Oulart character secures famous hat-trick
A wave of generosity came over Liam Dunne in Wexford Park yesterday.
Minutes after his Oulart-The Ballagh team had withstood the pressure applied by Rathnure to win their third successive county title, the hard- tasking manager informed the players that they wouldn't be asked to train this morning as they had been on the Monday morning after their previous two county final successes.
Some things are worth celebrating more than others and for Oulart-The Ballagh, the three-in-a-row has been their 'elephant in the room' all season, the unspoken words they dared not utter.
The omerta was struck for good reason. Five years ago, Rathnure undid them after they had landed the 2004 and '05 titles, and the 1994 and '95 successes weren't followed up with a third either.
So this was new ground for them and it told in a shaky performance that was unbecoming of their 1/7 favouritism or the expectation that they would turn this into a rout.
"Everyone had us built up," lamented a relieved Dunne on the pressure involved.
"It was only a matter of coming in here to win the county final. In our own parish it was the same, for everyone outside our dressing-room it was only a matter of how much we would win by."
Rathnure made it difficult for them throughout and it was only when Gareth Sinnott capitalised on a loose pass from Aidan Redmond deep into injury-time to establish a two point lead that Oulart-The Ballagh could breathe collective sighs of relief.
For many of the Oulart players it was an eighth successive final appearance and that bank of experience was crucial in withstanding a wind-assisted Rathnure side chasing a flimsy four-point interval lead in that second half.
"In fairness to them they had to show a bit of character in the second half," reflected Dunne. "There was a gale-force wind there. There was a lot of talk about three-in-a-row this year, but I had a meeting at the start of the year and I banned all talk of that.
"Sometimes you think you have everything covered, but at the same time. I'd like to know how Brian Cody does it!"
Rathnure really lacked the firepower to make it count on the scoreboard.
Robbie Codd got the first point of the game from play after one minute. But their next 10 points were all from frees and one '65' from another veteran of past battles, Paul Codd.
Indeed it was the older hands who provided most stability for Rathnure, with Michael O'Leary putting in a masterclass of full-back play and Nigel Higgins also winning important frees.
The accumulation of Rathnure frees irked Dunne who felt they were all going "one way" during the game.
"I just thought there was a lot of dubious decisions there," he said. "They scored the first point of the game from play and didn't score another point from play after that."
Rathnure played with an extra defender in the first half, leaving Teddy O'Connor free for long spells. They held their own with only Frank Cullen's well-worked goal on nine minutes -- after great ingenuity from Nicky Kirwan on the back of Darren Stamp's direct delivery -- dividing the sides.
Rathnure may rue some of the aimless balls they drove down on top of Keith Rossiter, who was left loose in that first half.
But at 1-5 to 0-4 in arrears they were in a strong position to add to their status as Wexford hurling's most celebrated club team with 20 titles.
But several Oulart-The Ballagh players rose to the pressure of defending such a slender lead in the conditions.
Lar Prendergast and Darren Stamp controlled the half-back line, Mick Jacob and Shaun Murphy grew more influential at midfield and Sinnott came hard to claim a series of puck- outs under pressure.
Codd kept knocking over the frees to punish some over-zealous tackles that Dunne felt weren't justified.
Critically, however, Rathnure never managed to gain parity, coming to within one point on three occasions in the second half.
Kirwan could have made things easier for Oulart-The Ballagh on 41 minutes but he undercooked a shot from close range that trickled wide.
For all the excitement, it was technically a poor game at times, an opinion perhaps reinforced best by the passage of play that led to Sinnott's insurance point at the end when the ball was given away three times before the centre-forward showed the coolest head.
Still there is no doubting Oulart's status as the best team in the county and a team with real ambitions again to be the best in Leinster.
They have a strong work ethic that has involved many early-morning sessions over the season.
"We make simple rules," said Dunne. "If you want to do it, you do it. We had a panel of 20 the first year, 25 last year and 22 this year."
The winning captain Keith Rossiter admitted it was the "sweetest" of all their championship wins recently.
"With Liam, discipline and keeping it in the camp is a big thing," he said.
"There was never a mention of three-in-a-row. There was never a mention of Rathnure or Buffers Alley the whole way. We just had to do it."
Inevitably after three successive wins in Wexford, Dunne's name will be linked with the vacant county position which he has already distanced himself from.
"I hear my name linked," Dunne said. "I was hearing it about the Waterford job as well which was a load of rubbish.
"My focus is on Oulart-The Ballagh. I don't need that distraction. That's why I went to the local papers two months ago and I said I wasn't going for it now."
With a well-earned rest this morning, that focus can turn to the Kilkenny champions in three weeks' time and another new challenge.
Scorers -- Oulart-The Ballagh: F Cullen 1-1, R Jacob, N Kirwan (2f), S Murphy 0-2 each, G Sinnott, S Doyle, D Redmond all 0-1 each. Rathnure: P Codd 0-10 (9f, 1 '65'), R Codd 0-1.
Oulart-the Ballagh -- B O'Connor; P Roche, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; S Murphy, D Stamp, L Prendergast; M Jacob, D Redmond; S Doyle, G Sinnott, P Murphy; R Jacob, F Cullen, N Kirwan. Subs: E Moore for P Murphy (ht), D Nolan for Doyle (55), D Mythen for Kirwan (59), A Kavanagh for Moore (60).
Rathnure -- J Morrissey; C Redmond, M O'Leary, A O'Connell; T O'Connor, J O'Connor, S O'Neill; P Codd, P Whiteley; T Hogan, B O'Leary, D Flynn; J Guiney, R Codd, N Higgins. Subs: A Redmond for O'Neill (32), F Murphy for Hogan (47) R Flynn for D Flynn (51).
Ref -- J Flood.