Frank Flannery’s Leinster kingpins Oulart back on glory trail
Wexford champions host St Rynagh’s as they prepare to defend their provincial crown
Oulart-the-Ballagh manager Frank Flannery: “We really focused on the county championship and feel we’re kind of in bonus territory at this stage.” Photograph: Ken Sutton/InphoI
Frank Flannery was on the line for the two highlights in Wexford hurling’s last 12 months.
As coach of Oulart-The Ballagh last season, he led the team, previously four-in-a-row defeated Leinster finalists, to the promised land of a first provincial title. Seven months later he was in the Cork backroom team, as the county lost to Wexford for the first time in championship for 60 years.
Tomorrow he’s back in the AIB Leinster club championship, as Oulart attempt to retain the title, finally – and ecstatically – claimed a year ago.
After the final whistle a year ago, veteran Keith Rossiter couldn’t be accused of under-selling the moment.
“That feeling is unbelievable after four Leinster final defeats – that’s a fair achievement for any team to come back. We’ve been called Oulart The Bottlers; we’ve been called everything. That’s just the best day of my life so far.”
Flannery brought a lot of coaching experience for someone in his early 30s when he arrived in Oulart two years ago.
He had managed the Cork minors in 2012 and ’13 and brought Milford to All-Ireland camogie success as well as working with Derek McGrath in his first year with Waterford.
Flannery said last year that he had recategorised the Leinster final as an All-Ireland quarter-final. The Oulart challenge was distinct but familiar.
“We won the county and went on to win the All-Ireland. I think if something is a problem psychologically you minimise it, don’t let it emotionally hijack you.
“You go into some places which have been scarred and no-one can correct it but Oulart were genuinely looking to do anything to put it right. Maybe they went from being a flashier team in the past to a more workmanlike team when I got involved.
“They had been a more high-scoring team, more of a flair team and became very solid, almost stubborn, hung in there and became very hard to beat.”
Oulart’s catalogue of coming up short was extensive. Not alone had they unavailingly reached the four provincial finals up until Flannery’s arrival but the club had another two similar defeats on the record from 20 years previously.
A number of managers had tried to find a way around the ultimate obstacle and by the time the new manager got a crack at Leinster he had already overseen the loss of the county title in his first year.
“Management had come and gone,” he recalls, “but we wanted the players to look at themselves and ask,‘what can we do better?’.”
Na Piarsaigh from Limerick became the alpha and omega of Oulart’s season a year ago.
Ultimately the clubs contested an All-Ireland semi-final last February in which the Wexford side were rank outsiders but although they lost they took the eventual champions to extra time and nearly derailed their season.
But it was a meeting months earlier in a challenge game that Flannery remembers as a watershed moment of the campaign.
“We had played Na Piarsaigh in Portlaoise in September of last year and they beat us, 18 points! It was a turning point for our season because we had been hammered and had a serious chat among ourselves.
“What are we training for? What do we want from this? Are we really getting the most out of ourselves, players and management?
“A few days afterwards we had a training camp in Waterford that weekend and it was brilliant.”
The bittersweet conclusion to last year with its long-awaited achievement in Leinster and its near coup in the All-Ireland series set a new type of task for this season.
Flannery stepped away from his inter-county involvement last August and has been able to concentrate on Oulart.
“My role in Cork was very small but I decided to leave. It was by mutual agreement. It wasn’t working. You question yourself but I probably wasn’t able to give my best and I wasn’t giving my best.”
There has quite a high departure rate from last year’s panel.
Tomás Dunne, scorer of 1-1 in last year’s Leinster final, is on overseas army duty in Chad whereas Lar Prendergast and Peter Sutton are also unavailable.
Already though, according to their manager, Oulart have met a target.
“We’ve made a big deal out of being the only provincial champions to retain their county title [Na Piarsaigh, Sarsfields from Galway and Antrim’s Cushendall have all departed].
“Provincial champions traditionally find it hard the following year but we were conscious of tryingto emulate teams like Ballyhale, James Stephens and Birr who have done it inLeinster.
“We really focused on the county championship and feel we’re kind of in bonus territory at this stage.”