Evergreen Martin Comerford to the fore in O’Loughlin Gaels win

Current Leinster club champions Oulart-The Ballagh have reign ended at semi-final stage

O’Loughlin Gaels 3-17 Oulart-The Ballagh 0-17

There are no second acts in Kilkenny hurling, except when it comes to the club championship, and even if Martin Comerford knows his best days with the county are long since over he's still capable of some sweet reminders of just how good they were.

Now aged 38 - and six years after retiring from the Kilkenny county team - Comerford wasn’t the only driving force in getting O’Loughlin Gaels back into the Leinster club hurling final, although he was probably the most appreciative: the small band of club supporters who made their way to Wexford certainly shared that judging by the way they lavished him with praise in the immediate aftermath of the nine-point win.

Modesty was always Comerford’s thing as a Kilkenny player, even after winning six All-Irelands, four National League, eight Leinster titles, and three All Stars. Here then he was quick to lavish that praise back on his team mates after they’d slowly and then painfully ended the reign of current Leinster club champions Oulart-The Ballagh.


Mark Bergin, for starters, deserved his praises too - rattling off 1-8 over the hour, his move out the field from full forward was the key to unravelling the Wexford champions. Mark Kelly also riffled home their opening goal after 10 minutes after Oulart-The Ballagh had opened up with a whirlwind of scores.

Still, Comerford’s four points from open play - the last two of which could have been cut straight from the highlights reel of his Kilkenny days - drew the loudest applause, capping off what turned out to be a perfectly deserving win over the home team.

“I thought the lads were outstanding,” said Comerford, who was part of the O’Loughlin’s team which first won the Leinster title outright in 2003 and again in 2010. “We started a big sluggishly, seemed to be stuck in the blocks for a long time, then in fairness Mark Kelly got an outstanding goal and brought us back into it. This time of the year goals like that are vital.

“We got a lucky enough goal after that and they just got the momentum going from there. We got stuck in, got our strategy right, the two inside, the one outside, and one extra out the field. That worked very well for us and we were able to pull away. So a great performance, after a lot of hard work.”

That “lucky” goal came on 20 minutes, when Bergin’s long-range effort was fumbled on the goal line by Conor O’Leary, and slipped harmlessly into the net. Four minutes later they were level, thanks to Comerford’s first inspiring point from play, and not long after that went ahead.

For Oulart-The Balagh, with 11 survivors of the team that won last year's Leinster crown, everything appeared to be going exactly to plan, Nicky Kirwan and Garret Sinnott contributing to their early spree, but it was to be short-lived.

Despite trailing 0-5 to no score after 10 minutes, the Kilkenny champions managed to go into the break two points up. By then though manager Aidan Fogarty had made enough running repairs - especially in repositioning Bergin - to ensure they had the better of Oulart-The Ballagh, especially around midfield.

What completely undid the Wexford challenge then was their own slackness - especially in their short-passing game favoured by co-manager Frank Flannery, who has been making a 10-hour round-trip from his home in Cork in an effort to help them win back-to-back titles.

But that tactic backfired when Sammy Johnston intercepted some overly short passing in the Oulart-The Ballagh defence by Anthony Roche, and promptly buried their third goal. When Bergin followed that with a brilliant long-range point they were up 3-10 to 0-13, and even with 20 minutes left to play the home team looked shattered and demoralised, which as it turns out they were.

Next up for Comerford and company is the final showdown against Dublin champions Cuala, who lost out in last year’s final to the Wexford champions: “Any day you get to play with the club in a Leinster championship is a great day,” he added. “And when you’re getting on in your career as well. So I’m absolutely thrilled.

“And I suppose any time you win a Kilkenny championship you think you have a chance. Because it is so competitive. We’re giving it our best shot. We know these opportunities don’t come around too often, so we’ll making sure again to give it our best against Cuala. But it’s all about the team effort, to do our best.

“We’ve another day out now, in the Leinster final. And it will certainly shorten the winter for us.”

O'LOUGHLIN GAELS (KILKENNY): S Murphy; A Forristal, A Kearns, E Kearns; A O'Brien, B Hogan (capt) H Lawlor (0-1); P Butler, P Deegan (0-2); A Geoghegan, M Kelly (1-1), D Loughnane (0-1); S Johnston (1-0), M Bergin (1-8, four frees), M Comerford (0-4).

Subs: S Bolger for S Johnston (56 mins), E Grant for A Geoghegan, S Mahony for Hogan (both 59 mins), D Burke for P Butler (61 mins).

OULART-THE BALLAGH (WEXFORD): C O'Leary; K Rossiter, A Roche, B Kehoe; D Morton, S Murphy, P Murphy (0-1); D Redmond (0-2), E Moore; D Mythen (0-2), T Storey, K Sheridan; R Jacob (0-1), G Sinnott (capt) (0-5), N Kirwan (0-4, three frees).

Subs: M Jacob for Morton (27 mins), M Storey for Sheridan (44 mins), M Doyle (0-1)for Mythen (45 mins); B Dunne (0-1) for Storey (47 mins); N Redmond for P Murphy (52 mins).

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan

Ian O'Riordan is an Irish Times sports journalist writing on athletics