Sport Hurling

Monday 23 April 2018

We don't 'deserve' a title – it has to be won

Darren Stamp
Darren Stamp
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

HOW many goals and points is a place in history worth?

The simple answer is none – and that's why Oulart-The Ballagh manager Martin Storey is shelving misty-eyed reflection on his club's five-in-a-row haul of Wexford senior hurling titles.

Storey was justifiably thrilled with the victory over Ferns which clinched the record Sunday before last, but he knows that Kilkenny's top Cats Clara are intent on putting a damper on the celebratory mood of the Wexford champions.

And while he tips his hat to the players for their achievements, his immediate concern is to ensure the club's Leinster campaign does not falter at the first hurdle.

"The minute we won that county final, it was history," he said. "And that was brilliant for the players and brilliant for me in my first year as manager.

HISTORY

"Those players have created their own little niche in the history books and it's nice to be part of something that is history. Only down the road when they retire will that be a real big thing.

"To everybody outside the team and the management, it was five in a row but to me and to the players it was a county medal.

"I'm not putting the record down. It's hugely important when you look back, but at the moment it means nothing if Clara beat us."

Storey's main injury worries centre around defenders Eoin Moore (knee) and Darren Stamp (calf). Both players came off injured in the county decider and are rated very doubtful for the game at Nowlan Park.

"The clock is badly against both of them. They'd be key players. You're talking about your centre-back and your county corner-back, so they are two big players," said Storey.

"But that's what hurling is about. You just have to use your panel."

Inevitably, the topic of Oulart-The-Ballagh's three successive losing Leinster final appearances arises but the 1996 All-Ireland winning captain puts that discussion in context.

"The way I'm looking at it, this match against Clara is our All-Ireland or our Leinster final, because if you don't win, you don't get any further so you can't talk about any honours," he said.

"It's just the next game, that's it, and we have to get through it. It's a knockout championship."

And what does he say to those who suggest Oulart-The Ballagh 'deserve' a Leinster title because they reached three successive finals?

"I've heard it said by people in Wexford, 'you deserve your Leinster title'. You do in your a*** deserve a Leinster title. There's no one more entitled than anyone else. It has to be won.

"We're taking the first step on Sunday. If we fail the first step, we're gone. There's no rocket science to it. It's all about performing in Kilkenny next Sunday at 2.30.

"I'm hoping the weather will be nice because we're two good hurling teams.

"Often you can have teams that would be big, strong teams. We're not. Hopefully if the weather is kind it should be a good game.

"But having said that, I'd prefer to win a bad game than lose a classic."

Storey came on board this year and kept the Oulart show on the road, after previous managers Brendan O'Connor (one) and Liam Dunne (three) had guided the club to Wexford titles.

Leinster has eluded them so far but Dunne, now Wexford team manager, hails the heart and spirit of the Oulart-The Ballagh players.

"The first thing I would have to say is that it's an unbelievable achievement from the players involved. They're a hugely committed bunch of players," said Dunne.

"I was over them for three years. I know the effort they put into it and the sacrifices they make.

SACRIFICES

"To win the five in a row... you have to take into account that they've been beaten in three Leinster club finals and they still came back for more.

"A year before that they were beaten by Ballyhale, which was my first year, in extra-time.

"That was in the first round, it went to extra-time and we got beaten by two points. So the boys have come back every year since.

"They've been beaten in three Leinster club finals but they won't get a chance of winning a Leinster club title unless they are winning the county championship.

"In fairness to our fellas, we won our first county senior hurling title in 1994, 19 years ago. We've been in 14 finals since, winning 11," said Dunne.

The club's long run of success makes them the side everybody else loves to hate in Wexford.

Dunne smiled and said: "We accept that. I suppose it's an honour in itself. I was asked at the semi-final, 'what's it like sitting in the stand knowing that everybody wants you beaten?' and I said 'well, you get used to it'."

And those Leinster final defeats? They certainly stung, but as Dunne said: "It shows great resolve – by the players, particularly, to keep coming back, but also for the club as well.

"We won the U-21 premier this year as well, we got beaten in a minor final as well so there's players coming on, but the wheel turns, as we well know, and you've got to try and make the best of it.

"People will be saying we've failed, and they'll be saying this and that, but the players have put those disappointments of the last number of years behind them and they've come back.

"We would have been happy to win one county senior hurling title in '94, but for these guys to have won five in a row is phenomenal.

"It's up to other clubs to come up to the mark, and I keep saying that to the county players.

"We're delighted down in Oulart that this group of players have created their own bit of history.

"That's a burden off their shoulders in itself. Even through the disappointments of the last number of years, these boys have shown their resolve, and maybe that's the bit of spirit we need to push the county on as well."

Irish Independent

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