Oulart set to shed nearly-men tag by clearing the final hurdle
FOR just a few moments, picture the scene of devastation in the losing dressing-room if Oulart-The Ballagh conspire to fall at the final hurdle tomorrow.
The four-in-a-row Wexford champions would have lost three consecutive Leinster deciders, and five in all. They would have lost to underdog Offaly opposition for the second year running. They would be left with nothing but regret -- salted, one presumes, by bitter recrimination too.
They would have wondered why push yourself to the limit one week (against the mighty Ballyhale Shamrocks) if you can't complete the job the next (against the unheralded Kilcormac-Killoughey).
And they would have feared, deep down, that their club was forever destined to be remembered as the nearly men of Leinster.
We are not, for one second, predicting that this horribly anti-climactic fate now awaits Oulart. What we are doing, merely, is to underline the stakes they are now playing for -- stakes that appear far greater than a mere Leinster medal.
Kilcormac-Killoughey will take the same field tomorrow but they aren't in the same highly pressurised boat. They are first-time Offaly champions, so reaching a Leinster final in their maiden campaign represents real bonus territory.
Even in an Offaly context, they lack the handful of high-profile stars who carried Coolderry to a surprise Leinster final victory over the Wexford champions 12 months ago.
They didn't have to blaze a trail of destruction through Offaly either: Coolderry were taken out by others, and even their standout semi-final win over Birr was nicked at the death against a club that has fallen a long way from the heady heights of old.
Moreover, K-K's reward for toppling St Rynagh's in the county final was by far the easier route to a Leinster final.
Even then, it wasn't exactly straight-forward for Danny Owens' men. They overcame Mount Leinster Rangers of Carlow, 1-11 to 0-9, after being level at half-time and then required a fourth-quarter surge to defeat Rathdowney-Errill or Laois, 2-12 to 0-14, having trailed by four points midway through the second half.
Oulart's path to a third consecutive final has been laden with more landmines. First they had to withstand a fourth-quarter comeback from Kilmacud on enemy turf. This was eventually followed (after one rain-induced postponement) by last Saturday's brilliant result against Ballyhale, their one-point victory made all the more remarkable by the fact that they trailed 1-3 to 0-0 after five minutes.
The above form-lines are obviously pointing one way -- to the sunny south-east -- but therein lies perhaps the greatest concern for a team laden with familiar inter-county names such as Keith Rossiter, Darren Stamp, Garrett Sinnott, Paul Roche and Rory Jacob to name just five. Could Oulart have already played their final? Could they succumb to the dangerous presumption that the job is already done?
In last year's semi-final, they beat another Kilkenny team (James Stephens) and we know what happened next against the unfancied Faithful.
Oulart are forewarned and they should be forearmed too.
ODDS: Oulart 1/3, Draw 11/1, Kilcormac 5/2
VERDICT: Oulart-The Ballagh