Garden County sides have promotion in their sights
Footballers and hurlers in action in Aughrim double-header
WICKLOW HAVE two crucial top of the table league matches in hurling and football at the weekend.
Wins over Longford’s footballers and Derry’s hurlers would put Wicklow in pole position to gain promotion in both leagues.
Wicklow go into Sunday’s football encounter one point behind Longford, while the hurlers are neck and neck with Derry in the 3A league, both with the maximum six points from three matches.
The hurlers are playing with tremendous self-belief and passion at the moment and we look forward to seeing the same spirit from the footballers in their league performances.
Last Sunday was a typical example of the never-say-die spirit of Casey's O'Brien men as they carved out a dramatic second half victory even though everything appeared lost at the halfway stage. London retired at half-time in a commanding position, ahead by eight points, 1-12 to 1-4, but then they were restricted by a paltry two points on the change-over by a Wicklow team that does not include the word defeat in their vocabulary.
The Garden County hurlers unleashed their power in the second half and blew the exiles away with the wind, outscoring their opponents by 11 points to two in the last 35 minutes to record a satisfying victory by the slenderest of margins (115 to 1-14).
London were held scoreless for the last 23 minutes which was another fitting testament to the stonewall defence that Casey O’Brien has welded together over the last two seasons.
Everyone of the six defenders sell every score very dearly if at all with Jim Connors, Graham Keogh, Geoffrey Bermingham and Liam Kennedy leading the defensive line and fronting a top of the range shot stopper in Wayne O’Gorman.
Eamonn Kearns and Thomas Doyle have gelled into a formidable midfield partnership, while Don Hyland and Jonathan O’Neill may be in the twilight of brilliant hurling careers, but have taken a new lease of life since Casey O’Brien took charge.
O’Neill has been top scorer for Wicklow in every game this year and his 11 points last Sunday included a super winning point from near the corner flag four minutes from the end. Back after a hamstring injury, Andy O’Brien again stamped his name on Wicklow’s goal, showing what a dangerous forward he can be close to goal.
The hurlers need to show the same passion, fire and determination in their play next Sunday if they are to beat a Derry side that will be just as keen to take the two points away from Aughrim.
Meanwhile Mick O'Dwyer’s footballers resume league action after a week’s rest with a home game against Longford and, having already dropped two league points in draws in away games against Carlow and Fermanagh, a win over Longford on Sunday is a must if Wicklow are to maintain the push for promotion from Division 4.
We always find Longford a hard nut to crack at the best of times and the midlanders will have their prospects boosted with the return of Brian Kavanagh who is one of their top forwards.
Up to this Kavanagh was All-Ireland Club tied with Kilmacud Crokes along with Wicklow’s Brian McGrath and is it possible that we could see both players face off against each other in Sunday’s league clash.
At times in recent seasons Wicklow’s footballers have been inclined to relax their concentration in crucial games, drop vital league points, but they cannot afford such a luxury against Longford or they will be severely punish for such a lapse.
Wicklow have three of their remaining four league games, and the three hardest opponents at home, so they could not asked for a better run in to the league and their quest to move clear of the basement fourth division.
With the return from injury of Ciarán Hyland and Patrick McWalter - the scorer of the equalising point against Fermanagh two weeks ago - Micko has been moving steadily towards having his full championship squad at his disposal, and the recent acquisition of Mayo player Austin O’Malley will serve to bring further strength to the panel and scoring options to the attack.
O’Malley joined the squad for the first time on Thursday last, participated in a match amongst the panel on Sunday, and according to reports impressed his new team-mates as well as the backroom boys.
It is highly likely that Mick O’Dwyer will give O’Malley some game time against Longford if not a place on the starting fifteen.
As the 1-15 scored away to Fermanagh demonstrates, Wicklow is already endowed with quality scoring forwards in Seánie Furlong and Leighton Glynn, while Jacko Dalton appears to be hitting top form of late, Paddy Dalton is a workaholic in the half-line, and Tony Hannon is back off his honeymoon.
Also most heartening is the news that James Stafford seems to have found a midfield partner in Rory Finn, who has been making waves in recent matches, but filling the full-back positions still remains a concern for Micko.
Andy O'Brien claims the sliotar despite being held by Colm Burke in the London v. Wicklow Allianz Hurling League Division 3A match in Ruislip, London, on Sunday.