O'Connor brothers set to miss Wexford final, madness of schedule and Oulart seek redemption

The Wexford senior and intermediate hurling finals are down for decision this weekend.

DECEMBER 2015 WAS when they finally put the ‘Oulart the bottlers’ tag to rest. 

barry-kehoe-lifts-the-cup Oulart The Ballagh captain Barry Kehoe lifts the Leinster title. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Having lost all six of their previous Leinster finals, including four in-a-row between 2010 and 2013, few gave Oulart the Ballagh a chance of beating Cuala in the decider. 

The 2013 loss to rank outsiders Mount Leinster Rangers of Carlow particularly stung. 

However, they finally got their hands on the provincial title after a 2-13 to 0-13 win over the south Dublin side. They went on to lose narrowly after extra-time to eventual champions Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland semi-final.

They were heady days for the club which draws its players from the villages of Oulart and The Ballagh. 

Defeat to St Martin’s in last year’s Wexford SHC relegation play-off sent the 13-time winners packing to the second tier. It was a dramatic fall from grade for the Oulart club to lose their 36-year senior club status just six years after they were Leinster kingpins. 

Today they take on Taghmon/Camross in the intermediate final as they seek an immediate return to senior ranks. 

Of the side that featured in last weekend’s 1-21 to 0-11 semi-final defeat of Buffers Alley, 10 were retained from that All-Ireland semi-final clash against Na Piarsaigh. 

Among them was Rory Jacob, the former Wexford star that was part of their Leinster winning side in 2004. The 38-year-old came off the bench in the 46th minute in the semi-final and added a couple of points. 

It also includes Shaun Murphy who started his first game for the club in almost a year, since the 2021 relegation decider. Murphy underwent surgery on a back problem which sidelined him for Wexford’s campaign. 

“We’re delighted to be back in a county final,” he told Wexford GAA. “It gives us an opportunity to get back up to senior.

“Good to be back out in Wexford Park and togging out for the first time in a long time. 

“The injury is good. I was a long time out so the body is just getting back up to speed which is the big thing. I got through the match as best I could.”

Former Westmeath manager Shane O’Brien replaced ex-Wexford boss Liam Dunne for 2022.

The decision to run off the hurling championship entirely before the football begins meant that tomorrow will be Oulart the Ballagh’s ninth successive weekend in championship action.

A six day turnaround between semi-final and final is far from ideal. 

“We have a few niggles but we’re hoping everybody will be good for Saturday,” said O’Brien. 

“Part of me absolutely loves having a game week-on-week, but it’s very, very hard on players. It’s not ideal.”

Murphy added, “It’s good when you’re winning, you want to get out and play. Any little knocks and niggles, it’s hard to turn around in six or seven days.”

While Oulart the Ballagh bring a wealth of experience with them into the intermediate final, Ferns St Aidan’s head into the senior final on Sunday chasing their first ever senior title. 

paul-morris Paul Morris and Ferns are back in their first senior final since 2013. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

When they ran Oulart close in the 2013 decider – losing by 3-12 to 1-16 – the red and whites looked destined to remain in contention for a number of years. 

“Back then we had a solid team,” remarked Paul Morris after the extra-time semi-final win over holders Rapparees. 

“We probably thought we were going to be in a couple more. It took till now, 2022, to get back to it. It just shows how difficult it is to get to a county final.”

Morris was 22 the last time they made it this far. Now 31, he’s keen to make up for lost time. 

They face a St Martin’s outfit who survived that relegation playoff last year. Then they made it to the final despite the absence of county stars Rory and Jack O’Connor. 

Rory re-aggravated a knee problem in the quarter-final and Jack went off with a hamstring injury in the semi-final.

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rory-oconnor-leaves-the-field-injured Rory O'Connor went off injured for Wexford in the All-Ireland quarter-final. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

The 2019 champions are also without a third O’Connor, Joe, a first cousin of the aforementioned duo who is in Australia. Factor in the retirement of veteran Ciaran Lyng at the end of last season, and the St Martin’s attack is down several big names. 

However the presence of experienced players in Daithi Waters, Willie Devereux, Conor Firman and Aaron Maddock gives them a decent chance of landing a third title in five seasons. 

Their path to the final was helped by the decision not to award Aidan Rochford’s legitimate goal in the semi-final. Rochford’s 40th minute strike struck the goalkeeper’s spare hurls in his goals but officials believed it hit the post.

St Martin’s eventually saw off St Anne’s on penalties and the ”ghost goal” was a major talking point afterwards.

St Martin’s and Ferns drew in the group stages, making Sundya’s final a difficult one to call.

The winners will face a 13-week lay-off until the begin the Leinster club SHC. 

Not looking to make any excuses, Ferns boss Pat Bennett questioned the scheduling of the competition. After enduring extra-time just a week out from the final, he said “it’s all about recovery. 

“This is game eight in seven and a half weeks. To me it’s manic stuff. The inter-county guys, if you go three weeks in-a-row they give out. We’re gone to game eight in seven and a half weeks.  

“You’ve no time for injuries (to recover), you’re playing on injuries. You talk about player welfare. I just don’t see it.”

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Kevin O'Brien

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