Moore guides Oulart troops over 'pinnacle'
Not exactly a flag planted on a mountaintop for Wexford hurling, but still a day of some deliverance at Nowlan Park as Oulart evicted Kilkenny's new kings from the Leinster Championship.
"In Wexford, we're talking about beating Kilkenny teams all our lives," smiled their manager, Liam Dunne, when it was over. "They're the pinnacle of everything, aren't they?"
Down the dressing-room corridor, the players and mentors of James Stephens were left to reflect on how a single week in hurling can, sometimes, become an eternity.
Just seven days after a tumultuous county final win over Ballyhale, they found themselves packing their bags for the last time this season.
The absence through suspension of their captain and defensive talisman Jackie Tyrrell had undoubtedly been a factor, though it ought really be stressed that Oulart-The Ballagh's hurling was generally sharper and their appetite more conspicuous.
Indeed, they too went into battle depleted, Paul Roche and Peter Murphy both sidelined through injury and, no doubt, the weight of recent history pressing hard on Wexford minds.
County champions for a third successive year, Oulart were narrowly evicted from the provincial championship by Ballyhale (after extra-time) in '09 and by O'Loughlin Gaels last year. Kilkenny teams seemed determined to put a seal on their dreams.
But giveaway goals either side of half-time enabled them to stretch nine points clear of James Stephens here and, though The Village launched a typical late surge, it would have been an injustice had Oulart been reined in.
With Darren Stamp keeping a tight leash on Eoin Larkin and Keith Rossiter utterly imperious at full-back, the Wexford champions had a solidity to their defensive structure that kept snipers well clear of Ben O'Connor's goal.
Perhaps The Village's only goal chance came three minutes before half-time, when Rossiter's flicked hand-pass was intercepted by a flying Matthew Ruth, whose kicked effort skimmed the crossbar. That score tied things at 0-6 each. It was as good as things would get for the Kilkenny side.
Stylish points from Darren Nolan and the rampant Eoin Moore eased Oulart in front again and then, three minutes into added time, Shaun Murphy's long-range free seemed to be lost in the blinding sun by The Village backs and jack-knifed to the net off Ray Coady's hurley.
Thirty seconds after the resumption, trouble turned to crisis for James Stephens. Moore brilliantly blocked down an attempted clearance from Tomas Keogh and the sliotar dropped favourably for him to pull a first-time finish.
Was tiredness maybe aching through the bones of the Kilkenny champions?
"I don't think so," said Niall Rigney later, The Village manager a portrait of grace and magnanimity. "I said last week I didn't think tiredness would beat us. We just gifted them two goals and were left chasing the game. That killed us."
Moore's goal seemed, momentarily, to stun James Stephens as Oulart tagged on points from Stephen Doyle and a Moore free, the latter after Eamonn Sheehy threw his hurley in a vain attempt to subdue David Redmond.
But Donnacha Cody was having a stormer at centre-back for The Village and a fine 42nd-minute Eoin Larkin point set in train what was to become a rousing comeback.
James Stephens would actually win the closing quarter 0-7 to 0-1, yet the bulk of their scores were coming from placed balls, such was Oulart's defensive unity. Andrew Kavanagh brilliantly intercepted a dangerous Gary Whelan delivery and, seconds later, the wonderful Stamp made a majestic catch into the sun.
James Stephens sent the ever-dangerous Larkin to the edge of the square, but going from Stamp to Rossiter can't have felt much like a personal encouragement.
Rory Jacob did stop the lop-sided flow of scores, skinning Keogh for a gorgeous point on 48 minutes. But that would be Oulart's closing score. Against Kilkenny opposition that would, ordinarily, prove fatal.
Stephen Nolan did have a great goal chance in the 54th minute, but his shot was a comfortable height for Derek Brennan, who batted it away comfortably.
Redmond, the two Nolans and Rory Jacob all spurned point opportunities too and when Larkin dropped a late free into the Oulart square, the sliotar was spooned away for a '65' like a package that was ticking. Larkin put it between the posts, but The Village needed a goal. And Oulart weren't obliging.
When it ended, Dunne eschewed all back-slapping and hollering, quietly taking himself down the dressing-room tunnel while his players were still exchanging handshakes.
Oulart now play Laois champions Clough/Ballacolla in a Wexford Park semi-final next Sunday and the great man won't be counting chickens.
"When you're a Wexford man coming to Nowlan Park, you don't look that far ahead," he smiled gently. "We just came up here to survive."
Oulart's best on the day were Rossiter, Stamp, Lar Prendergast, the Jacob brothers -- Rory and Michael -- Redmond and the unstoppable Moore.
For The Village, there were heroic performances from Keogh, John Comerford, Cody, Eoin Larkin and the hard-working David McCormack. Tyrrell was a loss, but Rigney would not buy it as an excuse.
"There'll be no excuses from us whatsoever," said the Laois man. "The lads were fantastic, in fairness, the way they fought back.
"Jackie is a colossus. He's our captain and our talisman, but today wasn't about Jackie not playing. Look, every person in The Village is unbelievably proud of these lads.
"But Oulart were the better hurling team and they deserved their win. They've a great manager who was a fine hurler. I'd love to see them win Leinster now."
SCORERS -- Oulart: E Moore 1-5 (0-1 free), S Murphy 1-0, N Kirwan 0-3 (3f), R Jacob 0-2, D Nolan, S Doyle 0-1 each. James Stephens: E Larkin 0-11 (8f, 1 '65'), N Tyrrell, D McCormack, E McCormack, M Ruth 0-1 each.
OULART -- B O'Connor; A Kavanagh, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; S Murphy, D Stamp, L Prendergast; M Jacob, D Redmond; D Nolan, G Sinnott, F Cullen; E Moore, R Jacob, N Kirwan. Subs: S Doyle for Kirwan (36), D Mythen for Cullen (56).
JAMES STEPHENS -- D Brennan; J Comerford, T Keogh, N McQuillan; R Coady, D Cody, P Larkin; D McCormack, E Sheehy; N Tyrrell, E Larkin, M Ruth; J McGrath, E McCormack, D Walton. Subs: G Whelan for McGrath (h-t), C McQuillan for Tyrrell (44), S Campion for E McCormack (62).
Ref -- B Kelly (Westmeath)