moore (capt.), Barry Kehoe; Conor Goff, Paul Roche, Kevin Sheridan (0-1); Billy Dunne (Oulart, 0-2), Cathal Kenny; Rory Jacob (0-3), Peter Sutton, Peter Murphy (0-3); Garrett Sinnott (0-2), Martin Og Storey, Nicky Kirwan (0-13, 7 frees, 1 '65). Subs. - Billy Dunne (The Ballagh, 0-1) for Kenny, inj. (41), Niall Redmond for Roche, inj. (49), Cormac Finn for Storey (56), also Ben O'Connor, Des Mythen, Seán Murphy, Adam Nolan, Kevin Nimmo, Darragh Hayes, Keith Rossiter, Tomás Dunne, Nicholas Cullen, Tommy Storey.
St. Martin's: Luke White; Shane Walsh, Paddy O'Connor, Eoin O'Leary; Daithí Waters, Willie Devereux (capt.), Mark Maloney; Michael Codd, Paudie Kelly; Darren Codd (0-1), Joe Coleman (0-12, 11 frees), Harry O'Connor; Ciarán Lyng (1-0), Mikey Coleman, Conor Kelly. Subs. - Aaron Maddock for C. Kelly (20), Tony Kelly for O'Leary (47), Sam Audsley (1-0) for D. Codd (51), Philip Dempsey for M. Coleman (51), Zac Firman for Maddock (60+1), also Callum Quirke, Ben Stafford, Jake Firman.
Referee: David O'Leary (Rathnure).