Last-gasp penalty save seals victory
RATHNURE OULART-BALLAGH 5-11 2-17
THERE WAS high drama in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday as a late Seán O’Connor goal saw Rathnure dump old adversaries Oulart-The Ballagh out of the Pettitt’s Senior hurling championship race, forcing them to look on from the sidelines when the title is decided in the coming weeks.
The excitement didn’t end there though in a high-octane Group B encounter, as Oulart-The Ballagh had the opportunity to draw level seconds later when they were awarded a 60th-minute penalty.
Goalkeeper Conor O’Leary made the long walk forward but his opposite number, Dermot Flynn, pulled off a fabulous save to keep the three-point advantage intact.
The result means Rathnure march on to a quarter-final meeting with Rapparees, while Oulart-The Ballagh must now wait until 2019 to get another crack at further championship honours.
It was frenetic stuff from the outset with both defences being carved open at will, and after Rory Higgins and Michael Redmond had picked off early points for Rathnure, they almost plundered a goal, but Conor O’Leary pulled off a fine save from Jack Guiney in the sixth minute.
Seconds later the onion sack was rattled at the other end when a delicate pass from Murtha Doyle put Nicky Kirwan in the clear, and after his initial effort was saved, he was played in again by Garrett Sinnott, and this time he made no mistake, finding the corner of the net.
The goal chances continued to arrive like taxis to a bustling rank, with Rathnure’s Rory Higgins next to be offered up an opportunity when he was found by Seánie Redmond, but he blazed his effort wide of the far post.
Within seconds Billy Dunne sluiced through the defence at the other end, but Dermot Flynn was equal to his shot.
Nicky Kirwan was the sole scorer for Oulart-The Ballagh as they built up a 1-3 to 0-3 advantage by the 17th minute, with Eoin Boggan replying with a monster effort, in a low-scoring but relentless opening period.
With Oulart-The Ballagh threatening to get on top, Rathnure then got the fillip they needed in the 26th minute when Michael Redmond flicked the ball into the path of Jack Guiney, who didn’t need a second invitation as he fired past O’Leary.
Eye-catching points from Des Mythen and Billy Dunne put Oulart-The Ballagh three clear, but the black and ambers went into the half-time break with a real spring in their step after pouncing for an equalising goal, when Ciarán O’Connor was on to an Eoin Higgins block like a flash, before driving the ball home to leave the sides deadlocked at 2-4 to 1-7.
Oulart-The Ballagh managed to eke out a four-point lead by the 47th minute when substitute Martin Og Storey split the posts to put his side 2-15 to 3-8 ahead.
Their goal came from the stick of Des Mythen in the second minute of the half when he broke clear from an O’Leary puck-out and finished with confidence.
However, the Rathnure response was quick as three minutes later Michael Redmond found Ciarán O’Connor, who turned and planted the ball past O’Leary.
After the on-song Jack Guiney had converted a free in the 48th minute, Rory Higgins went on a lung-bursting run, before teeing up Seánie Redmond who blasted to the net to draw Rathnure level (4-9 to 2-15).
They then nosed two in front with points from Guiney and Michael Redmond, but back came Oulart-The Ballagh and scores from Peter Sutton and Garrett Sinnott had them all square by the 59th minute.
The parity didn’t last long though, as within a minute substitute Seán O’Connor gathered a Shane Lawlor delivery and rifled the ball past O’Leary.
Seconds later Garrett Sinnott was taken down for a penalty and Oulart-The Ballagh had one last chance for salvation.
Up stepped O’Leary but Dermot Flynn stretched every sinew to pull off a fantastic save and the defence scrambled the ball to safety.
Rathnure: Dermot Flynn (capt.); Paddy Whiteley, Brian Quigley, Eoin Boggan (0-1); Podge Doyle (0-1), Cathal O’Connor, Aidan Redmond; Richie Flynn, Eoin Higgins; Shane Lawlor (0-1), Jack Guiney (1-4, 0-3 frees), Michael Redmond (0-3); Rory Higgins (0-1), Seánie Redmond (1-0), Ciarán O’Connor (2-0). Subs. - Seán O’Connor (1-0) for A. Redmond (HT), Micheál O’Connor for R. Flynn (45), James Tobin for S. Redmond (48), Declan Foley for M. Redmond (54).
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O’Leary; Barry Kehoe, Keith Rossiter, Ian Storey; Eamon Murphy, Shaun Murphy (capt.), Dennis Morton; Rory Jacob, Peter Murphy (0-2); Billy Dunne (0-3, 1 free), Des Mythen (1-2), Anthony Roche; Murtha Doyle, Garrett Sinnott (0-2), Nicky Kirwan (1-6, 0-3 frees, 0-1 ‘65). Subs. - Kevin Sheridan for Kehoe (34), Martin Og Storey (01) for Roche (38), Kevin Nimmo for Sheridan (49), Peter Sutton (0-1) for Mythen (54).
Referee: Justin Heffernan (Blackwater).
THE DUST has scarcely settled on the inter-county G.A.A. scene for 2018, and already the announcement of the provisional fixtures for the next National League campaign has whetted the appetites of supporters.
And there will be a mouth-watering start to the hurling action, as newly-crowned All-Ireland champions Limerick will be visiting Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday, January 27.
The squad will be on the road to Cork one week later, while they will be hosting Tipperary on February 17.
And after a journey to take on Clare on February 24, a welcome third clash on home soil will be against Kilkenny on March 3.
The Division 4 football campaign will also begin on January 27, away to Leitrim, and Wexford will be at home to Antrim one week after that.
There is a trip to London on February 10, followed by games at home to Waterford (February 24), away to Wicklow (March 2), home to Limerick (March 16), and away to Derry for the second year running on March 24.
All of the above fixtures are provisional and subject to confirmation.
WEXFORD’S UNDER-21 hurling campaign was ultimately a disappointing one, being pipped by Galway in an epic Leinster final after extra-time before failing to make the most of a first-ever second chance for provincial runners-up when they were hammered by Cork.
However, some fine individual performances were produced in the course of their three-game campaign, and this has been reflected in the selection of six players on the shortlist for the Bord Gáis Energy team of the year.
Defenders Damien Reck, Darren Byrne and Ian Carty have been included, along with star performer Rory O’Connor, his first cousin and namesake Joe, and leading marksman Seamus Casey.
While these awards are normally heavily weighted in favour of the finalists, hopefully at least some of the Wexford crew will be honoured.
Rory Higgins of Rathnure tries to make life difficult for Des Mythen (Oulart-The Ballagh).
Podge Doyle of Rathnure keeping tabs on Anthony Roche.