Tuesday 25 October 2016

Not over the 'Oulart Hill'

Publican Roche can quip with his clientele now that the pressure is off

Oulart-The Ballagh's Paul Roche who face Cuala in Sunday's AIB Leinster Club SHC final
Oulart-The Ballagh's Paul Roche who face Cuala in Sunday's AIB Leinster Club SHC final

You hear all sorts on the working side of a bar counter. Paul Roche, the retired Wexford hurler, can testify.

Roche has been running the Oulart Hill Bar for the past three-and-a-half years. That career move, coupled with an accumulation of wear-and-tear groin injuries, effectively signalled the end of his inter-county days.

The medical opinion suggested he stop playing for good. He hurled on for Oulart-The Ballagh regardless.

And so Roche finds himself in the week of another AIB provincial club hurling final, this time against Cuala of Dublin, hoping that their perennial status as Leinster bridesmaids is about to end in Carlow this Sunday.

But not everyone thinks so. Including at least one of his customers.

"You'd be hearing a lot of stuff," the 33-year-old defender confirms.

"A woman came in the other day and said if we beat Cuala 'I'll ate my hand! You haven't a hope!'

"I said, 'Thanks for the vote of confidence!' And then she asked, 'Why, do you play?' … 'A small bit, yeah!' … 'Well, their forwards are too fast, ye haven't a hope'!"


Just as well Roche isn't the sensitive type: he's one of Oulart's defensive mainstays. He could also have clarified that their defence hasn't conceded a goal in its last three SHC outings - the county final against St Martin's and their two Leinster forays against Clough-Ballacolla of Laois and Westmeath's Clonkill.

"Look, you'd be hearing that the whole time anyway, but you pass it off," he demurs.

Still, there is good historical reason why people tend to question Oulart at this time of year. They have won all 12 of their Wexford senior crowns since 1994; an incredible nine of the last 12 … and still they are pursued by the lingering aroma of underachievement. All because they have qualified for six Leinster finals and lost the lot.

The first two reversals came in the dare-to-dream aftermath of their initial county breakthroughs ('94 and '95). Far more recently came a harrowing four defeats on the spin - to O'Loughlin Gaels in 2010, Coolderry in '11, Kilcormac/Killoughey in '12 and (most painful of all) to those Carlow iconoclasts, Mount Leinster Rangers, two years ago.

This sequence of setbacks left psychological war wounds that took much of last year to heal.

"We were after hurling until December every year; lads got a couple of days off and were back straight training with Wexford. It's not physical but mentally it can be draining," he explains.


The writing, he feels, was on the wall. And so, after completing Wexford's only ever SHC five-in-a-row and contesting ten consecutive county finals between 2004 and '13, they fell at last year's quarter-final fence to Glynn-Barntown.

"If we had got over last year and ended up winning the championship in Wexford, I don't think we'd be back in this situation this year," Roche surmises.

Instead, under the management of Cork's Frank Flannery, they have prospered once more. Their initial aim was to reach the Wexford quarter-finals (last year's Waterloo) and take it from there. To Roche, where they are now feels like "bonus territory".

"It probably is the last chance that Oulart are going to get," he concedes. "At the same time, there's no pressure. Every other year we were favourites going in to it, except for this year.

"It was a relief for us to win a county final again because the talk was 'We're gone' ... now we've proved we're not gone too far, and there is decent underage again.

"We played the county final and we played the following Sunday again. Now, some lads weren't too happy! We got to go out that Sunday night but, in fairness, Frank said 'You're not going out on the Monday' … which, for me, was a disaster because I've a pub in Oulart," he laughs, recoiling at the reduced takings.

"But players didn't mind. We're well used to being in that situation - and the players want to do more, they want to win game by game, every time."

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