Holders survive a tough test
Rapparees stayed in hunt until last-gasp Oulart goal
TITLE-HOLDERS Oulart-The Ballagh had to wait until added time to get the job done in Innovate Wexford Park on Sunday when a goal from an unlikely source in the form of wing-back Kevin Sheridan finally killed off a brave Rapparees challenge in the second of the Pettitt’s Senior hurling championship semi-finals.
Superior experience of the big occasion was undoubtedly a key factor on a day when the favourites were more impressive before the interval than after it, but they have yet another decider to look forward to after Sheridan popped up at the end of a move featuring Nicky Kirwan and Martin Og Storey to put the game to bed.
Oulart-The Ballagh had led by 1-11 to 0-8 at half-time, with Garrett Sinnott posing all manner of problems at full-forward, but the Rapps dug deep and produced a storming third quarter to outscore the opposition by 0-8 to 0-3 and narrow the gap to the minimum.
While there was a lot to admire about the slick passing and movement from the victors at times, it was mixed with individuals taking the wrong options and indulging in poor shooting during that second-half.
Indeed, eleven wides were chalked up in that spell for an overall tally of 15 (the Rapps had nine), and the prospect of a shock couldn’t be ruled out with that one-point margin between them with 15 minutes left.
However, champions normally find a way to come through in these kind of situations, and it was a similar story this time around as they set up another final meeting with St. Martin’s - the pairing that practically everyone would have predicted at the outset of this campaign.
The win was understandably laced with a lot of sadness as it came on a day when Willie Sunderland, a stalwart of the Oulart-The Ballagh club both on the pitch and sideline, passed away.
They retired the number 8 jersey he had worn with such distinction as a mark of respect, with a minute’s silence observed too for a dedicated hurling man who also served as a Wexford Senior and Intermediate selector during John Meyler’s spell in charge.
The key figure in the first-half without a doubt was Oulart-The Ballagh’s strong full-forward Garrett Sinnott. Apart from scoring his side’s first and last points, he was fouled for two more, set up another brace, and also played a big role in the goal that left them 1-11 to 0-8 clear at the interval.
The holders moved clear by 0-3 to 0-1 after six minutes, with Sinnott, Nicky Kirwan (free) and Rory Jacob laying down an early marker before free-taker Tomás Mahon got the underdogs off the mark.
Richie Farrell then blasted over from a possible goal chance after a piercing run by Kevin Foley, before the lively Des Mythen picked off the first of his five points from play.
Liam Ryan won the subsequent puck-out and made it a one-point game again though, before the county defender but club attacker levelled after good work from Tom Wall and Jack Kelly.
The Oulart-The Ballagh goal arrived in the eleventh minute when a long Shaun Murphy free broke off Sinnott into the path of ace poacher Nicky Kirwan who lashed the sliothar to the net at the Clonard end (1-4 to 0-4).
The Rapps weren’t unduly upset by this setback all the same as they grabbed two of the next three points courtesy of Anthony Roche and James Peare, with Peter Murphy on target for the leaders in between.
Oulart-The Ballagh then opened up the first bit of daylight between the sides with three points on the trot from Kirwan (free), Mythen and Kirwan from play, with the latter two scores coming from handpasses by Garrett Sinnott who had a considerable physical advantage on direct opponent Dillon Redmond.
Ryan Mahon pulled back a point before David Redmond didn’t connect properly with a goal opening, while Oulart-The Ballagh’s Anthony Roche bravely blocked an even better opportunity for Richie Farrell at the other end with his body.
That was a key moment, and the champions tagged on the next three points through Mythen (two) and Sinnott, while the Rapps contingent felt that a Roche tackle on Darragh Pepper merited a penalty but referee Dan Crosby didn’t agree.
Tomás Mahon pulled back a point from a free in added time, leaving the Enniscorthy town team six adrift at the break.
The first five minutes on the re-start featured five points, with efforts from James Peare, Tomás Mahon (free) and Darragh Pepper drawing responses from Tommy Storey and Rory Jacob (1-13 to 0-11).
