Door open for Oulart at last

The Ballagh must keep Cool' to make 2011 their year

Frank Roche

THE odds say Oulart. The experience argument is weighted in their favour. They are almost top-heavy with Wexford senior players.

They could have conquered Leinster in the last two seasons; ergo, if it doesn't happen now, will it ever? Oh, and they also toppled the latest kings of Kilkenny en route to tomorrow's final.

All the above are compelling reasons why Oulart-The Ballagh should finally scale the Leinster club summit. In a perverse way, all the above may also provide Coolderry with the keys to provincial glory.

For if Oulart fall prey to the belief that the hard work is already done, then they could just as easily fall victim to an Offaly ambush.

Liam Dunne knows all about the perils posed by unfancied Offaly hurlers and, with the new Wexford manager still wearing the bainisteoir's bib for his club, the presumption must be that Oulart are ready for a dogfight.


If not, then the Wexford champions could finish 2011 looking back on the dubiously unique distinction of losing two provincial finals in the same calendar year. That is because the snow-delayed 2010 decider only took place last January: Oulart may still view that 0-14 to 1-8 loss to O'Loughlin Gaels as one that got away.

In the same way, they were seconds away from toppling Ballyhale in a 2009 quarter-final epic that went to extra-time; the Kilkenny giant survived and went all the way to the All-Ireland title.

This time, there is no Black-and-Amber behemoth blocking the way ... for Dunne's battle-hardened crew have already disposed of James Stephens at the quarter-final stage. Seven of the last eight Leinster titles have gone to Kilkenny clubs, yet the Wexford men were clearly superior on the day, leading by eight points before a handful of Eoin Larkin placed balls brought the final margin back to three.

Eoin Moore, who only came off the bench in the Wexford final, proved tormentor-in-chief with 1-5 (2f). He followed up with another 1-4 (3f) as they edged past Clough-Ballacolla by four points during a high-quality semi-final.

Maybe the above close shave will have steeled Oulart against complacency. They will hope Moore can maintain his recent prolific run, assisted by the more proven predatory instincts of Rory Jacob. Their midfield has not been flourishing of late, but a defence superbly marshalled by Keith Rossiter and Darren Stamp remains their bedrock.

For all that, Coolderry are well equipped to capitalise if the chance presents itself. They have already put one dominant county champion, Ballyboden St Enda's, to the sword with an emphatic 1-18 to 0-15 victory.

Unusually, the Offaly men were slow out of the blocks that day and trailed by three points after the first quarter. This is not the Coolderry norm: in seven of their 14 SHC games over the past two years, they have scored a goal inside the first 90 seconds.

Doubtless they will look for another early blitzkrieg tomorrow. They have youth on their side, with four starters aged 20 or under. More tellingly, they have a potent full-forward line in the guise of deadball specialist Damien Murray; Cathal Parlon, who clipped 0-6 from play against 'Boden; and teenage prospect Eoin Ryan, who has tallied 6-22 from play in nine SHC games this season.

There are local fears about a potentially shaky full-back line -- but it has yet to be exposed. Coolderry invariably favour fast, diagonal movement of possession, and this could offer a route through Oulart's formidable defence ... but ultimately, you sense the Wexford men will want this too much.

ODDS: Oulart 8/15, Draw 8/1, Coolderry 15/8

VERDICT: Oulart-The Ballagh