Thursday 26 April 2018

Underdog status suits Oulart in last chance saloon - Roche

Paul Roche is determinted not to let Oulart's seat in 'the last chance saloon' slip
Paul Roche is determinted not to let Oulart's seat in 'the last chance saloon' slip

Michael Verney

When Mount Leinster Rangers consigned Oulart-The Ballagh to a fourth consecutive Leinster final loss in 2013, Paul Roche could be forgiven for thinking their time at the top was up.

Oulart were subsequently dumped out by Glynn-Barntown in the Wexford quarter-finals when chasing a county six-in-a-row, which seemed to signal the end of a golden generation.

However, despite claims that they were "soft", Oulart roared back and now stand on the brink of finally breaking their duck against surprise packets Cuala.

Sunday's decider offers them an unlikely seat in the last chance saloon, and one without the perils of the favourites' tag, which they have struggled to cope with in the past.

Relief

"It probably is the last chance that Oulart are going to get," Roche admitted. "After losing the fourth one you're sure you're never going to be back here again.

"We were getting more competition in Wexford every year and it just seemed, 'Jesus, it's a long road back'. It was a relief to win a county final again because the talk was 'we're gone, we're not going to win another county final'.

"There's nothing to lose. We're the underdogs, big underdogs. There's unfinished business and it's easy thinking for us rather than worrying about losing. We can go and try and perform."

As a full-time publican in the Oulart Hill Bar for the last three and a half years, Roche's takings took a significant hit when county final celebrations were cut short ahead of a seven-day Leinster turnaround.

His Wexford retirement in 2012 coincided with his new role and after a horrible series of groin injuries, even being told to finish up completely, he is fit and healthy for the first time in years.

The 33-year-old is privy to the hardship associated with the job, however, with a recent punter giving the corner-back extra motivation for victory.

He said: "You'd be hearing a lot of stuff - a woman came in the other day, 'If ye bate Cuala I'll ate me hand, ye haven't a hope!'. And I said, 'Thanks for the vote of confidence!'.

"Then she asked, 'Why, do you play?' I said, 'A small bit, yeah'. 'Well, their forwards are too fast, ye haven't a hope!' You'd be hearing that the whole time anyway but you pass it off."

For a small place, Oulart has been lucky to lose just two players to emigration, with Roche saying "it's easier keep people around when you are winning".

The likes of Keith Rossiter, Des Mythen and Rory Jacob have come up through the ranks with Roche but having such exceptional talent has also caused its share of headaches.

"At one stage there was nine or 10 of us in the county panel and the club boys are training with five and six at home," said Roche.

"We can't get teams, we were having to call off games, give walkovers. We didn't participate in one of the league campaigns because we couldn't get teams."

All the talk is of a blistering Cuala attack but Frank Flannery's side haven't conceded a goal in over 180 minutes, showing a new-found steel as they bid to join Rathnure and Buffer's Alley on Leinster's roll of honour at the seventh attempt.

"We're getting over the line. We're starting to know how to win games in tricky circumstances. But no one's going to hand you anything in life. You have to earn it," said Roche.

And would a win make up for all the losses? "I'm sure it would, just getting over the line," he said.

Last orders in Oulart.

Irish Independent

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