Cool' heads defy odds

Favourites fluff lines again as Offaly champs seal glory

Frank Roche

THE hurlers of Coolderry had been waiting 31 years to get back to the Leinster club final stage. Oulart-The Ballagh had been kicking their heels for 10 short months.

As the Offaly champions wallowed in the warm afterglow of their maiden AIB provincial championship, their vanquished Wexford rivals must have wondered would they ever savour such sweet satisfaction? Or would this current generation even get a chance to redeem yesterday's misfiring meltdown?

The pre-match presumption was that, having banged on the door for the last two years, Liam Dunne's men would finally knock it down at Nowlan Park yesterday.

Instead, the 15/8 outsiders from Offaly proved every bit as hungry as Oulart, sharper in their movement and -- here's the real difference - paragons of economy by comparison with the wasteful boys of Wexford.

All of which led to a relatively clear-cut four-point victory, 1-15 to 1-11, and an All-Ireland semi-final date with Gort next February.

Winning boss Ken Hogan embraced a familiar theme of Offaly underdogs dismissed at your peril.

"When you're written off like we were written off, earlier in the week, it gives you an incentive to play better," the former Tipperary goalkeeper and manager reflected, before immediately seeking to magnify the strength of their next opponents.

"It's a Leinster club final and we're delighted to win it," Hogan added, "but we still have another step to go and Gort are watching us there today, a tremendous team ... we know it's going to be tough."

Not as tough, though, as the tortuous post-mortems down Wexford way. It may be a dubious boast, but Oulart now surely have the unique claim of being the only club to lose two provincial finals in the same calendar year: last season's winnable decider against O'Loughlin Gaels was delayed by the weather gods until January.

"A bitter pill," admitted Dunne, who now moves on to the challenge of lifting the Wexford county hurlers, a squad sure to include a sizeable number of players who suffered in the black-and-red of Oulart yesterday.

"I'm not trying to be a nice fella saying that -- I'm not a nice fella! -- but I think they (Coolderry) deserved their victory," Dunne graciously conceded.

As for where his players lost it, well, you won't require a degree in forensics. Fourteen wides tell their own grim story. Coolderry, by frugal contrast, shot five. The losers were especially scattergun in the first half, both in their shooting and delivery from out the field, as evidenced by eight wides, and at least a further five efforts dropped into the hand of goalkeeper Stephen Corcoran.

And so, even though Oulart had been aerially dominant in defence, no one more so than Paul Roche, they found themselves trailing 0-6 to 0-5 at the midpoint.

Eoin Moore, who had top-scored for Oulart in their earlier wins over James Stephens and Clough-Ballacolla, would do so again here with 0-4 (3f).

But that's where the comparison ends, for Moore had a first half to forget, his five wides including two fluffed frees from within 35 metres.

By the time Moore was the first Oulart man off, after 41 minutes, his team was already in desperate pursuit. Coolderry's goal, within 90 seconds of the restart, would prove the critical score and it was all down to the dogged persistence and poacher's instincts of Cathal Parlon.

The chance stemmed from Barry Teehan's block on Roche's attempted clearance. When the ball broke to Parlon, he initially appeared to be bottled up but somehow engineered a way past Darren Stamp before finishing smartly. "An impossible goal," Hogan enthused.

"Sheer wrist work got him the goal, and a goal today meant so much."

Parlon was Coolderry's chief predator from open play with 1-3, but their menace came in several guises with Brian Carroll and Damien Murray also prominent. When Carroll arced over his third point - a wonderful long-range strike from the right touchline - their cushion had stretched to six with 39 minutes on the clock.

Oulart briefly rallied with three unanswered points, but then were lucky to see a second Parlon goal scratched out: one can only presume because Eoin Ryan had challenged goalkeeper Ben O'Connor (who had failed to hold Parlon's initial shot) inside the small parallelogram.

Not that it ultimately mattered, and Parlon had eased them seven up before Roche came up from defence to drill home a 20-metre free after 51 minutes. But that glimmer of a lifeline proved the game's last score.

Dunne now departs the Oulart hotseat, hoping history is not set to repeat itself. "I played on the first team that won the county championship in Oulart in '94 and '95; we were beaten in two Leinster club finals in a row and it took us 15 years to get back," he recalled. "We didn't get a third opportunity in a Leinster club final, so hopefully these boys will."