Thursday 21 September 2017

Wexford stars Rory and Michael talk title hat-tricks and provincial failures

Brothers Rory, left, and Michael Jacob with their father Mick Jacob pictured at Oulart-The Ballagh as the club prepare to face Kilkenny champions James Stephens this Sunday in the AIB Leinster Club SHC quarter-final
Brothers Rory, left, and Michael Jacob with their father Mick Jacob pictured at Oulart-The Ballagh as the club prepare to face Kilkenny champions James Stephens this Sunday in the AIB Leinster Club SHC quarter-final
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

IT must be tough keeping up at the Jacobs. Not only do you have plenty of healthy competition between brothers Rory and Michael -- the sisters keep raising the bar as well.

Last Sunday, Ursula and Helena Jacob left Portmarnock with more medals to add to the family collection after their Oulart-The Ballagh side comfortably beat Ballyboden St Enda's to claim their second successive Leinster senior camogie crown.

A fortnight previously, Michael and Rory claimed their third senior county title in a row, something the club had never achieved despite going close on two previous occasions.

Anything the boys can do, the girls are intent on bettering and the healthy competition keeps them going.

"It's going very well in the club at the moment with both the hurling and the camogie," said Michael. "There's a lot of interest between the families and with both teams winning one week after another in county finals, the girls have been going very well over the last few years and hopefully we can emulate them."

Provincial glory at club level has evaded the Jacob brothers so far, as the not insignificant obstacle of neighbours Kilkenny has stood between them and Leinster titles for much of their club and county careers.

On Sunday, Michael and Rory will board the bus and make a familiar journey to Nowlan Park with another daunting mission to complete -- this time a provincial quarter-final against James Stephens.

Having run teams close and then watched them get to Croke Park on St Patrick's Day, Oulart want a piece of the action for themselves. However, once again they face the toughest of routes to the top.

Strongest

"The Leinster championship is the strongest of the provinces, it's very hard to win," said Michael. "The Kilkenny champions are always hard to beat. Ballyboden have been very strong. The Offaly champions, Birr, had dominated for years and Coolderry have come along over the last few years and they're strong.

"We played James Stephens in 2004 and they won the club All-Ireland. We played O'Loughlin Gaels last year -- we lost by two points -- and they got to the final.

"Ballyhale beat us in extra-time in 2009 and they won the All-Ireland. You're playing good teams, it hasn't anything to do with what we're doing. It is a step up, but it's a step up for any team once you come out of your county."

Many would resent Kilkenny hurling for the impositions they have inflicted on Wexford teams over the past decade but, for Rory, there is no grudge, just respect and a knowledge that beating the best has to be earned.

"I wouldn't say we're sick of it at all," he said. "Kilkenny teams might have got the upper hand on Wexford teams, but they've gotten the upper hand on most teams in the country.

"It's not a Wexford thing, it's a great challenge, you're playing against the best and that's what you want to be doing.

"They're definitely the best and it is up to you to come up to the standard and that's what we're trying to do with the club and, in fairness, that's what we're trying to do with Wexford generally.

"We're a bit off at the moment but we won't stop trying and we will keep on trying to face the challenge head on."

Three weeks ago, the Jacob brothers and their Oulart team-mates made history by claiming that elusive third consecutive Wexford title, something their predecessors had come close to doing without sealing the deal.

"The club had never done it before," Rory said. "We came very close a few times. We got beaten in a semi-final in 1996 and in 2006 in the county final when we were going for three in a row.

"We enjoyed it, we had a few good nights in Oulart-The Ballagh. We put an awful lot into it, the hurling club, and when we do win something we appreciate it.

"It's not every day you win a county title so the work that we have put in since the start of the year -- the work the lads who weren't on the county team put in -- was savage all year long and we've been putting in work for the county team and we came back and worked hard. So we definitely enjoyed the few days and it's important to do that.

"You have to enjoy your wins. If you don't enjoy it there's no point in playing."

After a three-week break -- elongated by seven days after James Stephens drew with Ballyhale in the Kilkenny showpiece before Eoin Larkin inspired them to the title on Sunday -- they will be fresh and ready for their shot at the Kilkenny champions.

Just like talk of three in a row was banished earlier in the year, any questions about Leinster titles are quashed and a 'one game at a time' mantra is top of both brothers' lists.

They have been around too long to get ahead of themselves when they are facing Kilkenny teams. But they know, having gone so close in recent times, that a breakthrough is not beyond them, that they have the quality to pull something special off.

"We don't think we're far away now. Any of the teams we have played, we've been close," Michael said. "It would drive you on, watching them get to Croke Park. But to be honest, we haven't been thinking about the club championships.

"Our focus was on winning the Wexford championship and anything else was a bonus.

"We're underdogs, it's in Kilkenny and we're going to Nowlan Park to do our best and hopefully we will do our best and come away with a result."

Irish Independent

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