O’NEILL WINS IT FOR
CASEY O'BRIEN'S hurlers pulled off a remarkable win over a strong and talented London side on Sunday.
It was a win carved out as much by grit, determination and team spirit as anything else and certainly upset the form book. This London team is made up mostly of new recruits, all of them coming from the strong hurling counties.
It was certainly a win that did not look on the cards at the half way stage in this match. The home team had led by 1-12 to 1-4 at half-time after completely dominating the second quarter of the match.
However, Casey O'Brien got his team fully firedup at half-time and point by point they cut back the deficit. With a little over five minutes to go veteran striker Jonathan O'Neill sent over his tenth point of the match which brought the sides level and set the stage for a hectic finish to what had been a highly entertaining match all through.
With the game in its closing minutes, O'Neill struck again sending over the winning point from an acute angle out near the corner flag. We may have seen greater displays but never braver. Every one of the 18 players that took part in this match gave it everything and in the end fully deserved this morale-boosting victory.
Wicklow started well in this match with Jonathan O'Neill pointing two early frees, the first for a foul on Geoffrey Bermingham and the second when Tommy Doyle was brought down. London had the scores level inside five minutes with ace marksman Martin Finn sending over two points and they then went ahead for the first time when centre-back Niall Healy found the range.
In the tenth minute Andy O'Brien got through for a great goal after good work by Jonathan O'Neill and that score did much to keep Wicklow in the hunt at a time when they were playing against the wind. The sides were still level after 17 minutes but as the game ticked in to the second quarter London struck for a goal by Finn and they dominated the rest of the first half to bring their tally to 1-12 at the break with Wicklow's only reply coming from full-forward Don Hyland who sent over a good point.
Nothing much changed in the opening minutes of the second half. Jonathan O'Neill won and pointed a free but Finn did the same at the other end. The same players exchanged points again inside eight minutes but amazingly that proved to be London's last score of the match.
Slowly but surely Wicklow were getting on top. Their defence that had given away frees needlessly in the first half tightened their game remarkably, so much so that for the remaining 30 minutes of this match London never even hit a wide or never got in a decent shot at Wayne O'Gorman in the Wicklow goal.
The London defence remained strong and determined with the result that Wicklow had to earn every score twice over. Eugene Dunne, who had just come on as a sub, won a free for ' Bosco' to point. He added another when he was brought down himself and Andy O'Brien tacked on a point as the game entered the last quarter but there was still a sizable gap between the sides.
Dunne had a great point in the 57th minute. O'Neill pointed from play a minute later and the game was at last beginning to look winnable. A mighty point from midfielder Eamon Kearns left only one between the sides and with just over five minutes to go O'Neill pointed a free to bring the sides level.
The point that was to win the match came with three minutes to go and was surely one of O'Neill's finest scores in a long career and the one that he will probably tell his grandchildren about. He was only yards from the corner flag when he broke two tackles before sending over a magnificent shot and Wicklow were in front.
London still had time to save the day but at that stage the Wicklow defence had got completely on top and were showing remarkable discipline. Where they had been conceding frees in the first half, they were making no mistakes at this stage.
Jonathan O'Neill finished with a grand total of 11 points in what was another great performance. However, this was no one man show.
In fact it was the best team performance that Wicklow have put on in hurling for quite some time.
They did have their stars and one of them was Kiltegan's Geoffrey Bermingham who played a blinder in the half back line.
Graham Keogh at full-back, Jim Connors and Willy Collins were great in the corners while Billy Cuddity also had his moments.
Liam Kennedy, although still hampered to some degree by his injury, was a tower of strength at centre half back while Stephen Kelly made a mighty contribution to this victory when he was sprung from the subs bench.
Eamon Kearns and Tommy Doyle held their own well at midfield with Kearns storming into the game in the last quarter. Ronan Keddy was another to up his game when the side needed him most.
Andy O'Brien, who was a doubtful starter up to the last minute, may not have been at his brilliant best but his early goal was vital and he worked tremendously hard throughout.
Don Hyland again made his great experience tell to good effect while Alan Driver, Leon Browne and sub Eugene Dunne also made fine contributions to this victory.
This was London's first setback but they are far from out of the running in this competition and could still qualify for the knockout stages.
Casey O'Brien was very pleased with the spirit and determination that his side showed in fighting back against the odds but he knows that they must produce at least the same effort again when they take on Derry, the only other unbeaten team in the division, at Aughrim on Sunday.
Ronan Keddy goes on a surging run through the London backline.
Don Hyland scores a point despite the best efforts of Bobby Mulcahy.