That the fine attendance nonetheless bore witness to a riveting contest in this Leinster club SHC quarter-final is testament to two fine teams.
Oulart-The Ballagh, backboned by a host of Wexford stars and contesting in Leinster for the seventh time in the last nine years, were favoured to win. Kilmacud Crokes were the new kids on the block, several Dublin panellists but Dublin champions for the first time since 1985. From the first ball, however, it was obvious — weather conditions or not this was going to be a battle and nowhere was this more evident than in the individual contest between Crokes’ full-forward Sean McGrath and Oulart full-back and captain Keith Rossiter.
“Seanie McGrath was out-playing an inter-county star,” said Kilmacud manager Gearóid Ó Riain; “He was winning every ball and what we needed to do was get the ball in. When we did we got a goal. A lot of the lads showed very little respect for the opposition, which is the way to do it — show respect afterwards.”
Both sides struggled with the conditions in the early minutes but Oulart were the more fortunate — on three occasions in the first quarter their goal came under threat but each time, and by the skin of their teeth, they escaped. Crokes didn’t lose heart at these setbacks, however; the contrary in fact and as half-time approached they were level with their more illustrious opponents, 0-8 each, McGrath (3), Damien Kelly (2), James Burke (2) and captain Ross O’Carroll with the points, free-taker Cormac O’Leary (3), fellow midfielder David Redmond (fine game), Garrett Sinnott, Paul Roche, Rory Jacob and the elusive Nicky Kirwan with the Oulart points in reply.
Four minutes into injury-time however came the big score of the half, a brilliantly struck penalty goal by Kirwan after he had been fouled, putting Oulart 1-8 to 0-8 ahead at the break.
Less than a minute into the second half it got worse for Kilmacud, two rapid-fire points (Jacob and Kirwan the scorers) extending Oulart’s lead, and when wing-forward Darren Nolan added another just a few minutes later things were looking as ominous on the field as off, the skies darkening over Dublin.
Gradually, however, and with McGrath leading the charge, Kilmacud Crokes worked their way back into contention. Their defence, anchored by the tigerish Niall Corcoran (full-back) and Rory O’Carroll, took control at the back, Conor Clinton made a difference in midfield, and the ball began to flow forward.
Four points from McGrath (the only Kilmacud Crokes scorer in the second half), to just one for Oulart (a beauty from Conor O’Leary, immediately substituted for his pains!), and as the game entered the final five minutes, the rain absolutely bucketing down, it was all to play for, just a goal in it (1-12 to 0-12).
Not for long. In the 56th minute a high centre from Ross O’Carroll saw McGrath somehow steal between Keith Rossiter and keeper Ben O’Connor and get a boot to the dropping ball — goal for Crokes, game tied.
That Oulart managed to stem that tide is testament to their character; that they then went one better and worked the free from which came the winning point (softly conceded, let it be said, a 20m free to the right of the posts for Nicky Kirwan to drill over) is testament to their determination this year to finally go the distance in Leinster.
“We got what we wanted,” said a very relieved Rossiter. “It was never going to be easy coming to Parnell Park to take on the Dublin champions but we got through it, a one-point win — at least we came out the right side of it this time.
In 2007 we came out the wrong side, bet by five points by Ballyboden. It turned into a bit of a dogfight and then the rain came down.
Wexford is crying out for a good Wexford team, we have the Kilkenny boys next now (November 25) and we’ll look forward to that.”
Scorers for Oulart-The Ballagh: N Kirwan 1-3 (1-0p, 2f); C O’Leary 0-4 (2f, 1 65); R Jacob 0-2; D Redmond, G Sinnott, P Roche, D Nolan, 0-1 each.
Scorers for Kilmacud Crokes: S McGrath 1-7 (5f); J Burke 0-2; D Kelly 0-2; Ross O’Carroll 0-1.
OULART-THE BALLAGH: B O’Connor; D Morton, K Rossiter (c), B Kehoe; C Goff, D Stamp, E Moore; D Redmond, C O’Leary; G Sinnott, P Roche, D Nolan; R Jacob, P Murphy, N Kirwan.
Subs: F Cullen (Murphy 30); M Jacob (O’Leary 49).
Blood sub: F Cullen (Nolan 24/).
KILMACUD CROKES: M Collins; J Doughan, N Corcoran, R Walsh; R O’Loughlin, Rory O’Carroll, B O’Carroll; D Mulligan, N O’Reardon; Ross O’Carroll (c), D Kelly, R O’Dwyer; J Burke, J Sweeney, S McGrath.
Subs: K O’Loughlin (Sweeney 22); C CLinton (O’Reardon 40); B O’Rourke (Burke 50).
Referee: T Carroll (Offaly).