Oulart defeat Rathnure in battle of old rivals
THESE TWO great clubs have clashed many times over the years and it was fitting that they served up another thrilling encounter in the Allianz Cumann na mBunscol min-sevens hurling final.
Rathnure entered as slight favourites based on a good run of form to the final, while their opponents, Oulart, were lucky to be there after qualifying from a tough semi-final group on score difference. As the match developed however, it soon became clear that this Oulart team was a battle-hardened outfit that knew exactly how to win a big match.
Rathnure looked dangerous in the early exchanges and were quick to threaten the posts. Within a few minutes, they had registered three wides and A.J. Redmond nearly goaled, only to see his powerful shot go just wide under pressure. Oulart midfielder Conor Byrne had a dream start when he clipped over two points in quick succession to create an early lead.
Even at this early stage, the Oulart defence of Liam and Jack Roche were incredibly impressive as they got in block after block to foil countless Rathnure attacks. It was the sixth minute before Rathnure got a score on the board through skilful midfielder Stephen Martin.
The Rathnure defenders were no pushovers either and this made scores very hard to come by. Oulart forward Lee O'Connor struck over a long-range free to restore the two-point gap in the seventh minute and just before half-time Rathnure reduced the gap to the minimum with a Micheál O'Connor free.
Oulart were doing very well to be in the lead at this stage as Rathnure had created the lion's share of scoring chances. Great defence and clinical scoring seemed to be the Oulart gameplan.
This pattern intensified in the second-half when Oulart stormed up the field for a Lee O'Connor score. Oulart hearts were then in mouths for a long time when goalkeeper Christopher Lawless was called upon to make two fantastic saves and Stephen Martin blasted just wide as Rathnure pushed hard for a goal. These two excellent saves coupled with the tenacious defence saw Rathnure only emerge with a point each for Stephen Martin and A.J. Redmond during this period.
With the scores now level, the crowd were in for a tense finale. Oulart rose to challenge with an Adam McRedmond score and then began to bombard Rathnure goalkeeper Kyle Martin with some high balls which he comfortably dealt with. Stephen Martin scored his third point to level matters again and with four minutes remaining it looked like there was going to be no separating the teams.
That was until Oulart pushed on and Conor Byrne slotted over his third point, and then Jim Finn coolly finished a chance to pull away from Rathnure in the dying moments.
With the clock running out, Rathnure had no choice but to lob a late ball in from a Seán O'Connor free and it was fitting that the game finished with another inspirational clearance from the Oulart defence.
It was a final that did the age-old rivalry justice, but one felt that based on their determined performance throughout the field, Oulart fully deserved to bring the cup back across to their side of the Slaney.
Oulart: Christopher Lawless, Liam Roche, Jack Roche, Adam McRedmond, Conor Byrne, Lee O'Connor, Jim Finn, Lorcan Nimmo, Jake Cox, Jack Lyons-Corrigan, Niall Kenny, John Roche.
Rathnure: Kyle Martin, Cameron O'Leary, Seán O'Connor, Stephen Martin, Micheál O'Connor, A.J. Redmond, Shane Kirwan, Jack O'Neill, Adam Carty, Brendan Foley.