HAVING WATCHED last Sunday's Leinster Club game, I came away thinking that if you were to judge on hurling ability, Oulart-The Ballagh are a long way ahead of their Dublin counterparts and thoroughly deserved their victory despite leaving their supporters in a bit of a sweat coming near the end.
However, the fact that only one point separated the sides at the end further emphasises for me the different qualities that are necessary for success in this competition. In summer time (well, most summers), hurling is played at speed, with skill on the ball generally being the requisite requirement to succeed.
At this time of year, however, the balance shifts to a certain extent to physical strength and a team's ability to grind out results. This was particularly the case on Sunday as the conditions and the pitch were dreadful, offering little or no opportunity for good hurling, and as a result a very physical Dublin side almost stole a victory that their talents scarcely deserved.
Oulart-The Ballagh contributed to their own problems to an extent, sitting on a comfortable lead ten minutes into the second-half and possibly believing the game to be over, but in fairness to them they dug deep to struggle over the line when things seemed to be getting desperate near the end.
The first-half was even enough and Oulart-The Ballagh were given a huge boost going into half-time when they were awarded a dubious penalty which Nicky Kirwan expertly dispatched to the net. Referee Tony Carroll from Offaly seemed to spend a certain percentage of the second-half making amends to the Dublin men for that decision, but overall his performance couldn't be faulted as the conditions deteriorated so dramatically that it wasn't an easy game to handle.
Darren Stamp all through and Keith Rossiter up to an uneasy last ten minutes were dictating trends, and up front where it definitely wasn't a day for forwards, Garrett Sinnott was causing problems for the Dubs' defence. Young Conor O'Leary for me was hugely impressive with excellent long-range striking, and the decision to withdraw him (just after scoring an inspirational point) completely baffled me and led Oulart-The Ballagh into a very uncomfortable closing period.
Overall, however, the men in red and black will be happy to have come away from Parnell Park with a victory as it's never an easy place to go to. From a Wexford point of view it also reassures us that Dublin club hurling is not at a higher level than Wexford's as some of their inter-county stars would have us believe. Pat Herbert and his team will need no reminding that improvement will be needed in a couple of weeks' time if they are to lower the Kilkenny colours, but what a game to look forward to whether it be Dicksboro or Ballyhale who come visiting.
Congratulations to our six camogie All Stars and J.J. Doyle who picked up a hugely-deserved second manager of the year award on Saturday night last. Well done in particular to Deirdre Codd who received her first trophy after a particularly outstanding display in the final.
I have some issues with the selection process in both hurling and camogie and feel that there is too much emphasis on the All-Ireland final when picking the teams, but that has been the trend since the inception and probably won't change now.
Liam Watson for example gave the greatest display ever in an AllIreland Club final and this was never going to be recognised, while we have seen a lot of political selections over the years. Mary Leacy's omission from the nominations in the ladies' game was mind-boggling, and this year I fail to see why Cork who were clearly outclassed in the final secured the same amount of positions as ourselves.
My last issue is in relation to Noeleen Lambert who, despite being one of the finest defenders in the country since we first made the breakthrough in 2007, has yet to receive an award, and I feel she should have secured one this year. Her consistency levels in the purple and gold jersey have been phenomenal and she never fails to deliver on the big day.
Overall the awards are a fantastic recognition of players but sadly Noeleen's case is one of the little flaws that I hope will be rectified over the coming years.