Storey working off his own script
OULART 0-20 CLARA 2-11
LEINSTER CLUB SHC QUARTER-FINAL
Talk of old ghosts chasing Oulart-The Ballagh into winter's blackness carries no truck with Martin Storey.
He stands in the belly of a foot-stampingly cold Nowlan Park, pushing away the notion that any accumulation of grief should ever register as entitlement.
The habitual Wexford champions are back at the business end of Leinster (they now face champions Kilcormac-Killoughy in the semi-finals), yet Storey will not deal with anything but the cold mechanics of their status.
Asked if they might be looking to "nail" some personal ghosts, the Oulart manager shrugged: "No, we're going to go at it and give it a rattle. We can't clear any ghosts until we get back in a Leinster final and, by Jesus, there's some team in our way unfortunately!"
Oulart may feel the press of history here – they have lost the last three Leinster finals – but this is the third consecutive year they have accounted for the best club team in Kilkenny.
Clara, no doubt, paid for the emotional tumult of a fairytale county title win just seven days earlier, but they were beaten here as much by big-day savvy as any residue of beer in the gut.
Despite a swaggering, confident opening, in which they stretched 0-5 to 0-1 clear inside eight minutes, they were largely out-hurled by the Wexford men, for whom the concession of two goals in four second-half minutes might well have threatened chaos.
"We got really on top and just got caught by two sucker punches of goals," reflected Storey. "To come back twice... the character of the lads has to be praised."
On the day, they simply had bigger personalities in the key positions, none more notable than county man Garrett Sinnott, who proved unplayable in a roving forward role. Sinnott finished with 0-6 from play, four of those points coming in a second-half tour de force during which his combination play with Des Mythen and Rory Jacob was simply too much for Clara to answer.
With David Redmond dominating in the middle third, Oulart weathered the early Clara onslaught to edge 0-8 to 0-7 in front before 2,371 spectators by the interval.
They had won the second quarter 0-4 to no score and seemed well set against opponents continuously dropping ball short into the grateful hand of Oulart goalkeeper Ben O'Connor.
The Ryan brothers, Liam and Lester, were Clara's main danger-men, but their task looked increasingly futile as Oulart eased four points clear early in the second period only to be yanked out of their comfort zone by a 42nd-minute Chris Bolger goal.
The Clara substitute reacted quickest after O'Connor parried a Stephen Quinlan shot following wonderful build-up play by Conor Phelan and James Nolan.
Four minutes later, Keith Rossiter got the wrong side of Nolan under a long David Langton delivery and the Clara full-forward got the faintest of touches to redirect a trickling ball over the Oulart goal-line. Clara, suddenly, led by three, Oulart's mettle now being held up to the harshest of light.
Their response was unequivocal.
Oulart won the remaining quarter by 0-6 to 0-0, Sinnott and Mythen running riot against defenders who just could not codify their positioning. As Clara manager Michael Purcell graciously put it: "There is no doubt the one-week turnaround was a huge disadvantage mentally, but to be truthful we just didn't hurl that well and lost our shape at the end. We have to be honest, Oulart just played better than us."
For Storey, Sinnott's display evoked memories of watching an unplayable schoolboy from almost a full decade back.
"Go back maybe eight years," smiled the All-Ireland-winning captain of '96. "He's the same age as my young fella (Martin Og was an Oulart substitute yesterday). We hurled an All-Ireland schools 'B' final with CBS. A Cork minor manager said to me that day: 'That is the best hurler I've ever seen in my life'. Garrett Sinnott was hurling at centre-forward that day.
"Garrett is the nicest, wildest chap in Ireland. But he's some hurler. When he's on his game, you can't stop him. Because he has no fear. He's afraid of nothing, he'll put his hand up anywhere.
"He has given performances in the past, but he's put together an unbelievable first and second half today.
"To me, that was as good a performance as any player has given all year."
Next up then, they get the opportunity to avenge the Offaly champions who beat them in last year's Leinster final.
"No one ever deserves a Leinster medal, you have to win it," said Storey.
The ghosts can keep their mischief to themselves.
SCORERS – Oulart: G Sinnott 0-6, D Mythen, N Kirwan (4fs) 0-4 each, R Jacob 0-3 (1 '65'), D Redmond 0-2, C O'Leary 0-1. Clara: K Hogan 0-4 (3fs), Liam Ryan 0-3, C Bolger, J Nolan 1-0 each, Lester Ryan, C Phelan 0-2 each.
OULART – B O'Connor; D Morton, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; C Goff, P Roche, L Prendergast; S Murphy, M Jacob; D Nolan, D Redmond, D Mythen; R Jacob, G Sinnott, N Kirwan. Subs: C O'Leary for Nolan (42), P Murphy for Kirwan (58).
CLARA – K Phelan; T Ryan, J Phelan, S O'Shea; N Prendergast, S Prendergast, D Langton; Lester Ryan, J Langton; C Phelan, K Hogan, Liam Ryan; A Murphy, J Nolan, C Prendergast. Subs: C Bolger for Murphy (34), S Quinlan for C Prendergast (41), C O'Shea for Nolan (49).
Ref – J McGrath (Westmeath).