AIB LEINSTER CLUB SHC FINAL:
Oulart the Ballagh (Wexford) v Mount Leinster Rangers (Carlow)
Hold a microscope up to Oulart-the-Ballagh’s Leinster SHC woes over the previous three seasons and what jumps out from the Petri dish is how tough their semi-finals have been.
Last year, they progressed having taken the scalp of a resurgent Ballyhale Shamrocks despite trailing 1-3 to 0-0 after five minutes.
In 2011, they had to dig deep to see off Laois side Clough/Ballacolla while a year prior to that they were stretched by Raharney in a misty Mullingar.
None of their three previous final appearances were earned easy and the same can be said after their scintillating second-half revival against Kilcormac-Killoughey in Tullamore earlier this month.
It begs the question — could yet another arm wrestle of a semi-final take its toll on them in yet another final?
Having beaten provincial favourites Ballyhale last year, there may have been some complacency within the ranks.
Lessons have been learned. Even though they’ve had last year’s champions Kilcormac-Killoughey’s scalps these last couple of weeks, they aren’t being worn.
“It’s hard to keep a lid on certain things,” says captain Darren Nolan. “Maybe we were blown up a little bit too much last year. Maybe we didn’t merit the favourites tag we had against Kilcormac Killoughey last year.
“The boot was on the other foot this year – they were defending Leinster champions and everyone was fully aware of how good a team they were.
“We knew we’d have to perform – we were probably underdogs but whether you’re underdogs or favourites, it doesn’t really matter. You have to go out and perform if you want to win a game.”
The players know what people outside the county think of them.
For all their dominance of the Wexford championship, it has come to nought in the province.
“Naturally enough, being to three Leinster finals and not winning any of them, you come in for a certain amount of criticism and that’s fair enough.
“But we just want to go out and win every game, whether that’s a county final or a county quarter-final.
“As a group, we’re always trying to perform to the best of our abilities. A Leinster final wasn’t to the forefront of our minds at the start of the year, we just wanted to get to a county final — we did that and thankfully, we won.
“Naturally enough, you start turning your attention towards a Leinster club final. That was the process and the thinking we had this year.”
Leinster has exercised Oulart’s minds for quite some time. For three years under Liam Dunne, they packed their bags on the nights of winning county titles for early training sessions the following mornings.
As final defeat followed final defeat followed final defeat, their obsession with becoming provincial kingpins has obviously grown.
“You’d love to play another Leinster final the next day to try and put things right,” Nolan admits. “Initially, a Leinster club final seems a very long, long way away in January or February when you go back training. But you put the hurt and disappointment behind you as the weeks and months roll on. You start focusing on the summer ahead.
“That’s what we had to do. Disappointment stays with you for a certain length of time but you have to deal with it and move on, focus all your energies on the coming championship.”
It’s not as if they have become blasé about their seat at the top of the table in Wexford. In fact, they reckon this year’s latest triumph, their fifth in-a-row and eighth in 10 seasons, has been one of their hardest yet. It has stood to them too, says Nolan.
“The (Faythe) Harriers game is the one that will stand out but even in the group stages, we had some very tough games.
“The standard of hurling in Wexford is on the up. It’s a tough championship to win but we dug in, no different in the final. A few battles along the way – it’s good to get those games under your belt.”
Nolan admits he’s visualised what it would be like to walk the Nowlan Park steps tomorrow although it’s only been a brief indulgence. “You have to put all these thoughts of results, what ifs and maybes aside. Hurling is a simple game at the end of the day. Our full focus will be on preparing as best we can, going out and putting a performance together as best we can.”
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