My Club: David Redmond - Oulart-The Ballagh
By Paul Keane
In this week's My Club feature, we speak to Wexford's David Redmond about Oulart-The Ballagh.
It is a matter of record that the Oulart hurlers contested the very first Wexford senior final, 127 years ago. Nearby, in The Ballagh, the local footballers made a little history that year too by reaching their respective county senior decider.
David Redmond, at 29, is too young to remember when the two clubs officially joined forces, in 1954, to form Oulart-The Ballagh, but he has played a key role in their more recent successes.
In 1994, Oulart-The Ballagh won their first Wexford senior hurling title and, since then, have added 11 more including a remarkable five-in-a-row between 2009 and 2013. Redmond, personally, has seven county senior medals and only a fool would bet against him increasing that figure before he hangs up his hurl.
It's one of life's small frustrations, however, that Redmond consistently encounters people who pronounce the name of the club wrong. Over the years, he has heard all sorts of efforts at pronouncing 'Oulart' and 'The Ballagh'. For the record, Redmond uses a distinct 'och' sound to round off The Ballagh.
"It's something that our club is constantly finding a problem, the pronunciation," smiled Redmond. "And I've seen hyphens in a few funny places when it's been written down too!"
The villages of Oulart and The Ballagh sit about seven kilometres apart, within a triangle that links the towns of Gorey, to the north, Wexford to the south and Enniscorthy to the west.
It is a hurling heartland and Oulart-The Ballagh will this weekend contest their first ever AIB All-Ireland club semi-final. They finally broke their provincial final duck by beating Cuala of Dublin in the 2015 decider having played in six finals previously, including four between 2010 and 2013, and lost the lot.
The local love affair with the small ball game is highlighted by the fact that Oulart-The Ballagh's camogie team are also reigning Leinster senior champions.
Redmond's sister is part of the camogie set-up and family ties are strong generally in the club. Legendary hurling figures like Martin Storey and Liam Dunne, All-Ireland winners with Wexford in 1996, have family members in the present senior set-up.
Redmond is amongst a large number of club men to have played for the Wexford senior team. Storey, Dunne and Paul Finn were part of the most recent All-Ireland winning Wexford team, in 1996, while current players like Keith Rossiter, Paul Roche, Des Mythen, the Jacobs and several more have served the county with distinction.
Our area is all hurling, it's everything we know.
Q: How much do you know about the history of the club?
A: There's basically two villages, Oulart and The Ballagh, two kind of half parishes that joined up to create the one club. I do remember an older man informed us recently about the change to the current colours of the club, red and black, and a few stories from different aspects of the club down through the years so it's always nice to actually hear that information. It's golden really, stuff you can pass on yourself in years to come.
Q: Why has the club been so successful in the last 20 years or so, winning all 12 of your county titles in that period?
A: The majority of county titles that we've won as a club have actually been through this generation of hurlers now, there was five-in-a-row in there at one stage. We also won one in 2007 and, myself, I'd have seven county titles. Some of the other lads, Keith Rossiter and Rory Jacob, would have nine. From going back to the previous county finals, in the mid-1990s, Liam Dunne, Martin Storey, Paul Finn, that group of guys, they'd have started it all. As far as I know, Michael Jacob is actually on 10 medals. He was part of the panel in the late 1990s you see so he's into double figures.
Q: Why do players keep coming back year after year for more?
A: Our area is all hurling, it's everything we know. There's no football, no soccer. The soccer stops when the hurling training starts! It's just that a generation of players all came through at a similar age and are all hurling mad. I'm not kidding you, hurling is nearly put before everything else.
Q: Would a lot of the current players have gone to school together?
