Double date with destiny
Oulart, Coolderry chase maiden Leinster title
AIR traffic controllers may see a UFO flying over Nowlan Park, Kilkenny tomorrow, but it won't be a spaceship -- it'll be a flying monkey sent packing by either Coolderry or Oulart-The Ballagh GAA clubs.
The monkeys resting on the backs of the Offaly and Wexford club hurling champions are there courtesy of the absence of a Leinster hurling title in either of these clubs' histories.
Well, tomorrow is showdown day when the famine is set to end for the lucky winners, leaving the defeated side still carrying the burden of the metaphorical primate.
Oulart-The Ballagh, beaten finalists last year against O'Loughlin Gaels of Kilkenny, are playing in only their third Leinster final since first winning the county championship in 1994.
Coolderry's last appearance in the provincial decider was 1980 when they also fell to Kilkenny opposition -- Ballyhale Shamrocks.
Now, with the dreaded Black and Amber boys out of the way, opportunity knocks for Oulart-The Ballagh and Coolderry.
Former All Star Martin Storey knows a thing or two about the psychological difficulty in making the breakthrough to a new level.
"It's the hardest thing for any club or county or individual in any sport to have that first big win," he said.
Back in 1994, Storey played on the first Oulart-The Ballagh team to win a senior county club title, a mere 108 years after a GAA club was first established in the parish.
In 1996, Storey captained Wexford to an All-Ireland victory, an achievement shared by clubmates Liam Dunne, the new county senior team manager, and Paul Finn who came on as a sub during that epic win over Limerick.
Storey's eventual haul of county titles with Oulart was four -- '94, 1995, 2004 and 2005, and the club went on to win again in 2007, 2009, 2010 and this year.
And yet, the Leinster club title eluded the Wexford club, something Storey fervently hopes will be rectified tomorrow.
"The first year we won the county final, in 1994, we got to the Leinster final and Birr beat us. The following year we won Wexford again and Glenmore of Kilkenny beat us.
"We weren't in a Leinster final again until last year, even though we won more county titles after '95, so this is a chance to make a breakthrough.
"Before '94, we had been knocking on the door and that year it was phenomenal when we finally did it. Every neutral in Wexford wanted to see us win the county final that year.
"After that everybody wanted to see us beaten, but that's the nature of sport and the nature of success.
"Looking back, it would have been different if we had gone on and won that Leinster final in 1994 because you'd have done it and there would be no fear about winning another.
"But we lost to Birr and to Glenmore the next year, and to O'Loughlins last year, so this is one we need to win," said Storey.
The prospects look good for 2011 to open a new chapter in the club's history.
Oulart-The Ballagh have 10 senior county panellists in the squad, they have learned lessons from last year's final and Coolderry manager Ken Hogan admits this stage of competition is 'maiden territory' for the Offaly team.
Said Storey: "The team is experienced and they're not going to be overawed by a Leinster club final. Everybody connected with the club is praying we'll make that next breakthrough.
"There might be a little bit of nervousness because we haven't won a Leinster yet, but Liam Dunne will have them right on the day.
"Coolderry are an excellent team, as they showed against Ballyboden St Enda's in the semi-final.
"We were probably a bit surprised they beat Ballyboden so well, but we know Coolderry are good and they're trying to win their first Leinster as well.
"You don't automatically deserve to win anything, you have to go out and do the job, but this is a big opportunity for our lads, and they need to take it."
On the broader front, Oulart manager Dunne will turn his attention to the Wexford team after being appointed to the vacancy left by Colm Bonnar.
Storey gives Dunne a ringing endorsement. "Liam is the first of the 1996 team to become Wexford manager. Ger Cush served as a selector, but Liam is the first one of us to manage the county.
"He's the right man for the job. Liam has served his time, with two years with the Wexford minors, and bringing three county titles and two Leinster final appearances to Oulart-The Ballagh. Hopefully, he will bring a Leinster championship on Sunday.
"A lot of fellas go in as county managers at the deep end. You can't be just going in for the top job because it's available. You have to bring something to improve it and you have to have served your apprenticeship.
"Liam has done that and he'll bring passion, toughness and steel to Wexford, something they badly need," said Storey.
Coolderry are certainly not going into this match to make up the numbers. Their intensity and pride was evident in their defeat of Ballyboden St Enda's and Hogan has them primed for the game of their lives.
For Brian Carroll, there is a little added poignancy, in that his late father and All-Ireland winner Pat, played in that 1980 Leinster final for Coolderry.
Brian wasn't born until 1983, and his dad died three years later, so his chance to write some family history arises tomorrow, alongside the dedicated players of this small Offaly parish.
It promises to be quite an occasion, quite a game, and Nowlan Park will be no place for members of the Monkey Conservation Society of Ireland!