At that stage the Rapps challenge was stepped up considerably, with Ricky Fox a key figure down the spine of the back line as they registered four points without reply from Kevin Foley, Jack Kelly and two Tomás Mahon frees.
Indeed, they were only denied a goal by a last-gasp clearance from Eoin Moore after county colleagues Foley and Ryan combined to set up veteran Mahon in the 38th minute.
A long ball into the danger zone from Foley ended up in the net too less than 60 seconds later, but it was ruled out for a square infringement at a stage when it looked like Oulart-The Ballagh’s five third quarter wides might come back to haunt them.
Des Mythen’s point near the midway point in the half was precious as it was their first for almost seven minutes after a period when constant pressure was the name of the game.
Their cause wasn’t helped by the loss of Shaun Murphy to injury, with Eoin Moore dropping back to the centre of defence.
Another Tomás Mahon free made it a one-point game again before a bizarre incident in the 46th minute.
Referee Dan Crosby, handling only his sixth Senior championship game, seemed to blow his whistle prematurely, thinking that the ball had gone over the endline when it was still in play.
He then gestured with his hands to play on, and Des Mythen set up Dennis Morton for a point that was only correctly ruled out when a Rapparees mentor ran on to protest, with the ball thrown in on the 20-metre line.
Both sides were guilty of missed chances at that vital stage, with two Oulart-The Ballagh wides followed by a costly stray shot by Ryan Mahon who was in the best position of the lot.
The champions got their swift inter-change game going again when it was needed most, with Garrett Sinnott, substitute Billy Dunne and Peter Murphy pointing three on the trot between the 53rd and 57th minutes.
Liam Ryan hadn’t tested Conor O’Leary with a pull for goal at the other end in that spell, but another Tomás Mahon free left the Rapps still in with a shout.
Oulart-The Ballagh struck another three wides before they finally pounced for that vital second goal under 30 seconds into added time, with their rivals paying the price for pushing players forward in a last-ditch attempt to salvage something from the game.
Martin Og Storey was fouled late on and his point-blank shot for goal was saved by Eamonn Furlong.
Nicky Kirwan tapped over the free before substitute Eoin Quigley hit a late consolation for the Rapps who will learn a lot from this first semi-final appearance for the club in 16 years.
Oulart-The Ballagh: Conor O’Leary; Barry Kehoe, Keith Rossiter, Anthony Roche; Dennis Morton, Shaun Murphy, Kevin Sheridan (1-0); David Redmond, Eoin Moore; Rory Jacob (0-2), Des Mythen (0-5), Nicky Kirwan (capt., 1-4, 0-3 frees); Tommy Storey (0-1), Garrett Sinnott (0-3), Peter Murphy (0-2). Subs. - Martin Og Storey for S. Murphy, inj. (41), Billy Dunne (0-1) for Mythen, inj. (50), Peter Sutton for Redmond (53), Mythen for P. Murphy (60), Adam Nolan for Kirwan (60+3).
Rapparees: Eamonn Furlong; Tom Wall, Dillon Redmond, Ben Edwards; Jack Kelly (0-1), Ricky Fox, James Peare (0-2); Kevin Foley (capt., 0-1), Anthony Roche (0-1); Richie Farrell (01), Liam Ryan (0-2), Kevin Ryan; Ryan Mahon (0-1), Tomás Mahon (0-7 frees), Darragh Pepper (0-1). Sub. - Eoin Quigley (0-1) for Farrell (57).
Referee: Dan Crosby (Kilmore).
Rapparees midfielder Anthony Roche holds on to possession as David Redmond of Oulart-The Ballagh applies strong pressure.
Anthony Roche of Oulart-The Ballagh gets to the ball ahead of Rapparees veteran Tomás Mahon.
Liam Ryan of Rapparees wins this duel with county colleague Shaun Murphy (Oulart-The Ballagh).