Tuesday 12 December 2017

Oulart-the Ballagh were crowned champs for the fourth year running


A LACK of penetration proved the Achilles heel of a game Faythe Harriers team and led to the securing of a deserved tenth county final for Oulart-The Ballagh on Sunday last in a damp and bleak Wexford Park.

Oulart now establish themselves as only the fourth club team in Wexford hurling history to secure four Senior hurling titles in a row, and it would be hard to bet against them going one step further and hitting the magic five next year which would set them apart from any other club in Wexford.

Their immediate focus will be to embark on a journey through Leinster (beginning with the Dublin champions) in their ongoing battle to secure a first provincial crown. Based on the evidence of their performances in Wexford this year, I feel they will need considerable improvement if they are to reach the 'Holy Grail' as they haven't been as impressive as in previous years.

This could be to their advantage however as there has been a huge weight of expectation in the past and maybe Pat Herbert and Co. are timing their preparations to ensure this very talented team peaks at the right time.

The greasy conditions didn't help the game as a spectacle early on as both teams found it difficult to assert themselves on the scoreboard. Even at this stage however trends were beginning to appear with both sets of backs beginning to assert dominance.

Keith Rossiter was majestic during this period and for his first-half performance alone was deservedly adjudged man of the match. At the other end the Harriers half-back trio were akin to a stone wall with Richie Kehoe, Emmet Keeling and Lee Chin completely neutralising the Oulart forward threat. I would imagine if there was a club hurler of the year Richie Kehoe would be a strong contender.

The game hung in the balance at half-time but, as so often before, Rory Jacob (who had a few uncharacteristic early wides) was the champions' go to man when a decisive score was needed. When Rory netted early in the second-half it gave the Oulart men that little edge that would carry them across the line.

The Harriers gave everything but still couldn't secure the major that was so necessary if they were to really trouble the opposition. The fact that Ben O'Connor didn't have to make a save in the Oulart goal (apart from Jim Berry's last-minute '21) summarised the townsmen's predicament and really ensured that the Bob Bowe Cup would once again end up under Oulart Hill.

The Wexford men can take many positives from Sunday's performance, not least being Kevin Gore's outstanding display in the middle of the field. Last week I predicted that David Redmond and Jim Berry would have huge roles to play in this area, but Kevin outshone all on Sunday with an exhibition of long-range score-taking that was worth the admission money alone. His ball handling and striking in very difficult conditions were top class and, although David Redmond again hurled well, Gore and Richie Kehoe were in my opinion the two main contenders for Rossiter's man of the match award.

Another highlight for me was the brilliant save the ageless 'Archie' Scallan made from Rory Jacob, despite the fact that sniper supreme Nicky Kirwan finished the rebound.

Iggy Clarke has done a superb job with his young team this year and there is a real awakening in Wexford town. They have firmly established themselves as number one contenders and it was hugely pleasing to see the big town support behind their men. The future is looking very bright for our main town as it is for Enniscorthy, who on Sunday captured their second Minor title in a row. As for Oulart, they seem to have an ability to go on for a while more but I do believe that the chasing pack is closing in.

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