Oulart-the-Ballagh enjoy a very lucky escape
Oulart-the-Ballagh 1-13 Kilmacud Crokes 1-12:On an afternoon which turned apocalyptic for the final 10 minutes, Wexford champions Oulart drew on their experience of the Leinster hurling championship and its less-than-ideal conditions to eke out the tightest of victories over their Dublin counterparts as the floodlights of Parnell Park battled the dusk and unrelenting rain.
On a pitch which had already been treacherous before the deluge, the Wexford men rode their luck to avail of a controversial penalty award just before half-time.
Nicky Kirwan, the player judged to have been fouled, converted expertly for what was the pivotal score of this provincial quarter-final.
Although Kilmacud had, according to manager Gearóid Ó Riain, been expecting a third-quarter charge, they failed to cope with it and five minutes into the second half, they trailed by six after Rory Jacob, Kirwan and Darren Nolan all pointed from play.
Whereas it was greatly to their credit that they plugged away and eventually drew level, it was similarly a good reflection on the winners that they weathered the storm – literally – and Kirwan calmly cashed in a last-minute free (variously a needless or incorrect award) when Garrett Sinnott was swamped by defenders.
Having made hard work of the victory, Oulart were glad to get away and denied that complacency had played any role in the difficulty encountered.
“Looking at it from our side that’s true,” said the winning manager Pat Herbert when asked had they not expected a major challenge, “but the Dublin boys have a different answer to that. Look at Conal Keaney and what he wrote about us during the week.
“We knew it was going to be a battle. Kilmacud got through a very tough Dublin championship and beat Cuala in a hard battle two weeks ago.”
The match was tight in the first half with no more than two points between the teams at any stage until the end.
Oulart managed the slippery conditions better than their opponents, who were in a provincial championship match for the first time in 27 years. Slightly more dextrous in securing the ball they also made the ball work harder for them.
Conor O’Leary’s long-range dead-ball striking was reliable and Kirwan took care of the closer-in awards; between them they racked up 1-4 of the team’s first-half total of 1-8.
But Crokes had a broader scoring threat – only two of their eight points were from frees and four forwards scored from play and they found their rhythm in the second quarter to level the match at the start of injury-time through Damien Kelly.
The Stillorgan club ‘won’ the remainder of the match by 1-4 to 0-2 but it was only after Seán McGrath, who had a fine match on Keith Rossiter, plundered an equalising goal from Ross O’Carroll’s dropping ball that the margin shrank to smaller than three points.
“The goal just before half-time,” said Herbert about the game’s turning point. “That penalty gave us the momentum going out for the second half and it put them on the back foot.
“Then, we drove on from there and lost our way halfway through the second half and I suppose it’s a sign of good character in the team when they regained their composure in the last four or five minutes and came back for the vital score.”
Ó Riain was sceptical about the penalty: “No, I though he’d been harried out and your man dropped. That’s the conditions; poor decision but there you go.” Despite that, he managed to be positive about the future.
“We got a lot of performances out of a lot of the lads – maybe much more so that in the Dublin championship.
“We’ve only come together fully in the past couple of months and I think there’s a lot more to come over the next couple of years.”