Late Earls point salvages a share of spoils for Wicklow
GAELIC GAMES NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DIVISION 4
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.