Title-holders fancied to triumph in quarter-final
Two appealing double-headers in Innovate Wexford Park
Reigning champions Oulart-The Ballagh will not be caught on the hop when they come up against neighbours Shelmaliers in the Pettitts Senior hurling championship quarter-final in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday (3.30 p.m.).
While their opponents were concentrating on a Senior football game at the same stage last weekend, this was in stark contrast to their opponents who had every minute and every hour accounted for in preparation for this big game, with a challenge game down in Waterford last Saturday as they stepped up their preparations.
Many will say that the bizarre Wexford championship system is against the dual club, and few will disagree, which will hand sides such as Oulart-The Ballagh and Rathnure a huge advantage going into this weekend's quarter-finals.
What you see with Oulart-The Ballagh is what you get which is why they have been the dominant force in Wexford hurling over the past ten years.
For all the exceptional work done, their game has been brought to another level by manager Frank Flannery who guided them to a first-ever Leinster Club title, a stage where he and his players would like to return to.
Shelmaliers, having won the Senior title in 2014, failed to build on that and maintain the momentum.
They have fashioned their way through to the quarter-final stage this year but huge improvement will be needed for them to seriously test the reigning champions.
Oulart-The Ballagh will be hoping that influential centre-back Shaun Murphy will have fully recovered from a calf injury to take his place as he is crucial to their defensive set-up.
Veteran Keith Rossiter is once again proving a commanding figure on the fringe of the square, while Rory Jacob is giving the team added experience around midfield, with Garrett Sinnott, Nicky Kirwan and Des Mythen figuring prominently in the scoring stakes.
Shelmaliers are a side capable of fast-forwarding their game, particularly should individual like Simon Donohoe, Brian Malone, Eoin Doyle and Conor Hearne impose a presence.
But such has been the power of Oulart-The Ballagh that it is difficult to oppose them for this game.
Rathnure and Rapparees have made a big presence on the championship so far which makes for an attractive double-header, with this match on at 5 p.m..
Rapparees squeezed through to the quarter-finals with an immense victory over St. Martin's in their final group game, while Rathnure have been playing consistently well without setting the title race on fire. Perhaps this is the most difficult game of the weekend to predict given that so little separate the sides.
Rathnure will be looking towards Jack Guiney to continue his sparkling form, while the Rapps have their scoring ace in veteran Mossy Mahon.
This is a game that will go right down to the wire but the more free-flowing Rapps could edge it.
The Senior quarter-finals get under way on Saturday afternoon with an equally attractive double-header.
The surprise packets of this year's title race, Oylegate-Glenbrien and Naomh Eanna, face each other, having caught sides on the hop thus far.
Oylegate-Glenbrien have made a huge impression, being inspired by Damien Reck from the centre-back position, along with Podge Doran and Jamie Reck in attack.
Meanwhile for Naomh Eanna, Conor McDonald showed a welcome return to form in their last victory over Faythe Harriers.
Both teams built momentum through the championship but the all-round flair of Oylegate-Glenbrien should see them through to the semi-final.
St. Martin's, shocked by the Rapps in their final group game, can be expected to return to top form against Buffers Alley who have struggled despite securing a quarter-final spot.
Although defeat was the lot for both sides in their last group outing, one can expect a Rory O'Connor-inspired St. Martin's take charge of this game and qualify for the final four.