Gaels stand tall when it matters

 

LEINSTER CLUB SHC FINAL: O’Loughlin Gaels 0-14 Oulart-the-Ballagh 1-8:ANOTHER SORROWFUL mystery for Wexford hurling.

When David Redmond rifled over his third point of the second half of yesterday’s AIB Leinster club hurling final in Carlow to push Oulart four points clear in the 40th minute, the club looked set to fulfil their ardent ambition to win a first provincial title.

Instead, as the hitherto fitful challenge of O’Loughlin Gaels picked up a little intensity, Oulart lost focus and ended up being out-scored 0-8 to 0-1 over the remaining 20 minutes. It was a sickening defeat, scarcely made more tolerable by its underlining of the age-old imperative to stay on top of Kilkenny teams when you have the opportunity.

Reflecting Oulart’s loss of direction, wing back Lar Prendergast, who had hurled really well, lashed out with the hurl with eight minutes left after being fouled and got his marching orders.

It was a sad end to what had been begun promisingly. The Kilkenny club retraced the pattern of their semi-final win over Ballyboden (without having to go to extra-time) by conceding the early initiative. After Garrett Sinnott and Mark Bergin had swapped early points, Rory Jacob struck for a venomously hit goal in the fifth minute, getting in behind the defence and on to Darren Stamp’s long ball.

Everything was going to plan. Playing off the aerial strength of Stephen Doyle and Sinnott, Oulart launched menacing attacks whereas at the back Keith Rossiter did a fine job of restricting Martin Comerford’s input and all around him the defence marked tightly and cleared the ball well.

Add to that the forced departure of O’Loughlins’ combative full back Andy Kearns after an injury on just 15 minutes and everything looked to be going the Wexford club’s way.

If there was any haunting concern it would have been the concession of frees and the manner in which Mark Bergin was converting them to keep the Kilkenny club in touch.

A pivotal moment arrived moments before half-time just as O’Loughlins were storming back into the match with a string of scores, from Peter Dowling, Niall McEvoy and Bergin.

As they had done in the semi-final when re-balancing early concessions with an unanswered 1-3, the Kilkenny champions hacked back the deficit to leave it at one, 1-4 to 0-6. The closing action of the half was significant. Rory Jacob was hauled down but his resulting penalty was driven hard and, crucially, wide of the goal.

If O’Loughlin’s imagined they had done enough to spook Oulart, they were initially wrong. Bergin missed a 65 and Redmond compiled his impressive portfolio of long-range scores to leave the margin at four, 1-7 to 0-6.

But worrying signs began to emerge. Chances to extend the lead weren’t taken. Instead Bergin clipped it back to three and earlier evidence hardened that Kearns’s departure hadn’t done O’Loughlins as much damage as might have been feared, as Brian Hogan’s switch to full back called time on Sinnott’s aerial dominion.

Then Comerford came out from the edge of the square and liberated, struck two points in a couple of minutes before McEvoy levelled the match with 10 minutes left. Alan Geoghegan’s work rate was also intensifying the pressure.

Substitute Shéamie Cummins posed a new threat up front and scored two points in those closing minutes. All Oulart mustered in response was a free from Nicky Kirwan and another Bergin free, his fifth, put O’Loughlins ahead.

Although the Wexford men desperately sought the equalising point, it was Cummins and Brian Dowling who scored, meaning that any equaliser would have to raise a green flag and at the very end Brian Kelly swooped on a ball to clear the last hopeful attack.

“The calmness was there,” said former Kilkenny captain and O’Loughlin Gaels’ selector Andy Comerford. “We know our capabilities and we know we’re a team that, when we’re backed into a corner, we come out fighting and we won’t go down without a battle.

“It’s been “bet” into the club over the past 15 years when we made the breakthrough that we can come back from impossible positions – against Gowran in county finals.

“It’s coming on and coming on and thankfully it worked today. I knew the more the game went on the more they’d get into it; it was just a question of how rusty they were. But we’re there now. We’re in the semi-final and we’ll take that game as it comes.”

It comes in three weeks, 19th February, against Ulster champions Loughgiel from Antrim.

O’LOUGHLIN GAELS:S Murphy; B Kelly, A Kearns, E Kearns; A O’Brien, B Hogan, N Bergin; P Dowling (0-1), M Nolan; A Geoghegan, M Bergin (0-6, five frees), N McEvoy (0-2); B Dowling (0-1), D Loughnane, M Comerford ( 0-2). Subs:B Murphy for A Kearns (15 mins), S Cummins (0-2) for Loughnane (49 mins).

OULART THE BALLAGH:B O’Connor; P Roche, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; E Moore (0-1, free), D Stamp, L Prendergast; M Jacob, D Redmond ( 0-3); D Nolan, S Doyle, S Murphy; R Jacob (1-0), G Sinnott (0-2), N Kirwan (0-2, frees).

Referee:T Carroll (Offaly).