Wicklow find the goal-den touch to earn point in Antrim
GAELIC GAMES NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION 4
Wicklow 3-6, Antrim 0-15: A second-half goal rush, led mainly by full-forward Seánie Furlong covered up for a multitude of sins by a new-look Wicklow team in Casement Park on Sunday.
To come away with a point from the Belfast venue is a good day’s work at any time and in the end Micko and his mentors were more than happy with the result.
However, when they reflect on this match they will know that this, overall was not a good display and that, in the end they were a shade lucky to get the draw.
A bit like the Laois match in the championship a year ago Wicklow simply did not arrive for the firsthalf of this match and it took all of Micko’s motivational skills to get the team going for the second-half.
A new-look defence, short of at least a half dozen of the players available last year were in trouble from the start and to make matters worse they lost a key player Ciarán Hyland to a yellow card and Stephen ‘Chester’ Kelly before halftime.
It was hard grafting rather than good football that saved the day.
A flying Antrim team had dominated the first-half and were not flattered to lead by 0-8 to 0-3 at halftime.
To make that scoreline look even worse, Wicklow had played with what ever assistance a mostly cross-field wind had to offer and had failed to score from play. All three Wicklow points had come from Tony Hannon frees.
Micko’s half-time pep talk had worked wonders and Wicklow came out a different team for the second-half. None-the-less they were lucky to hold on for a draw in the end.
No. 12 Conor Murray had a point almost straight from the throw-in as Antrim laid down an early marker. When Seánie Furlong was fouled at the other end Tony Hannon sent over the free to tie the scores but the rest of the half belonged to the home side. Midfielder Michael McCann, Kieran Close, James Loughrey and Murray added points with Hannon pointing another free won by Furlong to leave the Glen men leading by 0-5 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter.
Nor did matters improve for the Garden County in the second quarter. Midfielder McCann sent over two more points, wing-back Tony Scullain added another as against another Hannon free for Winklow after Leighton Glynn was fouled.
Twice in the closing stages the game could have taken a dramatic turn, but didn’t.
First Seánie Furlong was brought down in the square and the referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot.
Paul Earls hit a poor enough penalty which Antrim goalie Seán McGreevey had no trouble in saving and Ciarán Walshe drove the rebound into the side netting.
A great chance for Wicklow to get back into the game gone abegging.
Minutes later Ciarán Hyland brought down corner-forward Tomas McCann at the other end.
The ref again awarded a penalty but this time sent off Hyland on a yellow card - a rather harsh decision since he let the Antrim full-back Seán McVeigh off scot-free for the same offence.
The usually reliable Paddy Cunningham drove his shot well wide of the diving Mervyn Travers and probably justice was done. Half-time Antrim 0-8; Wicklow 0-3.
Micko was not exactly patting his charges on the back at half-time but his words had the desired result and it was a more fired-up Wicklow team that took the field for the second-half.
None-the-less it was Paddy Cunningham who opened the secondhalf scoring with a point to put the home side six clear.
Seánie Furlong was fouled by McVeigh for the umpteenth time and the Kiltegan man pointed the free himself. The full-back was called ashore and replaced by Paul Conlon.
It could have been the wrong move for Antrim manager Liam Bradley to make because if Furlong was roasting McVeigh he really went to town on the less experienced Conlon.
Cunningham and Hannon exchanged points and when Dean Odlun was fouled Hannon sent over his fifth free to give Wicklow some hope.
Then Wicklow hit a purple patch. John McGrath sent in a long ball which was fumbled by a defender and Seánie Furlong was in for an easy goal and only two points sepa- rated the sides.
That was in the 15th minute of the half and two minutes later Dean Odlum won possession, rounded his marker and slipped a neat shot to the net.
So after been outplayed for so long Wicklow were now a point in front.
The second goal appeared to act as a ‘ wake-up’ call for the home side. They went on to land the next three points to go two up again.
However, Wicklow were now fighting with grim determination and came battling back once again. Paudge McWalter made a good run down the right and sent in a centre which Seánie Furlomg again fielded in front of the full-back.
The full-forward rounded his marker but was pushed out to the left by force of numbers. Howeve, he had the ball on his deadly left foot and squeezed his shot to the net and Wicklow were back in front with just four minutes on the clock.
It was the experienced Kevin Brady, who had come on as a second-half sub that got the last score of the match on the 70th minute to get Antrim a draw.
Deep in injury-time disaster struck for Wicklow.
The hard-grafting Paudge McWalter was yellow-carded for bringing down a forward and when John McGrath appeared to remonstrate with the referee he too was yellowcarded. However, by that time Antrim had taken off their three free-takers and Michael McCann missed the kick.
While Seánie Furlong may have saved the day he would be hard pressed for man of the match by Mervyn Travers.
The AGB man gave another great display of goalkeeping and displayed great bravery and judgment on a number of occasions when he had to advance outside of his box to make interceptions.
Jacko Dalton had his best game at midfield and off-loaded the ball fast, as Micko had asked him to do. Leighton Glynn and Paudge McWalter were also very effective but had their hands full with lively wing-forwards.
Overall a result that should bolster confidenc in a new-look team.
Wicklow’s Dean Odlum celebrates his goal against Antrim.
Ciarán Hyland takes advantage of a clash between two Antrim players.