Exultant Oulart lay Leinster ghosts to rest
Wexford champions prove too strong for cautious Cuala to end final hoodoo and win their first provincial crown
Out of a black November tempest, Oulart finally found serenity then. "Today, we kicked the door in!" bellowed their captain, Barry Kehoe, silverware in his hand.
Formal recognition as the best club team in Leinster eluded them for so long, there was the scent of a curse in their story. The concussive toll of four consecutive provincial final defeats could have broken them. It certainly labelled them in a way that threatened to be defining when they failed to get beyond the Wexford quarter-final last year.
This team, it seemed, was a light-bulb with a broken filament.
But as the gale came whipping down on Carlow yesterday, rain in its teeth, pain on its breath, Oulart escaped the whispers of their past. They had too much steel, too much moxie, maybe simply too much need for Dublin champions Cuala in a game that always seemed under their control.
Many Oulart players collapsed to their knees at David Hughes's final whistle. They had just delivered the redemption song of their hurling lives.
"Best day of my life so far anyway!" beamed veteran defender Keith Rossiter. "The feeling is just unbelievable. Four Leinster final defeats... it's a fair achievement for that team to come back. You know, we were called 'Oulart, the bottlers'. We were called everything!"
No longer. Today, the barbs have fallen silent. For Oulart met their destiny convincingly, stretching into a wind-assisted eight-point half-time lead. Tomas Dunne's injury-time goal was undoubtedly, as Rossiter averred, "massive" in turning the screw on a Cuala team that, given the conditions, would have had much to be encouraged by in a five-point midway deficit.
Instead, there had to be doubts now rattling inside their heads and, when Oulart then scored the first two points of the second half, Cuala looked in crisis.
They had looked relatively composed through most of the opening period, Oisin Gough sweeping impressively behind his full-back line. Damage limitation seemed their priority and, for much of the half, they looked to be succeeding.
But Cuala's difficulty was a complete absence of shape or space in their attack. Con O'Callaghan's second-minute point would be there only score from play in the opening 47 minutes, at which point they trailed by 11. Forced to chase the game, they seemed almost psychologically incapable of it.
Whilst Oulart, naturally, flooded their defence, Cuala - inexplicably - kept defenders back, marking their own shadows. With five minutes to go and the game on the line, six Cuala backs were marking two Oulart attackers. It was like standing guard over an emptied safe. Asked why they had not committed more men forward, Cuala manager Mattie Kenny countered: "We did actually. Cian O'Callaghan went up for the last 15. There would have been no-one in our half then and the more bodies you put up there, the more congested it gets."
Oulart's only real challenge through this period was trying to subdue the one-man storm blowing down their left flank from a suddenly energised David Treacy. The Dublin inter-county man necklaced five terrific points between the 48th and 55th minutes, three from play.
But Cuala needed a goal and, frankly, nothing about them ever threatened one. With the wind at their backs, Mark Schutte would surely have been a lighthouse option on the edge of the square, but he remained peripheral throughout, finishing the day scoreless.
That was the Dublin club's difficulty. They found themselves playing the game resolutely on Oulart's terms now.
There was a telltale moment in the fifth minute when Cuala midfielder, Darragh O'Connell, was penalised for over-carrying. Bent into the breeze, he had been trying to do the only sensible thing open to him, just not with the efficiency required.
A tally of just 0-2 from the opening half hour would haunt Cuala, their attacking play a conflict of running into traffic and flustered shooting.
The Wexford champions had far more clarity and definition to their movement. Tommy Storey had three points on the board in the opening 20 minutes and Des Mythen was a constant threat, running slingshot off the shoulder of bigger men like Dunne and Garret Sinnott.
David Redmond had an outstanding day at midfield too and it was his sublime switch pass that set Dunne free for that vital 31st minute goal. Oulart's second goal came from Sinnott, an opportunist's kicked finish after Cuala goalkeeper Sean Brennan failed to deal with a 44th minute aerial delivery into his square.
Thereafter Oulart's sheer numerical advantage around their own goal meant that Cuala were kept at arms length without the intrusion of late drama.
As Rossiter read it: "We always felt in control. This bunch of players have serious talent and bottle to come back year in, year out, training, training, training. You know we really put the shoulder to the wheel this year. The aim was to get back to a county final and win it. I really believed we were in bonus territory once we came out of Wexford.
"Because it's a tough spot to get out of at the minute, a lot of young teams coming. We're this so-called 'ageing' team. But maybe the 'ageing' team deserved this Leinster."
There were no complaints from the Cuala camp afterwards. "They were worthy winners, the better team on the day," Kenny conceded. "The goals were pivotal. They controlled the ball very well in the last 15 minutes and showed all of their experience."
Oulart now play Munster champions Na Piarsaigh on February 6 for the right to play in an All-Ireland final on St Patrick's Day, a new scenario for the team that faced so many bleak Christmases in the past.
Men like Rossiter, Paul Roche, Redmond and the Jacob brothers, Mick and Rory, have known only heartache at this time of year.
When Glynn-Barntown evicted them from the Wexford Championship last year, it looked all over.
"It's going to be a change, alright" admitted Rossiter. "Hopefully the ground will be a little bit harder after Christmas and we can shake the thing up. But we're going to enjoy the next few days. And we're going to enjoy Christmas to be honest with you."
SCORERS - Oulart-The Ballagh: N Kirwan 0-5 (0-4f), T Dunne 1-1, T Storey 0-3, G Sinnott 1-0, D Mythen 0-2, E Moore and D Redmond 0-1 each. Cuala: D Treacy 0-10 (0-7f), Con O'Callaghan 0-2, S Treacy 0-1.
OULART-THE BALLAGH: C O'Leary; B Kehoe, K Rossiter, E Moore; P Roche, S Murphy, K Sheridan; D Redmond, M Jacob; R Jacob, T Dunne, T Storey; D Mythen, G Sinnott, N Kirwan. Subs: D Morton for M Jacob (51), P Murphy for Dunne (54), P Sutton for Sinnott (60).
CUALA: S Brennan; S Timlin, Cian O'Callaghan, J Sheanon; R Tierney, O Gough, S Moran; J Malone, D O'Connell; Con O'Callaghan, C Cronin, C Waldron; D Treacy, M Schutte, S Treacy. Subs: C Sheanon for Moran (22), N Kenny for Sheanon (45).
Ref- D Hughes (Carlow)