Wicklow teams facing tough tests
PREVIEW PETER KEOGH LOOKS AHEAD TO THE WEEKEND ACTION
WICKLOW TAKE on Laois in the quarter-final of the Leinster U-21 Football championship at Aughrim on Sunday.
This is a game fraught with danger for the home side, and manager Phillip McGillycuddy and his selectors know that.
A year ago they caught the O’Moore lads napping in Portlaoise and had a very clear-cut victory over a team that had contested the AllIreland final a year earlier.
That defeat hurt deeply in Laois and without doubt they will come to Aughrim with all guns blazing on Sunday.
Revenge, just as much as a place in the semi-final, will drive on the Laois lads and the question could be - do we have a motivating factor to match that?
Phillip McGillycuddy has this team as well prepared as it is possible to do with the present restrictions. Along with selectors Mick O’Toole and Conan Day he has sifted through a big panel and has come up a fully committed and well balanced team.
He brought in Mick Byrne to do the physical training and the O’Hanrahans clubman had done a good job.
They were very slow to settle against Longford but the long journey to the venue and the fact that it was their first match, or even the first time that the full panel were together may have accounted for that.
However, they made up for a bad start with a blistering finish which saw then clinch victory in injurytime.
The manager did not mince words when he addressed his team after the match. He told then that a start like that would not do against Laios. He demanded 60 minutes of football from everyone when they take the field at Aughrim. ‘That is what it will take to get us to a semi-final’.
The defence, and in particular the full back-line was where most of the problems arose in the Longford match. With young giant Donie Kingston likely to operate at full-forward for Laois this problem could get even bigger this time round.
The switching of Anthony McLoughlin to the inside line worked well and we can expect to see the Blessington lad start nearer to goal on Sunday. The two subs that were used in defence, Colm Coogan and Craig Smullen could hold their places but it is unlikely that we will see too many changes on what, after all, is a winning team.
Paddy Byrne is fighting hard to reach match fitness and no doubt his experience would be a great help. However, with few places available in attack he may have to start on the bench again.
No doubt about it this is a good, committed panel. They have worked hard and have the ability to make further progress in Leinster.
Last year the team got carried away after beating Laois; that is unlikely to happen again.
They can put six scoring forwards on the field, and that is something that not every county can do. They have two hard working midfielders and enough cover in defence.
Given the breaks this is a match they can win.
The team that beat Longford - 1-11 to 2-6 - lined out like this: Ronan Phelan (Ballinacor); Craig O’Neill (Kilmac), Brendan McGarr (Blessington), Ciarán Doyle (St. Pat’s); Seán Metcalfe (Dunlavin), Brian Osborne (Carnew), Anthony McLoughlin (Blessington, 0-1); Blaine Harmon (Kiltegan), Cathal McNicholas (Newtown, 0-1); Shane Carty (Dunlavin), Donie Fitzgerald (Ashford, 0-1), Darren Hayden (Eire Og, 1-1); Ciarán Walshe (Baltinglass, 0-6). Paul Cunningham (Bray Emmets, 0-1). Subs - Seán Tobin (St. Pat’s) for Carty; Colm Coogan (Ballymanus) for McGarr; Craig Smullen (Eire Og) for Metcalfe.
The rest of the panel is - Rory Breslin; Tomás Kelly, Mark Kenny, Paddy Byrne, Mark Caplis, Diarmuid Cronin, Niall Curran, Gavin Murray, Barry Murphy and Donal Finch.
Laois have several Minors of 2007 on the panel. Robbie Kehoe an outstanding defender is now operating around midfield. Joe Mulhare, Conor Boyle, Zach Tuohy, Brian Smith and others are likely to be in the hunt for places. The big question is will John O’Loughlin play, he has been injured since last year’s championship and this year is captain of the UCD team but is still very doubtful. Donie Kingston is likely to start, James Doyle another Minor of two years ago will be pushing hard. John Scully, Gearoid Hanrahan, Ambrose Doran are also in the hunt for a place in the starting line up.
Laois v. Wicklow previous meetings: 1969 - Laois 2-7, Wicklow 2-6. (Carlow); 1992 - Laois 3-9, Wicklow 1-6 (Aughrim); 1993 - Laois 1-8 Wicklow 1-4 (Portlaoise); 1996 Wicklow 3-14, Laois 2-7 (Portlaoise); 2005 - Laois 2-13, Wicklow 0-2 (Baltinglass); 2007 - Laois 0-11, Wicklow 1-5 (Aughrim); 2008 Wicklow 1-11, Laois 0-3 (Portlaoise).
