Vincent Hogan: Gaels' late push punishes wasteful Oulart
Published 31/01/2011 | 05:00
The malady that curses Wexford clubs against Kilkenny opposition struck again in Carlow yesterday.
Having trailed for all but the closing flurries of this AIB Leinster final, O'Loughlin Gaels eased almost dispassionately to victory in the dying minutes against an Oulart-The Ballagh team that will have done its grieving last night, pained by the knowledge that there would be little consolation in the forensic.
The Wexford champions spurned the gift of a penalty on the stroke of half-time and then lost wing-back, Lar Prendergast, to a straight red with the outcome still swinging on a feeble hinge nine minutes from time.
Thereafter, the momentum was largely with O'Loughlins and they pulled clear to secure an All-Ireland semi-final date against Antrim champions, Loughgiel Shamrocks, on February 13.
The result extends the bleak arithmetic of Wexford clubs against Kilkenny opposition in Leinster, their winless run extending all the way back to Rathnure's victory over Gowran in '96.
For O'Loughlins, the efficacy of victory was almost as significant as the cold statistic. Essentially, they were calm in crisis. Just as they had shown against Ballyboden St Enda's, they had an implacable air when under the greatest stress.
Team coach, Andy Comerford, suggested afterwards that the body language spoke -- essentially -- of lineage. "Lads are always aggressive in dressing-rooms," said the former Kilkenny captain. "But you have to be able to draw the line and the lads did that today. The calmness was there.
"It's been bred into the club for the last 15 years since we made the breakthrough, you know, coming back from impossible positions in county finals. Like we'll just creep and creep and creep along. That's the way we are. And now we've crept into an All-Ireland semi-final."
Postponed three times before Christmas, the final got off to a peculiar start, Oulart 'keeper Ben O'Connor bizarrely finding himself at the wrong end of the field as the ball was thrown in. Yet, it was the Wexford team that got to the beat of the game quickest, Rory Jacob shooting a crisp fifth-minute goal after Darren Stamp's delivery was cleverly flicked into his path by Garrett Sinnott. The big Kilnamanagh man was proving a real handful for Andy Kearns on the edge of the 'square' and the O'Loughlins full-back might have had mixed feelings when he went off with a leg injury after just 15 minutes.
By then, Sinnott had two points to his name and was running amok on the platform of deliveries coming out of a pale sky from the likes of Stamp and the flying Prendergast.
But Kearns' departure resulted in Brian Hogan slipping back to guard the O'Loughlins 'square' and thereafter Sinnott's influence waned considerably.
That said, the Kilkenny champions were relying largely on Mark Bergin frees for their scores, their full-forward line completely swamped by the tight marking of Paul Roche, Keith Rossiter and Barry Kehoe.
A necklace of four scores in eight minutes just before half-time (one each from Peter Dowling and Niall McEvoy and two Bergin frees) flattered O'Loughlins, dragging them as it did to within a single point of opponents who had been doing all the hurling.
Yet, just before the break, referee Tony Carroll called a foul on Rory Jacob as he chased David Redmond's delivery and the corner-forward elected to take the penalty himself. His effort was low and venomous, but -- sadly for Oulart -- also left and wide.
"They'll regret that," rang out a chorus in the press box. In hurling, you don't give hand-outs to the gentry.
No matter, Oulart resumed without breaking stride. And, in David Redmond, they had a general now in Rommel mode. Three times in six minutes, the Oulart captain drove home massive points and, suddenly, they were four clear.
Rossiter and Stamp were bossing the middle and O'Loughlins seemed oddly reluctant to pull a hitherto invisible Martin Comerford out a little closer to the action.
Eventually, the penny dropped entering the final quarter and, typical of the man, he immediately responded with two epic scores from the left wing, the second stemming from a wonderful block by Eddie Kearns on Eoin Moore.
McEvoy then pointed from a perch inside his own half and, bizarrely, the sides were level. And that was the moment Oulart's dials went spinning.
O'Loughlins' Alan Geoghegan committed a foul on Shaun Murphy, for which he was in the process of being booked when, inexplicably, Prendergast seemed to take the issue of retribution into his own hands, striking Alan O'Brien with the hurley. Straight red.
Sheamy Cummins put O'Loughlins ahead only for Nicky Kirwan to tie things up again with a free. Then, goalkeeper O'Connor had to be alert to keep out Cummins.
At the far end, Stephen Murphy did well to get a parry on a deflected Moore free and, with a minute of normal time left, the sides were still inseparable. But Hogan easily out-fetched Kirwan to a Stamp delivery and his clearance drew a foul from Mick Jacob on McEvoy.
Bergin duly pointed and there followed two fist-punching additions from Cummins and Brian Dowling. Oulart's will had finally broken.
"I'm sure they'll be back," said Comerford of the devastated Wexford men afterwards. "But it's winner takes all in this competition. It's great like that. There's no back doors."
Not that a Kilkenny team would ever be of a mind to use one.
SCORERS -- O'Loughlin Gaels: M Bergin 0-6 (5f), M Comerford, N McEvoy, S Cummins 0-2 each, B Dowling, P Dowling 0-1 each. Oulart-The Ballagh: D Redmond 0-3, R Jacob 1-0, G Sinnott, N Kirwan (2f) 0-2 each, E Moore 0-1 (1f).
O'LOUGHLIN GAELS -- S Murphy; B Kelly, A Kearns, E Kearns; A O'Brien, B Hogan, N Bergin; P Dowling, M Nolan; A Geoghegan, M Bergin, N McEvoy; B Dowling, D Loughnane, M Comerford. Subs: B Murphy for Kearns (15), S Cummins for Loughnane (49).
OULART-THE BALLAGH -- B O'Connor; P Roche, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; E Moore, D Stamp, L Prendergast; M Jacob, D Redmond; D Nolan, S Doyle, S Murphy; R Jacob, G Sinnott, N Kirwan. Subs: D Mythen for Nolan (48).
Ref -- T Carroll (Offaly).