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Kilkenny class in the ranks can squeeze Gaels past Oulart

ON so many levels, tomorrow's trek to Carlow is a trip into the unknown for the club standard-bearers from Kilkenny and Wexford.

This provincial showdown was originally meant to happen nine weeks ago. Now, following three pre-Christmas postponements and at the fourth time of asking, it finally gets the green light from the weather gods. How can you possibly trust formguides when they date back to November?

"Neither team will have any form to go on," admits O'Loughlin Gaels manager Michael Nolan. "We're all playing practice matches but they are not the same. Still, we're reasonably happy with where we are at the minute."

He has made one change from the team that recovered from a fraught start to edge out Ballyboden St Enda's in extra-time -- Maurice Nolan, the manager's son, has recovered from injury to reclaim his place at midfield.

The Kilkenny City outfit may have dashed the drive-for-five dreams of Ballyhale Shamrocks en route to their latest county triumph, but they don't carry the All-Star aura of the 2010 All-Ireland champions and that explains why this is viewed as such a 50-50 contest.

In fact, Oulart are marginal favourites with the bookies ... but it's equally hard to second-guess how they will come out of the New Year traps.

Even their Leinster semi-final scorefest (Oulart 4-11, Raharney of Westmeath 4-8) was scarcely the best barometer as the second half was played in an impenetrable Mullingar fog.

Now managed by Liam Dunne, the Wexford champions boast a wealth of inter-county experience through the likes of Keith Rossiter, Darren Stamp, Paul Roche, Michael and Rory Jacob; they were patently superior to Raharney but cannot afford any repeat of the late defensive lapses that made that game so close on the scoreboard.

Prior to the original postponed final, Stamp suggested Oulart were a Wexford team with a "Kilkenny mentality"; that they were unlike other Wexford teams that are usually beaten before they go out to face their neighbouring rivals.

They have a real chance of claiming the provincial honours here but our tentative hunch is that Brian Hogan and Martin Comerford will bring their county class to the table and that Mark Bergin and Brian Dowling will deliver sufficient scores to seal the narrowest of victories.

ODDS: O'Loughlin Gaels 5/4, Draw 8/1, Oulart 4/5

VERDICT: O'Loughlin Gaels