Monday 19 November 2018

New kids on the block carry St Martin's home

Wexford SHC final: St Martin's 2-16 Oulart-Ballagh 1-9

St Martin’s players celebrate with the Bob Bowe Cup after winning the Wexford SHC final. Photo: Sportsfile
St Martin’s players celebrate with the Bob Bowe Cup after winning the Wexford SHC final. Photo: Sportsfile
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

This game may have given birth to a new faith in Wexford hurling as a defiant, young St Martin's team turned Oulart-The Ballagh's pockets inside out to claim the club's first senior crown in nine years.

It was precisely the emphatic statement many foresaw from a group that, virtually en bloc, will contest next weekend's county football final, the next chapter of an itinerary that is proving gloriously congested.

Oulart-The Ballagh's Eoin Moore tries to intercept St Martins' Mark Maloney. Photo: Sportsfile
Oulart-The Ballagh's Eoin Moore tries to intercept St Martins' Mark Maloney. Photo: Sportsfile

Oulart, chasing their fourteenth title, started as if in a hurry to put this one to bed and led 1-1 to 0-0 inside eight minutes, Gareth Sinnott's sixth-minute goal coming from Martin óg Storey's clever knock-down of a long Shaun Murphy delivery.

That direct route wasn't exactly borrowed from the traditional Oulart template and the use of those two big men inside seemed to unsettle St Martin's through the opening flurries of a furiously contested final.

Notional

The defending champions' notional corner-forwards, Rory Jacob and Nicky Kirwan, were both operating in floating roles, enabling Oulart to build up a comfortable 1-4 to 0-2 lead inside 18 minutes.

St Martin's Jake Firman tussles with Oulart-The Ballagh's Anthony Roche. Photo: Sportsfile
St Martin's Jake Firman tussles with Oulart-The Ballagh's Anthony Roche. Photo: Sportsfile

Martin's were struggling to get their star man, Rory O'Connor, into general play, the county man's right-knee heavily bandaged as he tried to evade the tight policing of Barry Kehoe.

Yet two interventions from O'Connor inside three minutes would dramatically reset the balance of this contest and, as time proved, punch a massive hole in Oulart's confidence.

First, he brilliantly set up a point for early substitute, Joe Coleman, who would have a major impact on the game. Then, eight minutes before the interval, O'Connor completely undressed the Oulart defence with a quickly-taken free to Ciarán Lyng who smashed an unstoppable shot past Conor O'Leary in the Clonard end goal.

That score seemed to dump industrial quantities of doubt down upon Oulart heads and, remarkably, they would go the full hour with Sinnott's personal tally of 1-1 their total forwards' return from play.

Indeed, from Lyng's goal to the end, St Martin's outscored the old champions by a remarkable 1-12 to 0-4.

It thus proved a spectacular reversal of what befell them when the sides met in the final two years ago, a day on which Martin's lined out with three first-year minors and close to a dozen U-21s in their team.

This time, they scored the last three points of the opening half to lead 1-7 to 1-5 at the break and simply refused to prevaricate on the resumption.

All through, they were finding time and space on young, fresh legs against opponents who were, palpably, diminished by the knee injury restricting their star player from the semi-final, Des Mythen, to a 12-minute cameo with the contest - by then - already slipping away.

Martin's dominated at half-back where Dáithí Waters especially and the outstanding Páidí Kelly had big games and, when Rory O'Connor started and finished a thrilling move to put them five points clear with just six minutes remaining, only the small print needed tending.

We were in added time when Joe O'Connor swept home their second goal, yet the mounting arithmetic didn't blind manager Tomás Codd to the dramatic momentum-change that came from Lyng's 27th-minute goal.

"You know you're talking about two really, really special players," he said, having eased through a great throng of well-wishers. "Ciarán Lyng has proven it over the years and I have no doubt that Rory O'Connor is going to be a special, special player for St Martin's and for Wexford. He dragged us to the final really, I'm not saying on his own, but he scored the last six points in the quarter-final against Buffers Alley, which we only won by a point.

"And he scored 2-7 in the semi-final to get us through that one, so he's a special player."

Those are the kind of figures that have caught Davy Fitzgerald's eye, O'Connor already having performed brilliantly for Wexford in this year's All-Ireland quarter-final against Waterford. Yet, the presence of that heavy knee-bandage on a young player now hugely in demand to so many different masters had, too, to be a source of worry..

Thirteen of yesterday's team will, most probably, start next weekend's football final, albeit with virtually the same management team in place for Martin's senior footballers and hurlers, there is - at least - a broad understanding of the individual loads being carried.

"It's not easy," acknowledged Codd. "Probably 15 or 16 of the panel are U-21s, so ten of the team will have played 20 games in 14 weeks!

"It's not the county board's fault. They're given a very small time-frame to play all these games. And it's going to be even worse next year with them pulling the All-Ireland back."

For now, Martin's only focus between games has to be on recovery. Yet any worries about the physical price being paid (and this was a hard, sometimes salty battle) is now offset by the mental resilience palpable within the group.

They had outstanding contributions right across the field, but mostly in defence where Willie Devereux and Patrick O'Connor eventually closed all doors to Oulart's always depleted inside line, while Coleman, Jake Firman and Rory O'Connor were outstanding in attack.

It was a difficult day for the beaten Oulart men, yet nobody could fault the effort of old stalwart, Keith Rossiter.

Yet, pointedly, three of the four St Martin's substitutes used were minors. There was a sheen off the new champions. One that might be visible for some time.

Scorers - St Martin's: C Lyng 1-2, R O'Connor 0-5 (4f), J Firman and J Coleman 0-3 each, Joe O'Connor 1-0, D Waters, P Kelly and Jack O'Connor 0-1 each. Oulart-The Ballagh: N Kirwan 0-6fs, G Sinnott 1-1, K Sheridan and D Redmond 0-1 each.

St Martin's - L White; W Devereux, P O'Connor, C Firman; D Waters, A Maddock, P Kelly; H O'Connor, M Maloney; J Firman, Joe O'Connor, Jack O'Connor; C Lyng, R O'Connor, D Codd. Subs: J Coleman for Codd (18), B O'Connor for H O'Connor (60), M Codd for Firman (62), E O'Leary for Joe O'Connor (66).

Oulart-The Ballagh - C O'Leary; A Roche, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; E Moore, S Murphy, K Sheridan; D Redmond, T Storey; D Morton, P Murphy, R Jacob; N Kirwan, M óg Storey, G Sinnott. Subs: B Dunne for M óg Storey (38), D Mythen for Storey (48), P Sutton for Murphy (49).

Ref - J Owens (Kilrush-Askamore)

Irish Independent

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