THIS club hurling championship must be one of the strangest competitions around.
Everyone wants to reach the pinnacle, but people keep tripping over their feet in base camp.
With so many first-time champions left in the reckoning, up to yesterday Oulart-the-Ballagh of Wexford would have been noted as a decent bet for St Patrick’s Day.
However, Coolderry of Offaly beat them to collect the Leinster Club hurling title, and the template adopted in many of the provincial clashes so far was replicated: the side fancied by many to advance on the basis of their greater experience stuttering and eventually falling to the underdogs.
Oulart will be sick this morning, having racked up eight first-half wides, some so bad you ended up covering your eyes, and seeing their radar betray them again in the final 10 minutes, when they hit three consecutive wides after the goal that brought them back into it.
The Offaly champions won’t care. Ken Hogan’s side were bigger, stronger and more accurate, and even Oulart boss Liam Dunne didn’t begrudge them their win.
The first half went to plan, with Oulart jumping to a 0-3 to 0-1 lead before Coolderry retaliated with four points in a row to edge ahead. The sides swapped scores in the run-up to the break with Coolderry going in one ahead, six points to five.
It could have been a good deal better for them: on 18 minutes Eoin Ryan seared goalwards from the right wing and went for goal, only for Oulart’s Ben O’Connor to save smartly. The Wexford men’s full-back line (Paul Roche, Keith Rossiter and Barry Kehoe) was one of their most accomplished units and you felt that the Offaly men wouldn’t see the whites of Ben O’Connor’s eyes too often. Still, they were confident at the break.
“We were calm at half-time,” said Hogan. “We knew Oulart had missed a few scoreable frees but there was a fair breeze there in the first half.”
They crackled to life on the resumption thanks to Cathal Parlon’s goal. He seemed to be bottled up by defenders and one was waiting for a wisdom-of-Solomon call from the referee on overcarrying or pulling and dragging when he slipped his markers and goaled from close range.
Coolderry then pressed home their advantage with four points, two either side of a Nicky Kirwan free for Oulart. The last was an inspirational effort from Brian Carroll, standing on the intersection of the halfway line and sideline, making the score 1-10 to 0-7.
Oulart rallied but with Coolderry matching them point for point, they couldn’t narrow the gap. The Offaly men were seven up with less than 10 minutes left when Oulart won a 21m free, and they marched corner-back Paul Roche up to take it.
He obliged, finding the bottom corner of the net, but Oulart then hit three agonising wides to deflate their revival. Neither side managed another score, which suited Hogan down to the ground: “Character wins a lot for you. You can talk about hurling ability and so on, but character shone through. Our lads have had a hard time in Offaly for a few years, and people might have seen them as underachievers but I think we answered those critics today.”
Liam Dunne pointed out that it was his side’s second Leinster final loss in 10 months, with last year’s bad weather pushing the 2010 final into the early weeks of this year.
“It’s a bitter pill, but it was Coolderry’s day,” said Dunne. “We’ll be back, but to come in a point down at half-time was another bitter pill. Conceding the goal in the second half gave them some leeway, and they deserved the win.”
Does the win put Coolderry up there as favourites for the big prize? Hogan waited 10 minutes after the full-time whistle to praise Gort, the side he and his men face in the All-Ireland semi-final. Everyone knows what happens to favourites in this curious club championship.
Scorers for Oulart: E. Moore 0-4 (0-2 fs); N. Kirwan 0-3 (0-1 f), P. Roche 1-0 (f); D. Nolan 0-2; S. Doyle, R. Jacob 0-1 each.
Scorers for Coolderry: C. Parlon 1-3; D. Murray 0-6 (0-4 fs); B. Carroll 0-3; E. Ryan, K. Connolly, B. Teehan 0-1 each.
OULART-THE-BALLAGH: B. O’Connor, P. Roche, K. Rossiter (c), B. Kehoe, S. Murphy, D. Stamp, L. Prendergast, M. Jacob, D. Redmond, D. Nolan, G. Sinnott, E. Moore, R. Jacob, F. Cullen, N. Kirwan.
Subs: S. Doyle for Moore, 41, D. Mythen for R. Jacob and P. Murphy for Cullen both 52; A. Kavanagh for D. Nolan, 57.
COOLDERRY: S. Corcoran, B. Kelly, T. Corcoran, A. Corcoran, K. Brady, J. Brady, B. O’Meara, K. Teehan, D. King, B. Carroll, B. Teehan, C. Parlon, E. Ryan, M. Corcoran, D. Murray.
Subs: K Connolly for M. Corcoran, 45; S. Connolly for B. Kelly, 54; M. Bergin for K. Brady 58.
Referee: J. McGrath (Westmeath).
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