WEXFORD champions Oulart The Ballagh qualified for the Leinster Club SHC final following a hard-earned victory over Westmeath champions Raharney in a high-scoring match played in dense fog at Cusack Park yesterday.
Such was the thickness of the fog during the second-half, many of the 1900 spectators were unaware whether points or goals had been scored at various stages. Conditions for the players were also a problem, with visibility severely restricted, but at the end of the 60 minutes, it was the Wexford champions who deservedly progressed.
Oulart’s second goal, by corner-forward Nicky Kirwan just before half time, proved the crucial score as it enabled Oulart to go in at the break 2-6 to 0-6 ahead.
Indeed, Oulart looked comfortable when they led 3-10 to 1-8 with just three minutes remaining, but it was only then that the real drama began. A John Shaw goal for Raharney with just a few minutes to play left the Westmeath side trailing by five points, but, almost instantly, Oulart substitute Des Mythen tapped into the net from close range to restore their eight-point advantage.
Raharney showed tremendous character with Paul Greville firing home another goal as injury time began. Oulart responded once more though, Kirwan converting a free to leave his side six points ahead.
But the frantic finish continued as Greville popped up again to flick the sliothar to the net and leave just three points between the sides. However, referee Anthony Stapleton blew the final whistle almost immediately after, leaving the Westmeath side to ponder what might have been.
Rory Jacob was one of many to impress for Oulart, tormenting the Raharney defence by scoring freely from play. Jacob got his side’s first point after which, with the sides level at 0-2 each after 13 minutes, David Redmond slipped through a number of challenges to score Oulart’s first goal.
While Raharney stayed in touch with points from Shaw and Greville, they never really produced the class of hurling demonstrated when they defeated Offaly side Coolderry in the last round. Oulart’s second goal from Kirwan then gave the Wexford side the breathing space they needed at half time.
Oulart appeared to have sealed victory when Kirwan finished to the net in the 40th minute, but as the fog thickened and the visibility decreased, Shaw’s goal breathed life back into the Raharney side.
Oulart had wiped out the goal within four minutes thanks to Jacob’s fine effort, while Brian Connaughton pointed from a 30-metre free to keep the Westmeath champions in touch before the frenetic final minutes began. However, it was Oulart that held on for a narrow, but deserved win.
* Interestingly, referee Anthony Stapleton insisted Oulart won the game 4-10 to 4-9, but, thankfully, no major controversy arose as this did not affect the overall outcome of the match.
Scorers for Oulart The Ballagh: N. Kirwan 2-3 (0-2 frees), R. Jacob 0-6, D. Redmond 1-0, D. Mythen 1-0, G. Synnott and S. Murphy 0-1 each. Raharney: J. Shaw 2-3 (0-2 frees), P. Greville 2-1, B. Smyth 0-2, B. McKeogh and B. Connaughton 0-1 each.
OULART THE BALLAGH: B. O’Connor; J. Roche, K. Rossiter, B. Keogh; P. Roche, L. Prendergast, E. Moore; M. Jacob, D. Redmond; D. Nolan, G. Synnott, S. Doyle; S. Murphy, R. Jacob, N. Kirwan.
Subs: F. Cullen for P. Roche (half time), D. Mythen for S. Murphy (46), D. Morton for M. Jacob (51).
RAHARNEY: A. Doyle; R. McKeogh, C. Jordan, D. Carey; T. Doyle, B. Connaughton, A. Giles; N. Flanagan, C. Flanagan; C. Boyle, J. Shaw, B. Smyth; B. McKeogh, P. Greville, F. Boyle.
Subs: M. Conroy for D. Carey (21), J. Boyle for N. Flanagan (51), D. Mullen for T. Doyle (56).
Referee: A Stapleton (Laois).
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