Mission Impossible: Ferns?

How do you solve a problem like Oulart?

  • 9 county titles won in 12 years.
  • An average winning margin per game of over 8 points in the past 6 seasons.
  • 39 wins, 1 draw and 2 defeats in their past 42 Wexford Championship matches.

When Ferns St Aidans line out next Sunday to face the men from Oulart-The Ballagh they know they are facing a monumental battle to dethrone the champions. The table below shows how dominant Oulart have been for the past 6 seasons:


(This table doesn’t include results from Oulart’s 4 titles from 2005-10!)

So how can Ferns try to stop the black and red monster rolling on?

MISSION 1: Stop Oulart scoring goals.

In their past 42 games (2011 to present) in the Pettits SHC Oulart have scored at least 1 goal in 36 matches……with a record of 35 wins and 1 draw.

Stopping Oulart’s forwards is far easier said than done, but a focus on keeping the sliotar out of the Ferns’ net must be the number 1 priority. The table below shows Oulart’s win record based on how many goals they have scored in a match.


Oulart’s two solitary defeats in their past 6 Pettits SHC seasons have come when they have been held goal-less. This year Mickey Laffan has built a tight Ferns defence, conceding only 1 goal in their 6 matches to date (to Oulart!), so this is a target they can really aim for.

MISSION 2: Take a different approach

Ferns have locked horns with Oulart 4 times in the past 6 seasons. each time coming out on the wrong end.

In each of these 4 matches Ferns have scored 17 times (1-16 three times and 0-17 once). Scoring 17 times or less against Oulart has never seen them beaten in the past 6 seasons (35 wins, 1 draw).

Ferns also have the undesirable record of having conceded the most of any team against Oulart over the past 6 years:


Ferns have conceded an average of 3-21 in their past 4 matches against Oulart. Some change has to be made from their previous approach, 17 scores have proven not to be enough and Fern’s have yet to get to grips with Oulart’s attack.

MISSION 3: Wear Blue & Green!

Ferns should look at previous ways teams have taken on Oulart and maybe the tactics/style employed by the Glynn Barntown men is the way they should work.

In their 3 meetings over the past 6 years Glynn Barntown have held Oulart to their lowest average score – 20 points (some 10 points less than Ferns’ average concession). Barntown’s results against Oulart read alot easier than most teams who’ve been put to the sword, Barntown have lost by 5 points, 1 point and had a shock win in 2014 through a last minute Rowan White goal.

Mickey Laffan would do well to tap into his home clubs experience in handling Oulart’s attack.

MISSION 4: Stifle the 4 Headed Beast

Dessie, Nicky, Rory & Garrett. Four names that defenders all over Wexford shudder to hear. Oulart Coach Frank Flannery likes to draw defences out and play ball into space in front of the four men that lead his charge.

This year these four Oulart forwards all make the Top 10 scorers from play in the Wexford Championship:


Ferns match-ups will have to be spot on in order to stifle the movement and speed of this front 4. Any space allowed to these four forwards can lead to disaster as Naomh Eanna found out within 2 minutes of their quarter final.


Mickey Laffan and the men from Ferns have their work cut out on Sunday. Their previous round upset win over St. Martins must give them great belief. Oulart are the standard bearers in Wexford and it will take one hell of a performance to oust the champions. Oulart found out in 2014 against Glynn Barntown that past dominance matters for little in knockout hurling. As a neutral I can only hope for a cracker.


The Changing Geography of Wexford Hurling

The upcoming club semi finals in Wexford contain 2 teams who have yet to win senior title (Ferns & Glynn Barntown), a club without a title since 1993 (Cloughbawn)  and the dominant Oulart-The-Ballagh (champions in 6 of the past 7 years). It made me wonder how much the county has changed in terms of club dominance over the past 40 years.

The table below of Wexford SHC winners shows the historical dominance held by Rathnure, Buffers Alley, Oulart the Ballagh

This year sees the traditional powers of Buffers Alley & Rathnure failing to make the semi finals for the fourth consecutive year. Buffers Alley have now gone 24 years without a county title after winning their 12 titles in the previous 24 years.  Rathnure are currently in their leanest spell without a county title since 1947, their last title was in 2006. Adamstown who lie 4th in titles won, last won a county title in 1942 and St Aidans of Enniscorthy in 1959.

I decided to delve into the impact the dominance of clubs has had on the county panel throughout the years in order to try and show how the traditional dominance in Wexford has changed. I mapped the hurlers that made up the county panel in two eras – 1976 (All Ireland Final Runners Up), 1996 (All Ireland Champions) and compared them to the hurlers who played championship for this year’s team. A 20 year gap between each group.

Below shows the county map, with a jersey for each panel hurler placed on their club location. the jersey size placed on the club location is based on the number of hurlers from that club on the county team (i.e.bigger jersey = More players from that club)


Looking at the three maps you can clearly see the change in the geography of Wexford hurling.In the map below I have shaded the traditional hurling belt which covers Oulart the Ballagh, Buffers Alley, Enniscorthy & Rathnure.


