Since October 9, when they overcame old rivals Rathnure in a hotly contested Wexford county final, Oulart-The-Ballagh have been back in training, but for what opponent? They were scheduled to meet the Kilkenny champions in the Leinster club quarter-final on Sunday last. But with James Stephens requiring a replay to defeat Ballyhale Shamrocks it pushed the provincial tie back a week.
Such uncertainty would be enough to throw off a lot of teams but not Oulart and certainly not these Jacobs.
Sons of a famous hurling father Mick, and brothers of a famous sister (Ursula, match-winner in this year’s camogie All-Ireland final win), their hurling pedigree is well proven. They take such occurrences in their stride.
Michael explained: “Sure it doesn’t make any difference; Ballyhale or James Stephens, it was going to be tough either way. Besides, they had no opportunity to think about us either until they got over their own game. We’ve both had the same amount of time to prepare for each other, so we’re equal there. We’ve played each other plenty times in challenges so we know each other fairly well. Focus on your own game, that’s all you can do.”
They’ll need total focus tomorrow. Winning Leinster, winning an All-Ireland, is becoming something of an imperative for this Oulart-The Ballagh side, the need to capitalise on what is an exceptional generation of players. Blocking their path year after year in Leinster, however, the Kilkenny champions – whoever they may be.
Rory agreed: “I wouldn’t say winning an All-Ireland is becoming an obsession but it is the aim to get to the top of the club game. The first hurdle you have to get over is winning your own county, and that’s never easy. After that you look at the next championship, and that’s our aim now, to win Leinster. We haven’t been good enough to do it over the last few years but that’s what we’re striving for, and we won’t stop until we achieve that. We know we have a talented team, most of our lads have played with the county, but we’ve come up against the big Kilkenny teams like O’Loughlin Gaels, Ballyhale, James Stephens, and they’re all more or less inter-county teams as well. We haven’t been far off it, but maybe it comes down to breaks. It has nothing to do with our preparation anyway which is top class – Liam (Dunne, former Wexford star) has done a fantastic job since he came — and we do have the players.
Earlier this year, in the postponed 2010 Leinster final, Oulart were beaten by O’Loughlin Gaels; in 2004 they lost to James Stephens, in 2008 it was the Shamrocks – both Stephens and Ballyhale went on to win the ultimate honours, and the Gaels were beaten in the final this year.
They know tomorrow’s clash is critical, as big an obstacle as they’re likely to face.
Michael admitted: “We’re thinking only about this game — the Kilkenny champions, in Kilkenny. Ballyhale are probably the best club team in the country for the last few years and James Stephens beat them. We can’t afford to look beyond this one, we’ll just keep the attitude we’ve had all year. That’s the way Liam (Dunne) wants it, that’s the way we’re thinking ourselves.”
“We put pressure on ourselves to go out and perform, to win games,” continued Rory.
“That’s the attitude we’ve always had, that’s the attitude that’s been bred into us by me father since we were U10. To beat the Kilkenny champions, in Nowlan Park, that’s going to be a hard one to pull off, the toughest draw we could have got. James Stephens have the pedigree, they have that experience, but we have no hang-ups about them. It’s about getting ourselves right and if we can do that, we have a chance; if we don’t perform, we have no chance.”