PROGRESS IS PLEASING
New Senior teams emerge to test big guns
A FEW short years ago genuine fears were being expressed for the long term future of hurling in Wicklow.
The Senior hurling championship had in essence become a two horse race between Glenealy and Carnew and we struggled to field county Minor teams which were invariably trounced by the opposition.
In the short space of three years, however, hurling in the Garden County is in a very different place, the county team has been riding high under Casey O'Brien, while on the home front we are seeing new shoots of competition in the Senior championship emerging once more.
Glenealy have been top of the pile for the last three years but in 2012 they can count themselves lucky to come away with a draw with Avondale in the league, while Bray Emmets are developing into a serious force in hurling and Saint Patrick's are not far behind.
For the first time we had a group team in Senior, with Intermediate teams Kilcoole and Eire Og Greystones joining forces, and Corbett Gaels added an extra dimension to the championship.
One can never write off Kiltegan in either football or hurling - you do it at your peril - while Arklow Rock Parnells are rebuilding from the ground up, winning an under-age title as well as the Junior B championship crown, giving some hope that they may be the road to rekindling their former hurling glory of the 1970s and 1980s.
On the home front as well as at inter-county level, hurling in Wicklow is looking much healthier than it did a few years ago and let's hope that we can continue that recovery into the future.
SENIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
Notwithstanding the strides being made by other clubs, Glenealy still remain the dominant force in hurling in the county and in 2012 they had their dreams of winning the O'Donoghue Cup three times in a row fulfilled.
But in May Bray Emmets made a bit of history of their own when beating Carnew Emmets by 2-10 to 1-12 in the Leinster Shield Division 3 final at Dr. Cullen Park, Carlow. It was the first major trophy for the Bray Club as a Senior side, confirming their emergence as a force to be reckoned with in the future.
Despite being reduced to 13 men in the second half, Carnew put the result down to the wire in a storming finish and Bray's Enda O Maolmhuaidh had to kick the sliothar off his own goal-line to save the day.
The league section of the championship began in June. Glenealy were defending their title but suffered some shocks as they were held to draws by a resurgent Avondale and by old rivals Carnew.
The game with Avondale was a derby match and a real cracker. Producing one of the best hurling games of the year, the Dales rose to the challenge magnificently and midfielder Eamonn Kearns grabbed a deserved equaliser that saws the game end 1-13 apiece.
It turned out to be a result that was to knock Glenealy off the top perch in the league, handing the trophy to Carnew who were also to carve out a draw with Glenealy and then win all their remaining matches.
At the end of August Carnew were sure they would be the first team to get their hands on some silverware in Wicklow in 2012 when they beat Avondale 3-13 to 0-10 in the league.
With Glenealy breathing down their neck all the way, Carnew needed to beat Avondale and Corbett Gaels (2-17 to 1-8) in their clinching league encounter.
Avondale had a good league nevertheless and were level on points with Carnew going into this clincher.
Compared with previous performances, the Dales display was somewhat disappointing this time. Carnew were without three top players in Graham Keogh, Seanie Kinsella and Brendan McCrea, but still had enough in the tank.
Robert Lambert bagged 3-1, evergreen Don Hyland landed 0-7 from frees and a 65 and his contribution was immense. Ray Nolan was top scorer for Avondale with 0-8 and he remained their chief marksman all year.
Carnew: Ted Kennedy, Shane Doyle, Paul Nolan, Mark Collins, John Doyle, TJ Hennessy, Adrian Myers, Thomas Kennedy, Willy Collins, Nick Skelton (0-1), Liam Kennedy, Don Hyland (0-7), Timmy Collins (03), Robert Lambert (3-2), Wayne Kinsella. Subs: John Kavanagh for W. Kinsella, Dan Nolan for L. Kennedy, Joe Murphy for Thomas Kennedy, Seamus Osbourne for R. Lambert, Joe Hughes for A. Myers.
In the championship proper, Kiltegan stepped up a gear to beat Arklow Rock Parnells comprehensively by 0-18 to 0-7 in their qualifier, while Bray Emmets sent Corbett Gales packing as they set up a quarter-final clash with St. Patrick's.
