After a month of inactivity, Clough-Ballacolla will hope no cobwebs have been cast on their hurling form this weekend as they make a daunting trip to Wexford Park to take on Oulart The Ballagh.
A date with Niall Rigney and his James Stephen’s side seemed to be a likely outcome just over a week ago when The Village swept Ballyhale aside in the replayed Kilkenny county final. Had they come through their game against Oulart at the weekend, it would have made for an interesting side show from the main event, but instead Clough-Ballacolla are left with what is perhaps an even more unnerving task - beating the side which beat the Kilkenny champions.
Laois clubs have found the Leinster championship a far from welcoming environment in recent years. Victories are rarer than hens teeth, and the task facing Clough-Ballacolla this weekend can’t be understated, they are massive underdogs in a game against a side which will now be eyeing a crack at the All-Ireland club title.
Oulart have won the last three Wexford SHC titles, and in their previous two provincial campaigns have twice come unstuck against Kilkenny opposition. In 2009, Ballyhale needed extra time to see them off (before going on to win the All-Ireland), and in 2010 O’Loughlin Gaels crept past them on their way to the All-Ireland final. The Wexford men have serious pedigree, and after a few weeks of a break between the Wexford final and their game last Sunday, they have had ideal preparation for Ballacolla.
While it would be easy to look at what Oulart have achieved, and have the potential to achieve, and write off Ballacolla completely, it shouldn’t play out like that. Clough-Ballacolla are a different side now to the ones which fell at the first hurdle to Clonkill of Westmeath in 2009, and they have enough belief in their own ability not to be overawed by occasion.
They have a stronger panel now too, and crucially they have players who can come in off the line and not impact the overall quality of the team. That can be rare in club teams, particularly so in Laois, and it was one of the reasons they picked up a second Laois SHC title in three years back in October.
Willie Hyland also revealed after the county final that when John O’Sullivan first met them, he spoke of his desire to have a go at winning the Leinster championship. It was brave talk, but with the county title secured, it’s up to them now to see if they can carry out their manager’s request.
Oulart are a top-class club side, undoubtedly, but Clough-Ballacolla are an excellent team too, and that shouldn’t be forgotten. Willie Hyland is in the form of his life and they have a good solid defence, lead by the superb John A Delaney. They’re ready to spring a surprise on Leinster hurling, now they just need to go out and do it.