Bray People - - SPORT - PETER KEOGH At Aughrim

WICK­LOW ARE still un­beaten in Divi­sion 4 of the Na­tional Foot­ball League and still have pro­mo­tion and a place in the fi­nal there for the tak­ing.

How­ever, af­ter a draw with Long­ford at Aughrim on Sun­day that task is made that lit­tle bit more dif­fi­cult. Now they must win all their re­main­ing matches but more par­tic­u­larly the match against Roscommon which will also be played in Aughrim.

This was a game they could and should have won af­ter grab­bing goals at cru­cial stages in both halves. There was a wind blow­ing down the Aughrim pitch but strangely enough both teams ap­peared to play bet­ter against it.

Wick­low led by 1-5 to 0-6 at half-time af­ter play­ing against the wind but that was mainly due to a goal from a penalty in the 31st minute. Jacko Dal­ton fielded a free from new­comer Austin O'Mal­ley and fed the ball to the on-run­ning James Stafford who was brought down in the box and the cap­tain Leighton Glynn made no mis­take with the spot-kick.

It was in the last quar­ter that Wick­low al­most let this game slip from their grasp. With 20 min­utes of the sec­ond half gone, they were lead­ing by a clear five points with all the ad­van­tages - the wind be­hind them and play­ing into the town goal. In the end Micko and his men had to set­tle for a point while Glenn Ryan was more than happy to get out of Aughrim un­beaten.

It was Long­ford that opened the scor­ing with a point by wing-back Shane Mul­li­gan. Austin O'Mal­ley had the first point of the game for Wick­low in the sixth minute to level the scores. The Mayo man then won a free which Tony Han­non pointed to give Wick­low the lead and a good point by Seánie Fur­long put two be­tween the sides. Wick­low then went ten min­utes with­out a score in which time Long­ford drew level with points by Seán McCor­mack.

Tony Han­non had what was prob­a­bly the point of the match when he flicked the ball off the ground on the right wing and sent it over the bar to re­store Wick­low's lead in the 26th minute. Long­ford again drew level with a point from mid­fielder Bernard McEl­van­ney but Seánie Fur­long pointed a free to pull one back from Wick­low. But then came the magic mo­ment of the first half and that link-up be­tween O'Mal­ley, Jacko and Stafford to claim the penalty. Long­ford closed the first half scor­ing with a point by David Bar­den to leave Wick­low in the strong po­si­tion of lead­ing by 1-5 to 0-6 af­ter play­ing against the wind.

If Micko was a happy man at that stage, then he must have been over the moon when Wick­low grabbed their sec­ond goal in the sixth minute of the sec­ond half. Seánie Fur­long drove in a mighty line ball that looked to be go­ing over the bar.

How­ever, Long­ford keeper Damien Sheri­dan got a fist to the ball but Jacko Dal­ton was on hand to blast the re­bound to the roof of the net. That left Wick­low lead­ing by 2-5 to 0-7 and a fair sized crowd in Aughrim were on their toes.

While Long­ford pulled back a point in the tenth minute, Seánie Fur­long pointed a free for a foul on O'Mal­ley. The Mayo man kicked the next point of the match in the 50th minute and again Wick­low were to go ten min­utes with­out adding an­other score.

In that time Long­ford had started their fight­back in earnest. In the 56th minute McCor­mack pointed an­other free and Paul Bar­den added a sec­ond point be­fore James Stafford set up O'Mal­ley for a Wick­low point. Then things went re­ally pear-shaped for the home side.

Our backs were un­der se­vere pres­sure and con­ced­ing frees. McCor­mack kicked over his fifth point of the match and then big mid­fielder McEl­van­ney blasted the Wick­low net and the sides were level with eight min­utes still to go.

Wick­low ral­lied strongly and in the 65th minute Jacko Dal­ton and Seánie Fur­long did the spade work for a great point by Leighton Glynn and Wick­low were in front again. Long­ford went back on the at­tack, won an­other free for McCor­mack and the sides were level once more. Tony Han­non was wide off a kick­able free on the left hand side of the goals while McCor­mack missed an even eas­ier free from in front of the post. So what­ever the men­tors may have thought, a draw was prob­a­bly a fair enough re­sult to this match. Wick­low fin­ished with 14 men when Paddy Dal­ton re­ceived a sec­ond yel­low card five min­utes from time.

One ques­tion that had to be asked was fit­ness a fac­tor in that last quar­ter? Jimmy Whit­tle, who has a lot to do with the train­ing side of this team, said, ‘prob­a­bly, yes. we are gear­ing our team to reach peak fit­ness for the first round of the cham­pi­onship and on this oc­ca­sion Long­ford may have had a slight edge’. Man of the Match? An ex­tremely dif­fi­cult ques­tion. While Wick­low had a fair num­ber of play­ers who con­trib­uted a lot to get­ting this draw, none of them stood out from the pack. Stephen ‘Ch­ester’ Kelly had his best game so far at full-back but he was re­spon­si­ble for some of the frees.

Dar­ren Hay­den as al­ways cov­ered acres of ground, han­dled an amount of ball and had to be in the run­ning. James Stafford did some great field­ing but not all of his de­liv­er­ies were spot on. Austin O'Mal­ley made a very promis­ing start and at this stage looks a good prospect to make the num­ber eleven jer­sey his own but he did drift out of the ac­tion at times.

John Paul Dal­ton was an­other to stake a claim for the top rat­ing. He sup­plied the vi­tal pass bril­liantly to win the penalty and was on hand to blast home the sec­ond goal him­self as well as cov­er­ing ev­ery inch of the park but he did raise Micko's heck­les by tak­ing frees out of de­fence which he was told not to do.

Seánie Fur­long had a very sound game at full­for­ward and gave Barry Gilleran a tor­rid time. In the end we were forced to put the names of the top con­tenders into a hat and big James Stafford was the man to come out of the draw.

John Flynn had his usual sound game in goal with­out get­ting any chance to star. Pádraig Hig­gins keeps im­prov­ing at cor­ner-back but Ciarán Hy­land still hasn't reached his peak. Paddy Dal­ton, who found him­self once again in a new po­si­tion, adapted well while Brian McGrath in his first game of the year for Wick­low did a good enough job in the cen­tre of the de­fence.

Rory Finn had a good first half but was sub­sti­tuted af­ter he picked up a yel­low card en­ter­ing the last quar­ter. Tony Han­non is still fight­ing to get back to full fit­ness. Paul Earls, while he didn't score, looked more at home in the for­ward po­si­tion and while the cap­tain Leighton Glynn con­verted the penalty ex­pertly and kicked over one good point, he is still not play­ing the cap­tain's part that we ex­pect he will do when cham­pi­onship time comes round.

MAN OF THE MATCH: James Stafford.

Wick­low's Rory Finn gets his pass away de­spite be­ing bot­tled up by the Long­ford de­fence.

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