Avondale had another showdown Glenealy in the semi-final after they beat Kiltegan by 4-9 to 2-11. They drew with the reds in the league but cruel fate intervened in the championship semi-final with iconic midfielder Eamonn Kearns having to leave the fray after half time after picking up an ankle injury.
Kearns' departure had a huge bearing and Glenealy went on to win by 0-14 to 1-9 with Jonathan Bosco O'Neill scoring seven points.
County start Andy O'Brien scored all 2-10 for St. Patrick's in their quarter-final against Bray Emmets but it was not enough. Bray were the ones to deservedly advance to the semi-final on the back of a 214 to 2-10 win.
Carnew were Bray's opponents in the semi. It was a battle between Bray's youthful enthusiasm and Carnew's vast experience and experience won out in the end as the Carnew men set up another final showdown with Glenealy on the back of a 2-17 to 2-12 win. Don Hyland bagged nine of Carnew's points, showing he has lost none of his accuracy. Glenealy 1-11, Carnew 0-10 Glenealy went into the final as favourites to complete their three-ina-row, Carnew were hoping to complete a double after wresting the league crown from the reds earlier.
Reckoned by several as not a great hurling spectacle, the county final was a highly charged match nonetheless that went down to the wire before Glenealy realised their dream of winning the O'Donoghue Cup three times in a row.
Under new manager Mick Neary, Carnew set the pace for much of the match but at the end of the day they lacked sufficient fire-power in attack to support a brilliant Don Hyland and get them over the line.
Hyland scored all but one of Carnew's 10 points, seven from frees. The battle raged right to the end with Eoin Dunne blasting to the net to send Glenealy's captain and goalie Joey Driver on to the podium to receive the cup.
Glenealy: Joey Driver, Colm O'Neill, Michael Anthony O'Neill, Robert Byrne, Gary Byrne, Phillip Dunne, MJ O'Neill, Jonathan O'Neill (0-4, frees), Nigel Driver, Thomas Doyle, Wayne O'Gorman (0-1), Eoin Dunne (1-2), Gavin Byrne, Enan Glynn (0-3), Leighton Glynn (0-1). Sub: Alan Conyard for E. Dunne.
Glenealy had a bad day at the office in the Leinster Club Intermediate championship. Apart from the second quarter the reds did not scale the heights against St. Oliver Plunketts from Dublin who ran out clear winners by 0-15 to 0-10. The Dubliners did have a keener edge to their hurling.
INTERMEDIATE HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
Glenealy's intermediates brought off a league and championship double in 2012 as well as completing a championship double with their Seniors who had been crowned champions for a third successive time this year.
But it was heartache for Eire Og Greystones yet again as they failed to realise their dream of winning the Intermediate title and follow their footballers into Senior ranks.
Intermediate is a small championship but has some good hurling sides that provide some good competitive matches.
In mid-October Glenealy clinched the league style. Going into their game with Kilcoole, Glenealy were level on the league table with Eire Og but six points behind the Greystones men on score difference.
The reds came away with a 20 point winning margin, 2-22 to 0-8, leaving Eire Og with the near impossible task of having to beat Carnew by 15 points if they were to take the league trophy.
Despite being down to 14 men at the end of the first quarter, Carnew dug deep as they always do, got the upperhand and went on to win by 1-12 to 1-10 despite coming under pressure in the closing stages. The first disappointment for Eire Og.
A week can be a long time in the GAA as well as politics. Eire Og again met Carnew in the championship proper and this time the Greystones men reversed the result winning by two points to qualify for the final.
Their final opponents were Glenealy who defeated Kilcoole in the other semi-final by 0-16 to 1-8. Kilcoole upped their performance, led for much of the first 40 minutes, but once Glenealy moved into overdrive there was ever only going to be one winner.
As Glenealy are a Senior club, Eire Og were the ones to represent Wicklow in the Leinster Club Junior competition. There their opponents were Rathmoylan of Meath and the game was played a week before the championship final.