Forty years ago Laois and Wicklow met for the first time and the occasion was the provincial final in Dr. Cullen Park. Laois scraped home by a single point - 2-7 to 2-6. The teams lined out as follows.
Laois: Tony Burke (Killeshin); Dan Luttrell (Courtwood), Tom Manley (Portarlington), Eamon Roycroft (Portarlington); Tim Clancy (Captain, Timahoe), Christy Murphy (Portarlington), Liam Delaney (Stradbally); Ivor Houihan (RIP, Mountmellick), Bobby Miller (RIP, Timahoe); Steve Allen (Portarlington), Seamus Fleming (St. Joseph’s), Johnnie Lawlor (Emo); John Clancy (RIP, Timahoe), Paddy Lawlor (Emo).
Wicklow: Pat Cronin (Stratford); Willie Whelan (Dunlavin), Liam O’Loughlin (Annacurra), Pat Hedderman (Tinahely); John Doyle (Donard), Jim Sullivan (Forestry College), John Davis (Ballinastoe); Moses Coffey (Rathnew), Tom Foley (Dunlavin); Gerry Farrell (St. Patrick’s), Gary O’Toole (Arklow), Mick O’Toole (St. Pat’s); John Simpson (Shillelagh), Gerry Sinnott (Newtown), Johnny McDanald (Rathnew). Subs. - Murt Doyle (Rathnew), Seán Murray (Kilmac) and Tom Kennedy (Carnew). NHL - WICKLOW V. MAYO
Time was when Wicklow mentors would lose little sleep over a hurling match with Mayo, be it home or away.
That day is well and truly gone. The Connaught men have come on a ton in the small ball game and are now a match for any team in tier three. Last year they gave us a nasty shock in Aughrim and put paid to our hopes of lifting the Christy Ring Cup.
That setback came in the wake of a great display that saw us beat a hotly-fancied Westmeath side.
Wicklow have a new, high-profile manager in Michael ‘Titch’ Phelan, a Kilkenny All-Star and All-Ireland winner.
There can by no doubt that he is getting a good turn-out of players, both at training and for matches.
However, it is equally true that the team is missing the steadying influence of players like Don Hyland, Graham Keogh, Michael Anthony O’Neill, Timmy Collins and John Keogh.
The truth is that the new manager, his trainer Frank Ryan and selectors Martin Barnes and Eugene Byrne are team building, and only in the very early stages at that.
It will be some time before we can expect to see a settled team take the field in the Blue and Gold.
The back-bone is starting to take shape; Ted Kennedy appears to be the front runner for goal, Jim Connors is doing well at full-back while Eoin O’Neill is staking a claim to the No. 6 jersey. The ever reliable veteran Jonathan O’Neill is still our number one midfielder while Ronan Keddy, who partnered him there at the end of last season looks the most likely to do so again.
Jeffrey Bermingham, one of the most versatile hurlers of them all, has been tried at centre-half and full-forward. Joe Murphy is another player destined for a big role this year.
When the sides met in the Christy Ring Cup last year Mayo’s top marksman was Keith Higgins with 0-9. Higgins has been out of the country and may not be available on Sunday. However, Mayo are no longer a one man team. In Pierce Higgins and Stephen Broderick they have a strong midfield (Broderick scored 1-3). Derek McDonnell and Derek McCann were others to get on the scoresheet. Seamus Barrett starred at centre-back while they have another high scoring forward in Adrian Freeman.
Wicklow have only six of the team that played in that match left - Bermingham, Eoin and Jonathan O’Neill, Ronan Keddy, Joe Murphy and Eamon Furlong.
Gone are players like Don Hyland, Timmy Collins, Stephen Kelly, Colm Ryan, Eamonn Kearns, Keith Barnes and Seánie Kinsella.
However the three subs used, Liam Kennedy, Denis Moran and John Connors, are still available.
Wicklow gave a promising display against Kildare in the first round of the league. They have the right motivation and the spirit in the camp is good.
It might be tempting faith to predict a Wicklow win at this stage. However we do have home venue and that will be a help. Hurling men of long standing like Jackie Napier believe that the team play better in Arklow so if they are right the switch of the match from Aughrim may be another help.
No doubt about it a win at this stage would give ‘Titch’ and all involved a great boost.
The team that lost by a point to Kildare lined out as follows: Ted Kennedy; Willie Collins, Jim Connors, Billy Cuddihy; Thomas Doyle, Eoin O’Neill, John Connors; Jonathan O’Neill, Ronan Keddy; Eamon Furlong, Jeffrey Bermingham, Joe Murphy; Christy Moorehouse, Eoghan Dunne and Alan Driver.
Paul Cunningham sends over a point for the Wicklow Under-21s during their win over Longford.