A: Absolutely. We all played together from a young age. In fact, we played a mini-sevens national school competition where the two national schools, The Ballagh national school and Oulart national school, ended up playing each other in a county final. I suppose that was around 1997 or 1998. Fellas who played against each other back then went on to be great team mates and actually were club mates at the time as well. For instance, I was in The Ballagh school and Peter Murphy, who is on our panel now, was on the Oulart school team. The legendary Mick Jacob, Michael's father, was over the Oulart school and Martin Storey was over The Ballagh school. In 2001, we also won a Feile na Gael, the boys won that, Division 1, down in Cork and the girls won the Feile na Gael camogie the very same year. Those players are now the backbone of the two senior teams.
Q: Family ties are obviously strong within the club?
A: Oh yeah, like Michael Jacob is obvious Mick's Jacob's son, so is Rory Jacob. Tomas Dunne is part of our current panel, he's Liam Dunne's nephew and the son of Tomas Dunne Senior who would have played for Wexford and the club for years. Martin Storey has two sons on our panel, Anthony and Martin Óg and a nephew, Tommy. His daughter, Ciara, is a great camogie player. My sister won a Leinster camogie title as well so there's loads of family connections. It's all family, a small parish and certain families are kind of keeping the whole thing going.
Q: Who was your hero growing up?
A: Martin Storey, for sure, because he was a Ballagh man and there were songs about him, you name it! He actually trained us when he won the All-Ireland that time (1996). I think it was the U10s he was training. We basically had a legendary All-Ireland winning captain training us as young lads, it was fantastic. I think he was training us even before he won it but the whole way up he was involved. I had Martin Storey for every age group including senior.
Q: What is the mood in the area in the run up to the AIB All-Ireland club semi-finals?
A: Well, The Ballagh village is two pubs and a shop and Oulart is quite similar, it's a small area. Basically where you meet people is in the GAA club. But, yeah, everyone is giving you a tap on the back saying, 'you're fantastic'. But we've had to park the Leinster final win and forget about it. I think at Christmas really, it was parked, that was it, finished. But people do seem genuinely delighted for us, family, friends, even rivals you could say. A guy came up to me the other day in a petrol station and said, 'everyone in the county is behind you'. I think we have a serious backing from the county of Wexford because it's a county that is looking for someone to win, for something to bring back a trophy and to do well.
Q: After four Leinster final defeats in a row between 2010 and 2013, have those painful memories been erased by the win in 2015?
A: It's hard to know. Like, whenever I'd meet someone over the years and I'd mention that I'm from Oulart-The Ballagh, they wouldn't mention the number of county titles that you'd won, it would always be the number of Leinster titles that you'd lost. Now that we've won one, hopefully that will benefit me in that conversation. I'm sure it's been the same for the other lads. We have it won now, it's in the bank, it's saved. Now people might look back and say, 'Jaysus, you could have had five by now'. But that's nonsense really.
Q: Was there a danger that the club's history would be tied to the Leinster final defeats, instead of the county final wins?
A: To be honest, within our own club even, there was an awful lot of pressure on us to do well and to win Leinster titles. There would have been constant references from supporters looking for you to do well generally but, also, the Leinster final thing would always be thrown into the conversation. You know, 'you need to win a Leinster final'. For our group of players, thankfully we did win it. But we're trying to achieve as much as we can as a group of players too. We've done a lot of hurling in Wexford over the last 10 years and we want to maximise it now and achieve the most we possibly can. We're a few days away now from hopefully achieving something that the club never has, an All-Ireland final place.
Q: Wexford didn't make as much progress in the 2015 Championship as they would have liked but you seemed to perform well personally. Are you at the peak of your powers at the age of 29?
A: I went in with Wexford in 2007 and I suppose I really started in 2008 under John Meyler. I would say, personally, that last year was my best year since I started, with Wexford and the club. I don't think there was anything really any different that I can attribute that to. I just got on a good run playing at midfield, I really enjoyed it. I was just hurling well and I suppose I took on more responsibility too than I ever did previously. I suppose I'm one of the older lads now. Look, I want to achieve stuff as well, I want to win. I've been doing that with my club, winning county titles and a Leinster title and I want to achieve something with Wexford. So I took on some of that responsibility. Hopefully I can keep that form going, for club and county.