Wicklow finish strongly to edge past Longford
Wicklow 1-11, Longford 2-6: Phillip McGillycuddy’s under-21 footballers got off to a winning start in the Leinster championship on Saturday.
This match should have been played a week earlier but was one of a number of games that fell foul of the snow storm..
However, it took a great last quarter rally to see them snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against Longford in at their own Pearce Park in Longford town on this occasion.
The home side held the edge for most of the way. Two goals midway through the first-half boosted their confidence and saw them go in leading by 2-3 to 1-3 at half-time and they held that advantage through most of the third quarter.
It took Wicklow a long time to fully recover from the setback and in fact it took an inspirational point by Blessington’s Anthony McLoughlin, at that time playing in the full-back line, to bring Wicklow level on the stroke of the hour and points by Paul Cunningham and Cathal McNicholas deep in injury-time gave the Garden County team a hard-earned victory.
Longford got off to a great start with a point inside 30 seconds and another in the fourth minute.
Ciarán Walshe was set up by Cathal McNicholas for Wicklow’s first point in the fifth minute.
Then a sweeping movement half the length of the field, started by Blaine Harmon and carried on by Seán Metcalfe saw Darren Hayden score a cracker of a goal in the tenth minute and Wicklow were in front.
The lead was short lived. When a shot by centre-forward Denis McCormack came back off an unright the Wicklow defence were caught napping and number 15 Phillip Dobson was in like a flash to blast to the net.
Another move a minute later, started again by the centre-forward saw the number ten Pauric Gill blast home Longford’s second goal and the midlanders were four points up.
Ciarán Walshe pointed a free after an off the ball foul on Paul Cunningham and Darren Hayden was set up for another point by Donie Fitzgerald to leave just the one goal between the sides at the break - 2-3 to 1-3.
Early in the second-half Donie Fitzgerald started a move and was then in on the end of it to send over a good point - sub Seán Tobin providing the link.
Dobson and McGoldrick added points for Longford and four separated the sides again.
The Wicklow fightback really started in the 40th minute when Ciarán Walshe was fouled and pointed the free himself. When Paul Cunninghan was fouled in the 43rd minute Walshe again did the needful.
Wicklow kept up the pressure and again Walshe was fouled and pointed another free in the 45th minute.
While Wicklow were getting on top the scores were painfully slow in coming. Another eight minutes had passed before Dean Siney won a free and again the deadly Walshe sent over the equaliser.
When Longford got back on the attack the weakness in the Wicklow last line of defence again showed up and Dobson went through for a simple point to restore the home lead.
Wicklow were now fighting for their championship lives, but doing it with great heart and spirit.
Another six scoreless minutes had passed before Anthony McLoughlin decided it was time to show his forwards what it was all about.
He fielded a ball in his own full-back line, raced the length of the field and sent over the levelling point.
That was in the 60th minute and Wicklow supporters heaved a collective sigh of relief.
A few of us who still believe in the power of prayer said ‘thank you God for giving up a draw’.
Better was to come. With three minutes of added time gone Blaine Harmon brought off a great interception to foil a Longford attack. The ball was swept up field where the hard-working Darren Hayden provided the final pass for Paul Cunningham to send over the lead point from a difficult enough shot.
The ref still played on and in the fifth minute a Dean Siney shot took a deflection and a 45 was signalled.
The Wicklow followers were shouting ‘put it dead’, ‘put it dead’ as Cathal McNicholas lined up the kick.
However, the Newtown lad made no mistake from the kick and put it straight between the posts.
A win, perhaps a somewhat lucky one, but it gives Wicklow a home venue for a second round match against Laois.
Anthony McLoughlin was easily the best of a hardworked Wicklow defence. Ciarán Doyle had a good hour, first at corner-back and then at full-back.
Brian Osborne worked hard and covered a lot of ground and did well to hold a lively centre forward to a single point. Seán Metcalfe did a lot of good things and was somewhat unlucky to be replaced.
Very little in it at midfield but Cathal McNicholas and Blaine Harmon worked very hard.
Up front both Ciarán Walshe and Darren Hayden showed the benefit of their senior experience.
The two 19-year-olds Dean Siney and Paul Cunningham are coming on well. Donie Fitz led the attack well while Seán Tobin worked hard when brought on.
All will have benefitted from this match.
The squad that faced Longford in the Leinster Under-21 football championship.
Dean Siney reaches for the ball as he is chased by Kevin Diffley of Longford.