Victory over Kildare in Croke Park the high point of season
GAELIC GAMES PETER KEOGH LOOKS BACK ON WICKLOW’S YEAR IN INTER-COUNTY FOOTBALL
THE HIGH point in Wicklow’s year came on a bright May day in Croke Park when we beat Kildare in the first round of the championship.
It was our first Senior Football Championship win in ‘Croker’ and we celebrated as if we had won the championship.
Mick O’Dwyer and Arthur French were back at the helm for their second year in charge of football in Wicklow and hopes were at an all time high that they could build on the promise shown in 2007.
However, Micko’s plans for an early start to training had the be shelved when the Senior Football Championship ran in to trouble and finished way behind schedule.
The luck of the draw in the first competition of the new year, the O’Byrne Cup ran against Wicklow and they found themselves having to travel to Parnell Park to play Dublin in the first round.
The gap in fitness levels between the two teams was all too apparent and the Dubs ran out easy winners by 2-12 to 0-9.
Stephen Hurley was getting his first start that day while Seánie Furlong came on a sub and played for the last quarter.
Thomas Burke made a return after injury and also got the last 20 minutes while players like Rory Finn, John Paul Kelly, John McGrath and Derek Daly were handed the chance to stake their claim for more permanent places on the team.
It was then on to the Shield where Wicklow had a good enough win over D.I.T. at the Fair Green in Shillelagh.
Micko introduced three more newcomers to the team for that match – Mick McLoughlin from Blessington, Bray born Brian McGrath, who had declared for Wicklow from his Dublin club, Kilmacud Crokes and Dean Odlum from Newtown. Mervyn Travers made his return in goal that day and Seánie Furlong and Nicky Mernagh got their first starts.
The score was Wicklow 3-10, D.I.T. 1-9.
In the semi-final of the Shield played in Aughrim, Wicklow again stepped up their performance but still lost to Laois by 2-17 to 2-12.
Tony Hannon and Thomas Burke were starting for the first time for the season with Hannon scoring one of the goals and Derek Daly getting the other. Paul Earls was top scorer with five points (all frees).
Fitness was still a problem when Wicklow lost to Antrim in the first league match in Aughrim
The final score was Antrim 1-13, Wicklow 1-8. Dean Odlum got the goal while newcomer Seánie Furlong was top scorer with 0-4.
Next up was a trip to Dungarvan to take on a Waterford team that often gave us trouble but one that we generally beat. Wicklow stepped up their performance a fair bit but it still took a late goal from the penalty spot by Paul Earls to give us a comfortable 1-16 to 0-13 win.
Earls scored 1-3; Seánie Furlong 06; Tony Hannon, just coming back to form scored 0-2; Dean Odlum, John McGrath, Derek Daly, Thomas Walsh and John Paul Dalton 0-1 each.
Wicklow were at home to Kilkenny in the next match and had their expected easy win - 2-34 to 0-5.
Seánie Furlong scored 1-9 and Paul Earls 0-9. Under age starlet Ciarán Walshe made his first appearance in the league when he came on a sub while Brendan O hAnnaidh also made a welcome return.
Wicklow, as often happened in the past, reserved their worst display of the league for their home supporters in Aughrim.
Offaly led by 3-8 to 1-4 at half-time and won by 3-15 to 1-6.
Derek Daly got the goal; Seánie Furlong 0-3; Pail Earls 0-2 and James Stafford, who came on a sub (0-1). Leighton Glynn made his first appearance after recovering from a groin operation when he came on in the second-half.
Micko’s men finally lost their battle for promotion on a dreadful day in Cusack Park in Ennis when a team, probably suffering from a hang-over after the Offaly match were beaten by 0-11 to 0-8 by Clare.
It was a game Wicklow could and should have won and in the end it was the difference between getting promotion or finishing a respectable third in the table.
Wicklow then had two good wins on the trot, beating London in Ruislip and Carlow in Aughrim on successive Sundays.
In the London match we outscored the Emigrants 4-9 to 0-6. Tommy Gill was the top scorer with 1-5; Leighton Glynn, Derek Daly and Dean Odlum also got goals.
The AGB star Ciarán Hyland made his first return to action after a long lay-off through injury that day.
The final score in the match against Carlow was 1-15 to 1-6 with Gill again getting the goal and Tony Hannon returning to the top of the scoring chart for the first time with 0-6.
Wicklow’s last match in the league was in Ardfinnan where Tipperary won by two points – 0-12 to 0-10 to grab the second promotion spot, but it could so easily have been Wicklow
After a league run like that spirits in the camp were at a low ebb but the one man who never lost faith in his team was the boss, Mick O’Dwyer.
‘Forget about the league’ he told his player; what matters to me is the championship and the day we are now aiming for is Sunday, May 18, in Croke Park.
Wicklow were invited to play a South Kerry selection on the day that Micko’s club Waterville were opening their new clubhouse and won by 1-11 to 0-6
That gave Micko a boost and Arthur French was even more confident – if indeed that was possible.
Still the ghosts of past failures haunted some of us long suffering followers of the Blue and Gold as we headed for Croke Park on that May day.
Cometh the day. Micko and Arthur were in buoyant mood as the Ardcavan bus rolled out from the Glenview Hotel on the final stage of a journey that was to take this crew into the history books.
It was a fully focused team that hit the green sward of Croker. They took the game to Kildare from the first whistle and never let up for a moment. This was above all else a ‘team’ display with everyone stepping up his performance.
In the player ratings in the national press four got nines while four more got eights – a quite remarkable performance by any standards. Noone dropped below a six Finally the man of the match went to Tony Hannon or Leighton Glynn, depending on which paper you were reading.
The RTE trophy for player of the match went to Seánie Furlong.
The team that made history lined out like this: Mervyn Travers (AGB), Ciarán Hyland (AGB), Damien Power (Rathnew), Alan Byrne (Annacurra); Mick McLoughlin (Blessington), Dara O’hAnnaidh (Capt., Bray Emmets), Paddy Dalton (Coolkenno); Thomas Walsh (Bray Emmets), James Stafford (Rathnew); Tony Hannon (Hollywood), Leighton Glynn (Rathnew), JP Dal- ton (Kiltegan); Dean Odlum (Newtown), Seánie Furlong (Kiltegan), Paul Earls (St. Patrick’s). Subs. - Ciarán Walshe (Baltinglass); Derek Daly (Kiltegan).
The quarter-final against Laois, played in Dr. Cullen Park, Carlow, was always going to be different, and difficult.
RTE pundit Tommy Lyons summed it up before the match when he told viewers that the Wicklow players could suffer from nerves.
‘They had nothing to lose against Kildare and just gave it a lash. Now expectations are sky high and it remains to be seen if they can take the pressure’.
How right he was. Some of the players were a bag of nerves in the first-half and never got into the game. they squandered scoring chances at one end, gave away soft frees at the other and went in trailing be five points – 0-9 to 0-4 at halftime.
Micko could not wait to get them back to the dressingroom.
They came out a different team in the second-half and took the game to Laois. However, they needed a break or two to get back into the match but none were coming their way Overall they failed to convert any one of four goaling chances and that in the end cost them the match.
The starting team was the same as in the Kildare match but Brian McGrath, Tommy Gill and Rory Nolan came on during the match.
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Mick O’Dwyer celebrates with Arthur French and Martin Coleman after the championship win over Kildare in Croke Park.