HURLERS HIT

Bray People - - SPORT - MARK KENNEDY At Aughrim

WICK­LOW'S HURLERS moved to out­right lead­er­ship of the Divi­sion 3A league on Sun­day last fol­low­ing their one-point win over Derry in their top of the ta­ble clash at Aughrim.

Both teams went into this game un­beaten af­ter three games and de­ter­mined to con­tinue their win­ning streak and they pro­duced a com­bat­ive and hard-fought en­counter that was be­fit­ting its im­por­tant sta­tus.

Derry threw ev­ery­thing bar the prover­bial kitchen sink at their op­po­nents but they just could not break the re­solve and de­ter­mi­na­tion of these heroic Wick­low hurlers who have only lost one game since the start of the year.

But one thing the Oak Leafers could not match or counter was Wick­low's dou­ble-bar­relled scor­ing ma­chine, with Jonathan O'Neill blast­ing the north­ern­ers into even­tual sub­mis­sion with his points from frees, and that af­ter Andy O'Brien had put them on the ropes with his killer goal strikes.

We have said many times that this group of Wick­low hurlers does not coun­te­nance any talk of de­feat in any game and that fact was re­in­forced yet again on Sun­day last when they hurled de­fi­ance at Derry de­spite be­ing down to 14 men for over half the match.

Ten min­utes af­ter he was in­tro­duced to the at­tack as a sub­sti­tute, Enan Glynn was sent off on a straight red card, but his ques­tion­able dis­missal served only to make his col­leagues even more de­fi­ant and de­ter­mined to take the battle to their op­po­nents.

Derry trailed by a mere point at the break, 0-9 to 1-7 and when they shot three rapid-fire points af­ter the restart we feared that this might be the be­gin­ning of the end for Casey O'Brien's men.

Not a bit of it. Wick­low showed once more that they are made of sterner stuff. With the wind at their backs they kept tak­ing the fight to Derry, Andy O'Brien drilled home his sec­ond goal and at the death Jonathan O'Neill slot­ted over the win­ning point from a pres­sure free deep in in­jury­time.

The win puts Wick­low through to the league fi­nal be­fore their last game away to Ar­magh in two weeks time.

Af­ter the de­feat of Lon­don at the week­end, it is pos­si­ble that we will face Derry in an­other show­down in the league fi­nal and that it some­thing we will have to be pre­pared for as the Oak Leafers will be go­ing all out to gain re­venge in such a re­match.

The bond­ing that has de­vel­oped among the play­ers of this Wick­low team is truly re­mark­able and heart-warm­ing. It is a case of one for all, and all for one. They play like a close-knit club out­fit.

Ge­of­frey Ber­ming­ham lined out at wing-back even though he had a hand in­jury that would have kept a less brave soul in the ca­su­alty ward. Cen­tre-back Liam Kennedy, just back off a ham­string in­jury, shipped a heavy tackle in the sec­ond half, but played on through the pain bar­rier.

And not only that, both men turned in cham­pagne per­for­mances with Ber­ming­ham a strong con­tender for man of the match. These Wick­low hurlers are made of stern stuff and no mis­take.

Twice in the first five min­utes Jonathan O'Neill traded points with Derry's Paddy Kelly, and then Derry posted their in­tent in the next five min­utes as they edged into a two-point lead with fur­ther scores from winger Paddy Henry and cen­tre-for­ward Ruairi Con­very.

Just when Wick­low might have been in dan­ger of los­ing fur­ther ground, up popped Andy O'Brien to lift the team and rock the north­ern­ers back on their heels. On 11 min­utes O'Brien curled over a su­per point from the right touch­line and then three min­utes later he slipped his marker to drill the slio­thar into the left cor­ner of Daryl McDer­mott's net.

Jonathan O'Neill an­swered fur­ther Derry points from Paddy Kelly and Alan Grant, be­fore the Oak Leafers snatched the lead with three points from their top scorer and ace free-taker Paddy Henry.

Into in­jury-time and Derry were 0-9 to 1-5 ahead. Worse calamity was to be­fall Wick­low in the 36th minute when they found them­selves down to 14 men with the send­ing off of Enan Glynn on a straight red card.

Andy O'Brien brought Wick­low back to par­ity with a point and Don Hy­land evaded the clutches of Derry's tight-mark­ing bull-back Conor Quinn to land a point and sent the Gar­den County in for the break lead­ing by 1-7 to 0-9.

Derry hit the ground run­ning at the start of the sec­ond half with lead points by Pat McCloskey and Ruairi Con­very (2) and one won­dered if this game was go­ing to be de­cided by the ex­tra man. Mo­men­tar­ily Derry seemed to have men on the over­lap and they stretched their lead omi­nously to three points, 0-15 to 1-9, at the end of the third quar­ter. For­tu­nately Jonathan O'Neill was pun­ish­ing ev­ery in­dis­cre­tion by Derry as he slot­ted over points from those frees. Wick­low had cut the mar­gin to a sin­gle point, 1-11 to 0-15, by the 57th minute.

In the next five min­utes we were treated to some more of Andy O'Brien's hurl­ing magic. He latched on to a clear­ance from Ge­of­frey Ber­ming­ham on 60 min­utes be­fore post­ing a great point with an over­head shot from an acute an­gle to the left of goal. A minute later he drilled to the net af­ter tak­ing a pass from Jonathan O'Neill and he had the home crowd on its feet cheer­ing on the team.

Derry re­sponded im­me­di­ately with an an­swer­ing goal by Paddy Kelly and the sides were again level 2-12 to 1-15 on 63 min­utes.

Urged on by the crowd, Wick­low were in no mood to con­cede. Jonathan O'Neill pointed from an­other free, Wick­low back in front.

Ruairi Con­very made it all square, but O'Neill fired the Gar­den County ahead from an­other placed ball.

Derry were not con­ced­ing ei­ther as mid­fielder Kevin Hin­phey left it all to play for in the third minute of in­jury-time.

It was nail-bit­ing stuff. Spec­ta­tors were en­thralled even though many of them would not be reg­u­lar sup­port­ers of hurl­ing.

Wick­low came to the well one last time. And they won a free to the right of the Derry posts. With the out­come hang­ing on his puck, this was a pres­sure free for Jonathan O'Neill.

But the Gle­nealy man has been in this sit­u­a­tion many times be­fore. And he has not be­come Wick­low's top scorer in ev­ery game through miss­ing the tar­get in those vi­tal sit­u­a­tions.

Ear­lier in the game he had scored a mighty point from a free well out­side the 70 me­tre line. And Jonathan did not let us down this time ei­ther. He drilled his shot straight be­tween the posts and Wick­low were cel­e­brat­ing an­ther fa­mous fac­tory. And this was es­sen­tially a team vic­tory with ev­ery player mak­ing his con­tri­bu­tion.

There were three con­tenders for the man of the match. Ge­of­frey Ber­ming­ham was magnificent at wing-back, Jonathan O'Neill fault­less with his point and free-tak­ing, but for me the ac­co­lade goes to cor­ner-for­ward Andy O'Brien.

Andy is a true artist of the game of hurl­ing. He scored 2-3 for Wick­low on Sun­day, his two goals came at cru­cial times in the match, but more im­por­tant he lifted the team and the crowd ev­ery time he got on the ball.

There was an air of ex­cite­ment, an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­pec­ta­tion ev­ery time he bore down on the Derry goal.

Wick­low's Eu­gene Dunne loses sight of the ball against Derry.

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