Saturday 17 February 2018

Jacob hails Oulart's never-say-die spirit

Liam Dunne during his Oulart days
Liam Dunne during his Oulart days
Colm Keys

Colm Keys

In the course of an interview this week on the Wexford GAA website, Model County manager Liam Dunne sought to bring some perspective to his club Oulart-The Ballagh's efforts to finally get over the line and win a provincial club crown.

He recalled that the Wexford team he was such an elemental part of faced uphill climbs, with countless slips and falls before they eventually reached the summit.

League final defeats to Kilkenny, Offaly and Cork (after three games) within a four-year period at the beginning of the 1990s and Leinster final defeats in 1992, '93 and '94 before the breakthrough in '96 should have broken them but didn't.

And yet Dunne, ever the pragmatist, couldn't help suggesting that defeat in a fourth consecutive Leinster club final for Oulart could be "the straw that will break the camel's back," for the team that he led to the first three of their five consecutive Wexford club titles, before he was appointed the county manager.

Teams have lost three consecutive Leinster club finals before, Kinnity from 1983-85 and St Rynagh's from 1973-75, but no one has ever lost four on the trot.

Kinnity have not been back to a final since their trio of losses but St Rynagh's did manage to increase their tally to four in subsequent years.

Right now, Oulart have the unwelcome record of losing more Leinster club hurling finals – five – than any other team. Being without a title only serves to rub salt into that wound.

No wonder Dunne sees it in such defining terms.

With no Wexford team on the winner's podium since Rathnure in 1998, the gradient is that little bit steeper.

The push to the summit reminds Mick Jacob, the renowned Wexford hurler of the 1970s and father of current players Michael and Rory, of Oulart's 25-year quest for their maiden Wexford title. A senior club since 1969, it took them a quarter of a century before they finally made the breakthrough in 1994.

"We lost five finals in those years but we were always very consistent. This team reminds me of that. They never give up and that has been something that has been in this club for a long time," he said.

"We could beat Buffers Alley and then lose to Rathnure. But as a club we never thought it wouldn't happen, and clearly these lads think the same. We never let it get to us."

It is a measure of that consistency that Oulart have knocked out the last three Kilkenny champions – James Stephens in 2011, Ballyhale Shamrocks in 2012 and Clara earlier this month – since their 2010 provincial final defeat to O'Loughlin Gaels.

Over the course of the last four campaigns they have also beaten champions from Dublin, Offaly, Westmeath and Laois.

Jacob believes the second half against Killoughey-Kilcormac was as good as he has seen from Oulart this year, but the semi-final against Shamrocks last year stands out.

"This team has performed at a very high level for a long time. They have always had tough Leinster campaigns, nothing easy," he said.

Jacob insists Oulart will pay Mount Leinster Rangers every respect they deserve: "They've beaten Dublin champions Ballyboden St Enda's, a team full of players with Leinster medals, and they had players who were involved in beating Dublin at U-21 level this year," he said.

"Oulart know they have no right to win anything because of what they have done before. They have to go out and earn it now."

Irish Independent

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