Leinster Club SHC final - Oulart-The Ballagh (Wexford) 2-13 Cuala (Dublin) 0-13: It’s the little moments after full-time in Netwatch Cullen Park that the Oulart-The Ballagh players will probably remember most.
Like the rain falling for the first time all afternoon as they celebrated a maiden provincial triumph with supporters, dancing and cheering on the muddied pitch, oblivious to the weather.
Or the stirring dressing-room speeches half an hour or so later which were followed by the loudest cheers of the afternoon.
What the players were actually saying, nobody could tell, though after four final losses in a row between 2010 and 2013 it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work it out.
Those were galling defeats, particularly the 2013 reversal to Mount Leinster Rangers, and when they failed to even reach last year’s Wexford final, it felt like the end of an era.
But on a biting cold, windswept afternoon in Carlow, a side full of ageing lionhearts like the Jacobs, Keith Rossiter, and man-of-the-match Des Mythen finally had their day, capturing that breakthrough provincial title after six previous final failures in all.
A good start was much more than half the battle as Oulart capitalised on the strong wind to run up an eight-point half-time lead and then hold firm from there. Rossiter, the Oulart full-back and former Wexford colossus, admitted that had they lost a fifth Leinster final in six seasons, the veteran players may very well have jacked it all in.
“Mentally it’s been tough, to be honest with you, it’s been heavy,” said Rossiter. “Getting beaten in four Leinster finals in a row, like, I never thought I’d experience that in my career and it could have been five today, five out of six.
“But as a group of players, we got beaten early in Wexford last year, we regrouped and I think it was this weekend last year that we came together for a fitness test.
“We decided that we’d really go at it, that it couldn’t run forever, that our good run of county championships couldn’t last forever and that we might never get a chance to play in Leinster again. We said we’d give it everything again.”
Oulart defender Paul Roche, a publican in the village, spoke last week of how one customer declared that they hadn’t a chance against Cuala, the up and coming force in Dublin hurling.
As it turned out, underdogs Oulart never trailed in the game, scored the first point just seconds into the contest and led from the second minute until full-time.
Rossiter too was aware of those dour predictions. “I had a work colleague say to me during the week that Cuala were playing Na Piarsaigh in the All-Ireland semi-final next February, which was great to hear,” said Rossiter. “That actually gave me a little bit of a dart. The four Leinster finals we went into before, two or three of them we were probably favourites and we never hurled at all.”
There was no danger of regrets after this game as Oulart bossed proceedings and virtually wrapped up victory by the three-quarter stage.
A turning point arrived closed to half-time when, leading by just five points with a monstrous wind, Oulart conjured an injury-time goal through Tomas Dunne.
Midfielder David Redmond did the spadework with a great run and clever lay-off and, suddenly, a five-point lead heading into the break was three greater, 1-7 to 0-2.
Cuala will look back in anger on their inability to score between the 13th and 38th minutes. Even allowing for the first-half wind, they only scored one point from open play in the first 46 minutes, David Treacy nailing the rest from frees.
Having stormed to a first Dublin title in 21 years and taken out the Kilkenny and Offaly champions in Leinster, they signed their own death warrant 16 minutes from time.
Goalkeeper Sean Brennan should have collected a long free in but spilled possession, allowing Sinnott to simply kick the ball home.
Leading 2-10 to 0-4, even Oulart with all their final baggage weren’t going to cave in. Treacy did take his tally to 10 points for the afternoon as Cuala outscored their opponents by six points in the final quarter of an hour.
But they needed a goal and it never looked like arriving. Led by a brilliant defence and inspired further upfield by midfielder David Redmond and attackers Mythen and Nicky Kirwan they advanced to a February 6 All-Ireland semi-final date with Na Piarsaigh.
“Days like today, you don’t see too many positives,” said Cuala manager Mattie Kenny. “The disappointment is huge but these guys are a young bunch. The average age of the team is 22 or 23. Hopefully this will be a learning experience.”
Scorers for Oulart-The Ballagh:
N Kirwan (0-5, three frees, one 65), T Dunne (1-1), T Storey (0-3), G Sinnott (1-0), D Mythen (0-2), D Redmond and E Moore (0-1 each).
Scorers for Cuala:
D Treacy (0-10, seven frees), C O’Callaghan (0-2), S Treacy (0-1).
C O’Leary; B Kehoe, K Rossiter, E Moore; P Roche, S Murphy, K Sheridan; D Redmond, M Jacob; R Jacob, T Dunne, T Storey; D Mythen, G Sinnott, N Kirwan.
D Morton for M Jacob (51), P Murphy for T Dunne (54), P Sutton for Sinnott (60).
S Brennan; S Timlin, C O’Callaghan, J Sheanon; R Tierney, O Gough, S Moran; J Malone, D O’Connell; C O’Callaghan, C Cronin, C Waldron; D Treacy, M Schutte, S Treacy.
C Sheanon for Moran (23), N Kenny for C Sheanon (45).
D Hughes (Carlow).
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