Holders have to be fancied in Senior final
AT THIS stage last year huge question marks hung over Oulart-The Ballagh. Unlike their male counterparts, they had made it through the minefield of Leinster on two occasions, only to fall flat at the All-Ireland semi-final hurdle.
The team was loaded with talent but they had just failed to make that extra leap, that memorable trip to headquarters. Then last year's county final happened. It was a game that changed everything.
Under the cosh early on, Rathnure ran at Oulart-The Ballagh and blitzed into a lead, however, in a sign of things to come, the back seven battened down the hatches and eventually they ran out winners. Incredibly, that was the final time the county champions received a real challenge on their way to the All-Ireland crown, the first in the club's history.
So maybe this Saturday will prove to be the hardest test that Oulart-The Ballagh will face in this year's run to another glorious championship crown. St. Ibar's/Shelmalier stand in the way this time.
Former Kilkenny manager Ann Downey talked about the strength of Wexford club camogie after Wexford's victory last Sunday week, pinpointing the tough, challenging games as key to the success in the county. She had a point.
In the round-robin stages, Oulart-The Ballagh have been held to four points by both Rathnure and St. Ibar's/Shelmalier. In comparison, their run to the final included wins by 14 (against St. Lachtain's), eleven (against Ballyboden), 26 (versus Loughgiel) and 17 (against Drom-Inch).
Oulart-The Ballagh came through their county championship semi-final with a comfortable win against St. Martin's (1-16 to 0-4), while St. Ibar's/Shelmalier edged past Rathnure (2-9 to 1-11). When the sides met in Hollymount the champions came out on top (2-10 to 1-9). This clash promises to be another excellent encounter.
The Over The Water side boast two of the brightest stars in the game in Kate Kelly and Katrina Parrock, who will naturally be vital to St. Ibar's/Shelmalier chances of success. However, there is plenty strength throughout the side with Bridget Curran, Shelly Doyle and Mag Kelly all boasting intercounty experience.
Unsurprisingly that pales in comparison with their decorated opponents. Despite the loss of Ciara Storey (emigration), the Oulart-The Ballagh defence still contains five current Wexford players. Anchored by Mary Leacy at centre-back and Karen Atkinson at full-back, they just don't concede many scores.
Much might depend on how far Una Leacy has come on since the All-Ireland final. Oulart-The Ballagh don't quite boast the weapons in their opposition's half of the field that they can defend with and should Leacy not be fully fit the St. Ibar's/Shelmalier defence is capable of holding OulartThe Ballagh to a beatable total.
If St. Ibar's/Shelmalier are to cause a shock they will also need Kate Kelly to be the best player on the pitch and for Katrina Parrock to be an able and firing deputy. They'll need to keep Oulart-The Ballagh to a reasonable score and take their chances.
However, that's a lot of things to go well, and Oulart-The Ballagh aren't All-Ireland champions for nothing. It'll be tight, it'll be tough, but the champions should edge it by four or five points.