Hurlers taste first defeat as Armagh go goal-crazy
ARMAGH 5-11 WICKLOW 2-14
WICKLOW COMPLETED their Allianz National Hurling League Division 3A campaign when they made the trip to the revamped Athletic Grounds in Armagh city on Sunday last.
Both sides entered the fray from a different side of the scale with Wicklow aiming to keep continue their 100 percent intact having scored four straight wins over Kildare, Meath, London and Derry and doing so had qualified for the final, while the men from the Orchard County were already doomed to relegation but were hoping to collect their first league points in this year’s campaign.
Both managers took the oppporunity to experiment as they drafted in a number of fringe players. Wicklow manager Casey O’Brien made five changes from the team that edged out Derry by a single point in a high scoring game at Aughrim two weeks ago.
Ted Kennedy replaced Wayne O’Gorman in goal while Colm O’Neill slotted in at corner-back in place of flu victim Jim Connors, wing-back Geoffrey Bermingham was rested which saw Eoin O’Neill make a welcome return to the playing fields after injury to form the half-back line with Senior club hurler of the year Liam Kennedy and Billy Cuddihy.
Dual player Stephen Kelly, who received a straight against Kilkenny in football, was cleared to line out and he took his place at midfield. The forward line saw a number of positional switches with saw Nigel Driver and Joe Murphy replacing the injured Ronan Keddy and suspended Enan Glynn.
The end result saw the hosts inflict a six-point victory over the Garden County in high scoring game which saw Armagh collect their first points in the competition while Wicklow were suffering their first league defeat since the appointment of Casey O’Brien at the start of the 2010 campaign.
Wicklow took the game to the opposition from the start which saw them jump in to a early lead with points from Tommy Doyle and top scorer Jonathan O’Neill from a free in the opening three minutes, while full-forward Paul Heaney replied with a point for the home side.
At this stage Wicklow upped their game and after good work by Wicklow man of the match Eamon Kearns, his long delivery found Andy O’Brien who rounded his marker to score a goal and following a foul on Tommy Doyle ace free-taker Jonathan O’Neill pointed to give his side a 1-3 to 0-1 lead after eight minutes played.
During the next ten minutes both sides were guilty of missed chances as the home side looked hungry for action with their defence on top and their fast moving forwards causing havoc in the visitors defence it was only a matter of time before scorers would come.
The winners struck a double blow in the space of three minutes with goals from Declan Coulter and Conor Corvan which saw them take the lead, but a quick response saw Jonathan O’Neill score a point from play which saw the teams level on a score of 1-4 to 2-1 after 20 minutes.
As both teams upped their performance which saw them produce good open hurling as they strived for vital scorers which saw the sides level on three occasions, Declan Coulter pointed two from play and midfielder James King added another, while Eamon Kearns, Don Hyland and Jonathan O’Neill (‘65) replied for Wicklow with a point each which saw them level once again on a score of 1-7 to 2-4.
Once again both sides missed several scoring chances which must have left both managers fuming while Wicklow were left to rue a missed goal chance when a movement involving several players saw Armagh’s impressive goalkeeper Simon Doherty make a pointblank save.
With the sides level and seven minutes left to play in the opening half the home side received a lucky break when a long ball from midfielder Kieran McKieran was fumbled by Ted Kennedy which resulted in a goal, a Wicklow reply brought a point from Jonathan O’Neill after good work by Eamon Kearns.
The home side finished the stronger with a point each from Declan Coulter and John Corvan which saw them leading on a score of 3-6 to 1-8 at the break.
Armagh continued to keep the pressure on after half-time which saw Martin Maguire increase the lead with point and after both sides missed scoring chances Jonathan O’Neill found the net with a goal, and not for the first time in the game the home side upped their game which saw them score points from Declan Coulter and Conor Corvan to give them a four-point cushion at the end of the third quarter.
A Wicklow rally which saw them show some of their old flair which saw them record 11 National League wins during the last two campaigns as they showed great spirit as they took the game to the hosts and were rewarded with four points in a row, two from Jonathan O’Neill, one from a ‘65, and one each from Don Hyland, Andy O’Brien, and Wayne O’Gorman who was making a return out field.
Declan Coulter, who proved to a thorn in the Wicklow defence over the hour, scored his second goal to give his side a two-point lead on a score of 4-9 to 212 after 62 minutes played.
With both teams battling to secure the league points it was Armagh who finished the stronger with a goal from Conor Corvan and two pointed frees from Declan Coulter, while Wicklow replied with single points from Jonathan O’Neill and Don Hyland, which left Armagh worthy winners in a better all round team performance.
But despite this lacklustre showing this Wicklow team can bounce back and won’t need much motivating for their Division 3 league final clash with arch-rivals Derry.
After the game Wicklow manager Casey O’Brien was disappointed having suffered his first league defeat since he was appointed at the start of last year but was full of praise for the entire panel for the great effort and said this team have trained very hard over the last number of months and this defeat will be a wake-up call and they will be well tuned in for the challenge that lies ahead in which they will face Derry in the league decider in three weeks time.
Wicklow's Graham Keogh takes control of the sliothar in front of Armagh's Paddy Heaney.