Monday 18 December 2017

Oulart stick together to create winning template

Darren Stamp is hoping Oulart can give Wexford hurling a much-needed boost, writes Marie Crowe

Looking back on his childhood, Wexford hurler Darren Stamp recalls growing up surrounded by his heroes. Summer evenings were spent in the GAA field practising his skills and watching the likes of Liam Dunne and Martin Storey training.

"I'd always go down to the club (Oulart-The Ballagh) to watch the senior team training, it was a privilege to watch the likes of Dunne and Storey," says Stamp. "They were two of the best hurlers in the country. About five or six of us would sit in a row in the dug-out watching them at every training.

"They had a routine, they would go down in front of the goals and strike a few balls over the bar or Liam would take a few frees. The group of us, sitting in a row in the dug-out, would just hope that we'd be picked to go down behind the goals to puck the ball out. And if one of us did get picked it was like winning an All-Ireland."

For Stamp, his love for hurling started at primary school in Oulart. Breda Flood, along with Breda Jacob, mother of Wexford senior stars Michael and Rory, were teachers there. They helped make hurling a way of life for the students in the school.

So much so that Stamp remembers every spare minute being spent pucking and practising. From there Mick Jacob, husband of Breda, took over. He introduced solid underage structures into the club and trained Stamp right through the underage ranks.

"Those three people were instrumental in creating what we have in the club at the moment. We won everything underage and now, over ten years later, eight of the lads who Mick Jacob trained are on the county panel."

Hurling wasn't the only sport Stamp played; he was on Mick Wallace's Wexford Youths team that experienced All-Ireland glory. He also got trials with Middlesbrough and Reading, but for him it was always going to be hurling.

"I just never got the same buzz out of playing soccer that I did out of hurling. At the time I was captain of the Wexford minor hurlers and that held my interest. I wanted to play matches in Croke Park; hurling was the game I'd grown up with and the one I wanted to keep playing."

One game Stamp definitely doesn't have any interest in is Gaelic football; in fact he is worried that the young hurlers coming through may have their heads turned by the success the footballers are having. But he feels it's hard to blame them, as young players want to play for the team that is doing well.

And he feels the situation isn't being helped by the fact that Wexford are still without a hurling manager. Colm Bonnar resigned back in July and five months later the job still hasn't been filled.

"I don't know what's going on, I haven't even heard of anyone being interviewed for the job. I'm sure the person who gets it would have liked to see the county championship games. If he is an outsider there are many players he won't have seen playing."

After weighing it up, Stamp admits that he'd like a Wexford man to take the reins; he thinks that there are a few locals who would be well capable of doing the

job. However, he feels the person who goes in should be given an extended term.

For now, though, Stamp is concentrating on club hurling. By beating Rathnure in the county final four weeks ago, Oulart-The Ballagh made history by winning their third consecutive title, and their sixth since 2004. And although their success is impressive Stamp believes that not everyone in Wexford is happy with their dominance.

"The hurling scene isn't great in Wexford at the moment. The other players and clubs are just not putting in the same effort as us and I don't know why. There are a lot of people down here criticising us for what we are doing, criticising us for being successful instead of trying to train every bit as hard as we train. It's very petty."

Winning the Wexford championship also earned Oulart-The Ballagh a spot in the Leinster quarter-final, so today Stamp and his team-mates travel to Nowlan Park to take on James Stephens, conquerors of Ballyhale Shamrocks in the replayed Kilkenny final. James Stephens are favourites despite having to line out without captain Jackie Tyrrell, who was sent off in the replay.

"It's unfortunate that Jackie is missing. I'd prefer if he was playing because it will put more emphasis on the other players to win it for him. They are missing their captain and their centre-back, he is a fantastic player and I'm sure he will be a big loss but we're not going to let it affect us."

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