GAA history has been known to turn quests for five-in-a-row into doomed high-wire acts and Oulart’s hurlers did well not to topple into the pit of a rain-darkened Wexford Park yesterday.
“We’re going down in history now, it’ll be a long time before that’s done again,” beamed veteran corner-back Paul Roche after the champions held off the ferocious challenge of a young Ferns team to climb to a height no Wexford side has ever done before.
Their fifth consecutive title thus broke the hearts of men featuring in St Aidan’s first county senior final since 1969. That was the year man first landed on the moon, as the match programme giddily informed us. But the taking of a giant step for Ferns was rendered instantly improbable by their concession of a ruinous 2-2 in the opening four minutes of what would evolve into an epic contest.
Actually, an embarrassing rout seemed to loom after those early Oulart goals by Rory Jacob and Nicky Kirwan, only for St Aidan’s to come thundering back, outscoring Martin Storey’s men by 0-9 to 0-2 between the fourth and 29th minutes.
True the weather was at its most callous in this period, torrential rain whipping into the Oulart faces as they struggled to codify a high-energy game that looked to be taking its toll on some of the more seasoned bodies in black.
The impressive Jonathan Dwyer took advantage of the conditions, floating over two sublime sideline cuts as well as taking two scores from play as Ferns – seven points adrift after that opening four minutes – got to the break a scarcely credible two to the good.
Ian Byrne was having a stormer at right half-forward, while the free-taking of Tommy Dwyer had been flawless. There was, you suspected, but one small ghost chasing their attention as they went to tea – Oulart would be resuming with the wind.
What followed was wonderful and in its own way impossibly cruel. Ferns were like fishermen seeing their cordage jerk in the water, only to reel in an old boot. They would hurl magnificently but the lavishly decorated old warriors of Oulart were just not ready to acquiesce.
Eleven minutes after the resumption, Roche’s delivery broke off David Redmond – operating temporarily at full-forward – and Kirwan finished high and decisively for his second goal. That put Oulart two to the good, only for quick points from Paul Morris and Jonathan Dwyer to level matters for only the second time all day.
Soon after, Oulart goalkeeper Ben O’Connor spilled an unremarkable Morris delivery into his own net and the din from the 5,300 attendance spoke of looming revolution.
Yet, Oulart were not about to go timidly. “We were ready for that, we knew exactly what we were coming up against,” smiled Roche afterwards, his fifth medal safely secured. “We knew there’d be nothing between us.”
Points from Rory Jacob and Redmond (two) eased Oulart ahead only for Morris to level again in the last minute of normal time, Eoin Moore now in a heap on the far side of the pitch having crumpled to the ground with no opponent near. Moore’s knee just seemed to collapse under him and, with Darren Stamp already in the infirmary for something similar, Oulart slipped into injury-time looking like old champions just one, last haymaker from oblivion.
But that punch never landed. Des Mythen might have had an Oulart goal before setting up Michael Jacob for a 61st-minute lead point and we were three minutes into added-time when Garrett Sinnott fouled Gavin Bailey on the half-way line.
Tommy Dwyer’s hands and hurley were wet as he faced into a stiffening wind. The crowd hushed. Dwyer struck the ball well, but it never had sufficient legs and was quickly transported down the field to Rory Jacob, who swept over Oulart’s security point.
Ferns did get one last throw of the dice, Brendan Jordan floored after a sweeping move between Tommy Dwyer and Morris. Referee Sean Whelan signalled for a 20-metre free and when Tommy Dwyer’s effort rebounded to Morris, his shot leaked apologetically left and wide. All around the field, Ferns men slumped to their knees.
Oulart had their fifth title in a row and, for Roche particularly, none had ever been sweeter. Earlier this year, two torn abductor muscles and a pair of Gilmore groins looked to be easing the 31-year-old towards retirement.
“I was told in February I’d never hurl again, told I’d never sprint again,” he said. “I had a big operation and only got back hurling in July. I was just trying to get myself ready to, hopefully, go full stride next year. So for me, there was always motivation there, whether it was every day going to do rehab, whatever it took, to get back.”
Proof the underdog doesn’t always have sole custody of romance.
SCORERS – Oulart: N Kirwan 2-3 (2fs), R Jacob 1-2, D Redmond 0-3, M Jacob, D Nolan, G Sinnott, D Mythen 0-1 each. Ferns: J Dwyer (2 lcs), T Dwyer (4fs) 0-4 each, I Byrne, P Morris 0-3 each, B Jordan, J Breen 0-1 each, B O’Connor 1-0 (og).
OULART – B O’Connor; P Roche, K Rossiter, B Kehoe; L Prendergast, D Stamp, E Moore; M Jacob, S Murphy; D Nolan, D Mythen, D Redmond; R Jacob, G Sinnott, N Kirwan. Subs: D Morton for Stamp (40), C O’Leary for Murphy (53), C Goff for Moore (60).
FERNS – M Walsh; C Whelan, N Maguire, D Byrne; G Bailey, J Tonks, C Roberts; B Jordan, T Dwyer; I Byrne, P Morris, J Dwyer; P Farrell, J Breen, C O’Connor. Subs: C Leacy for Byrne (23), D Thorpe for Farrell (57).
Ref – S Whelan (St Martin’s).
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