Eire Og rested some players in advance of the county final - their main objective was to win that - and made a quick exit from Leinster on a score line 2-11 to 0-11.
In the first week of November Eire Og had their date with destiny - the Intermediate championship final.
Passage to Senior ranks was their dream. They were up against the aristocrats of hurling and Glenealy want to win every championship crown.
The Greystones men did not perform to their full hurling potential on the day. Falling behind by 1-5 in the first 25 minutes, they had the worst start imaginable. Many chances were missed.
Against opponents of the caliber of Glenealy, a team has to be firing on all cylinders. The opposite happened to Eire Og. While they did no bow the knee, they were never able to make up the ground lost at the start. Heartbreak for the Greystones men yet again.
Glenealy: Keith Snell, Warren Kavanagh, Wes Manning, Niall Keogh, Ruairi O'Neill, Joey Driver, Aaron Nugent, Eoin O'Neill, David Nolan, Cian Kelly, Glen O'Gorman, Jack Kavanagh, Lee Kavanagh, Vinny Flaherty, Danny Staunton. Subs: Stephen Cody for G. O'Gorman, Jamie Byrne for E. O'Neill, Anto Driver for C. Kelly.
JUNIOR HURLING CHAMPIONSHIP
There was a good geographical spread to the three Junior hurling titles, with Arklow Rock Parnells winning the C championship, Bray Emmets taking the B and Kiltegan emerging as the A champions.
The Junior C final was fought between Enniskerry and Arklow Rock Parnells and went to a replay before we had a winner.
Martin Reilly grabbed a late equaliser for Arklow in the drawn match. The replay was a thriller which went to extra time before Arklow Rocks eked out a narrow one point victory on a score line of 3-12 to 3-11.
Led by inspirational midfielder Shane Vickers, Enniskerry looked as if they were going to pilfer victory right up to the end. But late points by Martin Reilly and corner-forward David Heffernan saw ARP snatch victory and the C trophy at the death.
Junior B Hurling: Better equipped Bray Emmets put Avondale to the sword to qualify for the B final where they met Eire Og who beat Western Gaels in the other semi by a point 2-6 to 2-5.
Again there was no luck for Eire Og in this final either. Bray won on a score of 1-10 to 1-8. The hurling was gripping; it was point for point for much of the 60 minutes, with Bray posting the winning scores in the final quarter. Cian O'Byrne topped the list of scorers with 0-7.
Junior A hurling: Kiltegan and Barndarrig contested the A final after they had respective wins over Glenealy (3-7 to 0-11) and Carnew (4-8 to 1-7). Many might have expected Glenealy and Carnew to advance, but Kiltegan and Barndarrig killed them off with their goals rush.
The final was a grueling battle before Kiltegan emerged with the Cup after defeating Barndarrig by six points (3-5 to 0-8) at Arklow. Defences were on top for most of the way but the goal strikes by Kevin Byrne and Colm Coogan were the killer as far as Barndarrig were concerned.
As the game entered its final minutes, it was still a battle royal between the sides, but wing-back Coogan joined the Kiltegan attack and blasted to the net. Kiltegan were on their way but they still had to withstand strong pressure from Barndarrig before Kevin Byrne sealed victory with a clinching goal.
Bray Emmets and Glenealy have been the dominant teams in Minor hurling over the last few years. Bray won the title in 2010; Glenealy took the crown back in 2011.
Not surprisingly the 2012 final was yet another cracker between the clubs, positive signs that we have a good crop of young hurlers coming up to take over in a few years time.
The Minor final went to a replay before we had a winner. In the first match, played in awful weather and ground conditions, Gavin Weir saved Glenealy with a leveling point six minutes into injury time, and that set us up for another titanic game in the replay.
Bray Emmets led by 2-6 to 1-5 at the halfway stage, but Glenealy were not giving up. The second half was played with the same intensity as the first, scores were traded at both ends with Bray just holding on for a narrow one point win, 2-9 to 2-8, at the final whistle.
Hurling of that quality at Minor level bodes well for the future of the game in Wicklow and let's hope we see a lot more of it in 2013.
Casey O’Brien has his county team riding high.