ROSCOMMON DENT PROMOTION HOPES
ROSCOMMON 3-14 WICKLOW 2-16
WICKLOW'S DESTINY with regard to promotion from Division 4 is no longer in their own hands as a result of last Sunday's defeat to Roscommon in a crucial top of the table clash at Aughrim.
The experts tell me that it's still mathematically possible for Wicklow to secure promotion but we now need others to do us a good turn so that results of remaining matches fall in our favour.
It needn't have come down to a nailbiting finish to the league as Wicklow coughed up a fivepoint lead in the second half as well as failing to convert some very scoreable chances, mostly notably Tony Hannon getting nothing from a free in front of goal in the first half and Paul Cunningham pulling his attempt wide when it looked easier to score.
We now have to take on a Clare team, who are coming with a late rally, in our last match and unfortunately at this stage the odds are stacked in favour of Wicklow finding themselves again playing the Londons and Kilkennys in 2012.
A big crowd turned up at sunny Aughrim on Sunday, providing the perfect setting for this clash of the table-toppers, but not all performances of the Wicklow players matched the importance of the game or the occasion.
Our inside forward line of Austin O'Malley, Seánie Furlong and Leighton Glynn were superb and had the beating of their opponents throughout, and James Stafford played himself to a standstill against two big Roscommon midfielders Michael Finneran and Kevin Higgins.
But in other areas we were miss-firing on too many cylinders and as a result we were not able to press home our advantage after taking a crucial five-point lead midway through the second half.
Roscommon came to Aughrim with the reputation of Connacht champions and we needed to be on top of our form from start to finish. Instead we allowed the Rossies to pick themselves up off the canvass in the final quarter with midfielder Kevin Higgins delivering the killer blows - a goal and a point - when he moved to full-forward.
The galling thing is that his goal should never have happened. Wicklow dropped guard for a Roscommon free on the right wing, and alert winger Cathal Cregg spotted that our backs were sleep-walking.
Taking a quick free, Cregg picked out Kevin Higgins unmarked in front of the Wicklow posts and the big and burly Roscommon number nine blasted to the net to put the Rossies 3-13 to 213 ahead with just nine minutes left.
In fairness Wicklow tried to make good the damage. Leighton Glynn, Austin O'Malley and Seánie Furlong were at the heart of the fightback, but it came up just short at the final whistle.
Perhaps in the final analysis, a draw would have been a fairer result to a match that throbbed all the way and produced some very exciting football, especially in the second half when scores came thick and fast, with first one team in the ascendancy and then the other.
Wicklow were first to get off the mark, with Leighton Glynn landing the opening point in less than two minutes.
James Stafford pumping in high balls and Austin O'Malley were involved in the build-up and, together with Seánie Furlong, that was the pattern to so many of Wicklow's attacks.
Donie Shine and Conor Devaney answered Wicklow early points from Glynn but after that the home side opened up a 0-5 to 0-2 lead in the first quarter as O'Malley followed up with a fine brace and Seánie Furlong added a single, an excellent score from 50 metres on the right touch-line.
A minute later Roscommon were back on parity. Keeper John Flynn did well to parry a sting- ing shot from Donie Shine, but corner-forward John Rogers volleyed to the net from an acute angle at the near post.
That set the tone for this ding-dong battle between the sides. It was Wicklow's turn to cheer ten minutes later as Seánie Furlong raised the green flag when he boxed the ball to the net at the far post from a cross by Leighton Glynn on the left. Tony Hannon finished wide from a free in front a goal, the ball glancing off the post, but even so the home side retired for the break ahead narrowly by 1-7 to 1-6.
We had an explosive start to the second half. Inside a minute Karl Mannion had drilled a shot to the net to put Roscommon back in front.
This lead was short-lived as Wicklow hit back with an immediate response.
Bottled up by three Roscommon defenders, Seánie Furlong still succeeded in getting his pass away to Austin O'Malley who drilled a terrific left-foot shot inside Geoffrey Claffey's right hand post.
That was the start of a purple patch for the Garden County men, who eased into a five-point lead nearing the end of the third quarter, 2-11 to 2-6, with a brace from Furlong and a single from O'Malley.
Mick O'Dwyer's men looked to be in the driving seat at that stage and they should have driven on to victory.
However, James Stafford was beginning to show tired legs from all the work he had put in, helping out in defence as well as at midfield.
The frailties in Wicklow performance in other areas also took their toll when the chips were down.
Roscommon dug deep and fought back with grit and determination.
Despite good work by James Stafford for Wicklow, midfielders Kevin Higgins and Michael Finneran had been winning the battle for Roscommon. Donie Shine, John Rogers, Senan O'Grady and David Keenan were also to the fore for the westerners.
A string of points from Donie Shine, Kevin Higgins, Conor Devaney, Karl Mannion and John Rogers brought the sides level at 2-12 each after 58 minutes.
The exchanges were hectic from there to the final whistle. Rogers and Wicklow's Paul Earls exchanged points before Roscommon's midfielder turned full-forward Kevin Higgins struck a major blow for the westerners.
Wicklow's defence showed a lapse of concentration for a Roscommon free. Cathal Cregg picked out Higgins unmarked in front of goal and the big number nine applied the clinical finish with powerful drive.
Roscommon now had their tails up and Wicklow were chasing the game.
Leighton Glynn, Austin O'Malley and Seánie Furlong continued to ask questions with points, but Roscommon held on for a dramatic win in a very competitive game.
Man of the match: Midfielder Kevin Higgins (Roscommon).
Roscommon's Seán Purcell closes in as Wicklow's Tony Hannon gets his pass away.
Wicklow's Seánie Furlong and Roscommon's Donal Ward battle for the ball.
Wicklow’s Dean Siney puts pressure on Peter Domican.