Late Earls point sal­vages a share of spoils for Wick­low

GAELIC GAMES NA­TIONAL FOOT­BALL LEAGUE DIVI­SION 4

Bray People - - Sports - Mark KENNEDY

Wick­low 0-15, Water­ford 2-9: This sec­ond con­sec­u­tive draw in the foot­ball league may not nec­es­sar­ily put an end to Wick­low’s pro­mo­tion chances but it cer­tainly makes to path out of the base­ment fourth divi­sion that much more dif­fi­cult to ne­go­ti­ate.

Af­ter the away draw against sterner Antrim op­po­si­tion the pre­vi­ous week, Mick O’Dwyer’s men were ex­pected to ac­count for Water­ford foot­ballers, es­pe­cially on home soil at fortress Aughrim, but on this oc­ca­sion Wick­low’s ex­e­cu­tion did not match their am­bi­tion.

All too of­ten ball pos­ses­sion was spilled too eas­ily - some­times care­lessly - and then find­ing them­selves ex­posed at the back they reaped the whirl­wind of the Deise’s more fo­cussed and spir­ited per­for­mance.

Since tak­ing over Water­ford foot­ballers, John Kiely has in­vari­ably pro­duced one up­set ev­ery year and it would ap­pear that he chose to spring that sur­prise in his open­ing league match against Wick­low on Satur­day last.

Prac­ti­cally from the word go Water­ford’s play­ers dis­played the greater in­ge­nu­ity and in­ven­tive­ness in their play, they were fleeted-footed, and had the abil­ity pun­ish Wick­low on the break.

In con­trast Micko’s team started without six of the play­ers who carved out the draw with Antrim a week ear­lier and the ab­sen­tees in­cluded star full-for­ward Seánie Fur­long who caused havoc in the Antrim de­fence a week ear­lier and scored two of the three sec­ond-half goals that un­der­pinned that draw.

Full-back Stephen Kelly was also out af­ter pick­ing up a nasty an­kle in­jury last week and per­haps it was not to­tally sur­pris­ing that all the en­forced changes to the team pro­duced a fit­ful rather than fluid per­for­mance from Wick­low against Water­ford.

Time af­ter time, as wingers Leighton Glynn and Pa­trick McWal­ter pushed for­ward in sup­port, Wick­low found them­selves dan­ger­ously ex­posed at the back when those at­tacks broke down and Water­ford ruth­lessly ex­ploited those open­ings.

Water­ford’s mid­field­ers Mick Ahearne and Seán O’Hare were winning more than their share of mid­field ball, Liam Lawlor was show­ing strongly in de­fence de­spite wear­ing the num­ber 13 jer­sey, and cen­tre-for­ward Brian Wall and cor­ner-for­ward Liam O Lion­ain were pro­vid­ing the clin­i­cal fin­ish up­front.

On the op­po­site side of the fence, Wick­low were pon­der­ous and por­ous in de­fence while their at­tack, which also started without U-21 play­ers Ciarán Walsh and Dar­ren Hay­den (be­ing rested be­cause they were due to play a Le­in­ster cham­pi­onship match the next day) had a brit­tle­ness that was prone to break­ing down un­der pres­sure.

We had a typ­i­cal ex­am­ple af­ter 22 min­utes which led to Water­ford’s open­ing goal.

Wick­low were at­tack­ing when Water­ford again turned-over pos­ses­sion.

They moved the ball at light­en­ing speed up the field, ex­ploit­ing the gaps open­ing up in Wick­low’s de­fence.

The fi­nal pass was de­liv­ered to striker Liam O Lion­ain who blasted an un­stop­pable shot to the Wick­low net and gave Water­ford a 1-4 to 0-4 lead at the break.

Be­fore that the teams had been level on three oc­ca­sions af­ter Wick­low’s ace free-taker Tony Hannon had fired over the open­ing point from a free in the first minute.

As part of Micko’s reshuf­fle of his forces, Hannon was switched to cen­tre-for­ward with Pat Bro­phy com­ing in as the mid­field part­ner to Jacko Dal­ton.

Dean Od­lum and John McGrath were show­ing up well in at­tack for Wick­low with McGrath scor­ing two smash­ing points from dif­fi­cult an­gles on the left wing.

How­ever Wick­low can thank their star goalie Mervyn Travers for the fact that they re­tired at half-time only 1-4 to 0-4 in ar­rears.

Alert and ag­ile, Travers moved swiftly on three oc­ca­sions to pre­vent fur­ther Water­ford goals with su­per saves that thwarted shots from Liam O Lion­ain and Brian Wall, whose shot for the top right­hand cor­ner of the net was deftly de­flected around the post for a fruit­less ‘45’.

Strug­gling Wick­low thought it pru­dent to in­tro­duce their two U-21 play­ers Ciarán Walsh and Dar­ren Hay­den to the fray in an ef­fort to stem the Water­ford tide.

And Micko’s half-time pep talk again ap­peared to be hav­ing its de­sired ef­fect as two rapid fire points af­ter the restart by Paul Earls - now switched to his favourite full­for­ward po­si­tion - seemed to in­di­cate a new ur­gency and pur­pose to Wick­low’s play.

Even though those scores were can­celled out by O Lion­ain in the next eight min­utes, Wick­low still man­aged to take a two-point lead on two more oc­ca­sions dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod.

Still they were never able to shake the re­solve and com­mit­ment of Water­ford who kept fight­ing back and com­ing back all the way.

With just four min­utes of nor­mal time left on the clock, Wick­low were still two points to the good - 0-14 to 1-9 - and we thought that they just might hold on if not push on to victory from there.

Water­ford, how­ever, con­tin­ued to turnover pos­ses­sion and hit back. And once more it was Liam O Lion­ain who did the dam­age as he drilled home Water­ford’s sec­ond goal to give them a one point lead. All of a sud­den Wick­low were des­per­ately bat­tling just to achieve a draw.

It was left to Paul Earls to tip a high ball from Ciarán Walsh over the bar for the vi­tal fi­nal equaliser.

But Wick­low’s ap­pre­hen­sion was not over yet.

Buoy­ant Water­ford stormed back looking for the win­ner. Wick­low backs were to the wall, hearts were in mouths as Water­ford’s Brian Wall and full-for­ward Mau­rice O’Gor­man blasted shots wide of the tar­get from good po­si­tions.

In the end Wick­low were re­lieved to hear the fi­nal whis­tle.

Wick­low’s next league match is away to Kilkenny and that should be give the team space to re­fo­cus and build their con­fi­dence in ad­vance of the stiffer tests up ahead.

Scor­ers for Wick­low: Paul Earls (0-3), Tony Hannon (0-3), John McGrath (0-3), Dean Od­lum 0-2), Ciaran Walsh (0-2), Leighton Glynn (0-2).

Water­ford scor­ers: Liam O Lion­ain (2-2), Brian Wall (0-5), Ed­mond Rock­ett and Conor McGrath (0-1 each).

Wick­low goal­keeper Mervyn Travers blocks this ef­fort from Water­ford's Liam O Lion­ain.

Wick­low's Leighton Glynn is chal­lenged by Water­ford's Tomás O'Gor­man.

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