From the shaded area you can see that 1976 saw a dominance from three clubs – Buffers Alley (6 hurlers), Oulart & Rathnure (4) along with 3 hurlers from Wexford Town, south of the shaded area (Faythe Harriers).

1996 saw a slightly larger spread south of the shaded area, in the area around Wexford Town, with Glynn Barntown and St Martins having 3 hurlers on the county panel.

2016 sees a strong geographical change from the 1976 panel. Now the dominance held by the traditional hurling clubs is much reduced. Oulart had 3 hurlers playing in 2016 (notably with injuries to David Redmond & Shaun Murphy their number would be 5), Buffers Alley (1) and Rathnure had no hurler play in the 2016 Championship for Wexford. Outside of Oulart’s 3 hurlers we see a widespread of clubs represented with 1 or 2 hurlers. The southern area below the shaded area has seen an outbreak of hurling influence on the county team.

The numbers below show the wider spread of clubs with players represented on the county panel from 1976 to 2016.


The numbers and maps appear to show that Wexford Hurling is now a county-wide sport. The south of the county now holds many senior and minor hurlers. Numerous smaller clubs dotted throughout the county have also produced hurlers capable at playing at a high level.

The traditional big 3 are still holding their ground in the Senior level of the County Championship but their dominance as a group has been reduced.


Next Man Up : Senior Hurling 2015-16

Do you think your county is in a period of transition? Do you think your manager has stuck to the same players year-in year-out?

Over a two season period how many individual players do you think have lined out for you county’s senior hurlers in the Championship?

Looking at the numbers of different players used over the past 2 championships we can see if a county team has been settled or whether it is has seen a major overhaul.

Two measures of change/transition would be:

  1. See how many different hurlers a county has used over the previous 2 Championships
  2. See how many of the same hurlers started the first game 2015 championship and also started in their team’s final game of 2016.

Hurlers Used Over Two Seasons

The table below shows the number of different hurlers that each county has used over the previous two Championships:


We can see that the highest number used was 35, by Dublin,  whereas Waterford only used 24 despite playing one game more than Dublin over the same period. An interesting statistic taken from the table is that the four Provincial Finalists & All Ireland Semi Finalists for both seasons (Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford & Galway) used an average number of 27 hurlers, whereas the other eight teams used an average of nearly 32 hurlers. Could it be said that success brings less change? Or does cohesion lead to success (as per Ben Darwin of The Gain Line)?

New Season..New First Fifteen?

This table shows the number of hurlers who started their counties first championship match of 2015 and also started their counties last match of 2016:end-16-start-15

From this we can see that Laois had a huge overhaul in the space of 14 months with only 6 players from the team that started against Offaly in 2015 picked to start against Clare in 2016. That’s a 60% change in personnel, showing how difficult a year it was for Cheddar Plunkett.

Dublin In Transition

Taking those two tables as a measure of transition we can see that Dublin, under Ger Cunningham, have had a dramatic change to their panel. 35 different players used in 2 seasons, and only 7 players from his first game against Galway in Croke Park in 2015 survived to play in Pairc Ui Rinn in their loss to Cork. Cunningham used 29 hurlers in his first season alone, more than 4 counties have used in the two season.

Although Wexford used 34 players over the 2 seasons they still had 10 players starting against Westmeath in 2015 that were again named by Liam Dunne to start against Waterford in 2016. Wexford would appear to have kept a core group of players together but have had to try various hurlers to mix with this core, their 2016 injury crisis must be taken as a factor for their high number of hurlers used. .

Waterford Keeping It Tight

Waterford have kept an extremely tight panel in the past two years. Only using 24 hurlers along with keeping with the 12 starters from their win against Cork in 2015 up to their replay defeat to Kilkenny this August. Waterford have picked a very cohesive structure with only Conor Gleeson made the breakthrough into the Waterford defence/midfield in the past 12 months. Derek McGrath used only 21 hurlers in 2016, the lowest of any team in either season despite playing 5 games, including back to back weeks against Kilkenny.

New Manager, New Team?

Some panels may expect huge changes when a new manager arrives in. A clear-out is sometimes expected or a new set of eyes at the talent in the county. Is this reflected in the panel turnover of the team changes from 2015/2016?

Well in a word…..No. Teams with new managers in 2016 kept 9 of the team that had played the first game of the previous season in their team. Teams that kept their managers had almost an identical average of 9.1 players used from the start of one season to the end of the next season.

Counties who kept the same manager for the two season used an average of 30.3 players throughout the two campaigns, while counties with two different managers in the two seasons used an average of 30 players. Michael Donoghue in Galway used 22 of the 26 players his predecessor Anthony Cunningham had played in 2015.