Hurlers are flying high
WICKLOW HURLERS are the only unbeaten teams in Division 3B, heading the league table with eight points from four starts.
However, their home win over Roscommon last Sunday was not a ‘scenic journey to success’ like the previous week in Donegal; rather it was achieved by digging deep and refusing to buckle.
After their unexpected defeat to Louth, Roscommon came to Arklow hell bent on winning so as to get their bid for a place in the division final back on track.
And they were buoyed by the fact that they had beaten Wicklow by a point in the Kehoe Cup competition back in January.
Wicklow’s task of countering the westerner’s resolve and gutsy performance was not helped by the fact that many of the players were showing the effects of having played in energy-sapping Leinster League matches with their clubs just 24 hours earlier.
And the home side had to contend with two quality sharp-shooters in the Roscommon team, wing-forward David Dolan and midfielder Michael Kelly who ensured that Wicklow were chasing the game for a lot of time with their quality scores, mostly from placed balls.
But if Dolan and Kelly were piling on the points for Roscommon, they were still no match for Wicklow’s centre-forward Jonathan O’Neill, who again finished up as top scorer for his team and for the game with a smashing ten points.
Jonathan O’Neill’s scoring contribution to Wicklow’s success was all the more praiseworthy considering that he was playing with a fractured thumb, an injury picked up the previous week against Donegal.
David Dolan opened the scoring for Roscommon with a point from a free after two minutes, but Wicklow also opened brightly and replied with three rapid fire points from O’Neill (free), John Connors and midfielder Eamon Kearns to lead to 0-3 to 0-1 after 12 minutes.
Full-forward Don Hyland was splaying marvellous passes to his colleagues in the early play but unfortunately Wicklow were not translating those opportunities into to scores.
Instead Roscommon started to exert more of a grip on the exchanges and Dolan pointed from a free, Brendan Hanley converted from play, and midfielder Michael Kelly harvested points from a longrange free and from a well struck ‘65’ to recapture the lead, 0-5 to 0-4 after 27 minutes.
Wicklow were becoming more leaden footed and were labouring. In the face of the Roscommon surges, more of the burden was falling on to the shoulder of Wicklow’s defence where Eoin O’Neill, Graham Keogh, making his first full-game start, Willy Collins, Geoffrey Bermingham, Liam Kennedy and Billy Cuddihy were showing stout resistance.
Evergreen MA O’Neill fed cousin Jonathan for a point from play and just on half-time Geoffrey Bermingham scored a marvellous point from midfield to send Wicklow in for half-time leading by 0-6 to 0-5.
Michael Kelly levelled for Roscommon immediately after the restart, firing over the bar with another magnificent ‘ 65’; David Dolan shot two points in quick succession for the lead and thus the game ebbed and flowed, play fluctuated right to the final whistle.
It was the phenomenal accuracy of Jonathan O’Neill that was keeping Wicklow in the hunt. But even so they found themselves trailing Roscommon by 0-11 to 0-9 at the end of the third quarter.
Jonathan O’Neill pulled another point back for Wicklow from a free on 55 minutes, Kevin Connelly immediately extended the Roscommon lead back to two. And so the battle for supremacy raged.
As two more frees sailed radar like over the Roscommon bar, Jonathan O’Neill brought Wicklow level with their opponents on 58 minutes and he restored the home side to the lead (0-13 to 0-12) on 62 minutes with a great point from a line ball to the left of goal.
Casey O’Brien introduced fresh legs to his attack. Roscommon refused to surrender. Don Hyland ensured that the visitors needed a goal to win as he landed a point for Wicklow with three minutes remaining.
Roscommon stormed the Wicklow ramparts in the dying moments and won a 20 metre free. Wing-back Shane Curley tried to blast to the net, but Graham Kehoe blocked the shot with his body.
Then John Coyne’s follow-up whizzed past the wrong side of the post.
Wicklow breathed a sight of relief as the final whistle sounded. They are now just one victory away from being sure of a place in the division final.
Wicklow's Jonathan O'Neill blocks this clearance from Roscommon's David Loughnane.
Roscommon's Colm Moran keeps a tight hold on Wicklow's Andy O'Brien.