Garden County fail to recover from Carlow’s lightning start
WICKLOW'S U-21 footballers turned up at Carlow IT grounds last Wednesday in body but not in spirit as they did battle with the home county in the Leinster championship.
Their thoughts were elsewhere, their minds not focussed on the task before them, and they never really got to grips with the game or their opponents in this match.
Wicklow's defence had a nightmare start to the game, Carlow floored them with two sucker goals in the first ten minutes, and Tim Healy's team never recovered really from those killer blows.
Tim Healy and his backroom team had been putting the players through their paces since last October in preparation for this championship but it would seem that on Wednesday night they left all they had learned back on the training ground.
It was Carlow who oozed quality football all over the field, their players played with the passion, the hunger and determination that we wanted to see from Wicklow but never got apart from a few tiny vignettes.
The home side were a man down after 15 minutes with the red-carding of Carlow's number 10, Murtagh Ware, but it brought little comfort or no tangible improvement to the visitor's fortunes.
Wicklow got no value from having the extra man who stood beside his full-back for most of the time instead of being deployed further afield to try and choke off the supply of ball being generated by Carlow's rampant midfielders Hughie Gahan and Darragh Foley, who ironically is fuelled by Wicklow and Rathdangan blood in his veins.
The game was scarcely a minute old when the Garden County men found themselves reeling from the might of their opponent's superior attacking forces.
Hughie Gahan's punched effort struck the crossbar, rolled across the bar to the right-side where Edward Byrne applied the clinical finish instead as he blasted to the net.
Dean Siney opened for Wicklow two minutes later with a point, but that was met with two swift counter-punches from Carlow as David Keogh and manof-the match midfielder Darragh Keogh sent shots over, with Foley's a fine effort from a 50-metre free.
Bray's Paul McLoughlin made a good run into enemy territory to set up Siney for a free and a one pointer and then the Bray man lofted over the bar himself from a difficult angle with his left foot.
Wicklow had cut the margin to 0-3 to 1-2 after ten minutes, but just as we thought and hoped that Wicklow might be settling into the game, we were hit with the second sucker-punch from Carlow. Again it was corner-forward Eddie O'Byrne who landed us back on the ropes as he again drilled to the net following a great field from Foley.
In some turmoil in defence, particular the inside line, Wicklow were fortunate not to concede two more goals in the next three minutes. First goalie William Hender Phillips had to finger-tip around the post for a '45' with a full-length diving save, and moments later Carlow's wing-forward Eoin Ruth saw his effort strike the crossbar.
Carlow had Murtagh Ware, a name with a great Carlow football pedigree, sent off, but the flow of play remained the same, with David Keogh and Darragh Foley tacking on two more points to extend the winners lead 2-5 to 0-3.
Tim Healy decided it was time to pay a visit to the repair shop. Conor McGraynor was sprung from the bench and midfielder Paul McLoughlin was drafted to full-back. At least Wicklow leaked no more goals after that.
Centre-forward Paul Cunningham, one of only two Wicklow forwards to score in this match, grabbed a point on 22 minutes and then saw his grass scorching shot, aimed for the right corner of Barry Doyle's net, curl outside the far post at the last moment.
Wicklow badly needed the lift a goal would give them if they were to get back into contention.
Cunningham who was impressing, scored a second point off his left foot and Wicklow retired trailing 0-5 to 2-7 at the break.
Carlow started the second half just as they had dominated the first period. In the first ten minutes they stretched their lead to 2-10 to 0-5 with points from centre-forward Cormac Walshe and David Keogh who added a brace. The home team were making light of the fact that they had a man less.
Wicklow did have their most fruitful period in the last 20 minutes, but by that stage Carlow were starting to empty their bench.
Eire Og's Jack Tanner, who lined out at cornerback, came forward to land a point, but it was Dean Siney who now posed the biggest threat to Carlow as he scored five points, four from frees, and midfielder Mark Kenny grabbed the remaining score.
Had we not conceded those two early goals, there would have been just two points between the teams coming into the final straight, but such a scenario would have been an injustice to the superior football skills displayed by Carlow throughout the field.
For our part, we in Wicklow will have to go back to the drawing board and see where we are going wrong with our training and preparations at this level.
We find it hard to accept that we are not able to produce footballers on a par with our neighbours or any other county in the province for that matter.
Carlow scorers: Eddie Byrne (2-0), Darragh Foley (0-3, two frees), David Keogh (0-6), Eoin Ruth (0-2), Hugh Gahan (0-1), Cormac Walshe (0-1), Paul McElligott (0-1).
Wicklow scorers: Dean Siney (0-7, five frees), Paul Cunningham (0-2), Paul McLoughlin (0-1), Jack Tanner (0-1), Mark Kenny (0-1).
Wicklow’s Tommy Kelly tries to shake off the attentions of Richie Mahon of Carlow.
Carlow's Jason Kane gets to grips with Wicklow's Paul Cunningham as Darragh Foley looks on.