Wicklow share spoils

Bray People - - SPORT - MARK KENNEDY in Greystones

HARRY MURPHY sent out a largely ex­per­i­men­tal team against DCU on Sun­day at Greystones, his sights set on pre­par­ing for the league up ahead rather than the O'Byrne Cup.

So coming away with a lucky draw was not the end of the world by any means; cast­ing a slide rule over as many play­ers as pos­si­ble in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the big bat­tles to come was what really counted.

Wicklow will be play­ing in the higher Di­vi­sion 3 in 2012, hav­ing won long-sought pro­mo­tion last year, and Harry and his back­room boys are look­ing to have a team ca­pa­ble of hold­ing on to their new po­si­tion by the Fe­bru­ary start to the league.

With over 40 play­ers in his squad at the moment, he fielded less than half of sea­soned play­ers, ex­am­in­ing the rest to see what emerg­ing new tal­ent may be avail­able to him to freshen up his team for the sea­son in front.

And there were a few promis­ing straws in the wind at Greystones on Sun­day. James Kelly at full­back looked good, goal-scor­ing cor­ner-for­ward Bren­dan McCrea is an ex­cit­ing prospect for the fu­ture, while St. Pa­trick's Matty Byrne did him­self no harm as he scored five points, four from his ac­cu­rate free-tak­ing, and he might well have in­creased his to­tal had he taken his courage in his hands when he had the free­dom to take a pot.

Best news of all was the re­turn of Paudge McWal­ter to the county jersey. It was feared that he might never play again fol­low­ing his knee in­jury against Car­low in 2010 and even more so when his at­tempt at a come­back in 2011 did more dam­age.

But on Sun­day the 29-year-old school­teacher was giv­ing a les­son in how smart foot­ball should be played. Foot­ball is as much if not more about us­ing your brain as well your hands and feet, and McWal­ter brought the to­tal package to Sun­day's game as he added some­thing spe­cial to Wicklow's de­fence with a near-per­fect per­for­mance from start to fin­ish.

DCU fielded with­out 12 of their Siger­son Cup team, the ab­sen­tees in­clud­ing Done­gal's Michael Murphy and last year's eight points match win­ner Dean Rock, and they looked to be some­what out of their depth in the first-half as they drifted 1-7 to 0-4 be­hind by the break.

How­ever, twice in the first ten min­utes, Peter Dooney and lively cor­ner-for­ward Jack McCar­ron can­celled out lead points for Wicklow by mid­fielder An­thony McLough­lin and Matty Byrne from a free. DCU beat us by a point at Balt­in­glass in 2012 and ini­tially we won­dered what was in store this time.

Wicklow fielded with­out last year's league-win­ning cap­tain Leighton Glynn, sharp­shooter Seánie Fur­long and Stephen Kelly, all car­ry­ing in­juries, and the team was up­set even fur­ther be­fore the off.

Alan Byrne, se­lected in his usual cor­ner-back po­si­tion, had to cry off af­ter be­ing hit with a bout of ‘flu, while his re­place­ment, Mick McLough­lin, pulled his ham­string in the warm-up and his place was taken by Bray's Luke Ben­son.

Mayo man Austin O'Mal­ley also did not take his place at cor­ner-for­ward again due to ‘flu, mak­ing way for St. Pa­trick's free-taker Matty Byrne, who grabbed the chance with both feet.

Af­ter DCU's early flurry, Harry Murphy's men took con­trol of the ex­changes for the re­main­der of the first-half, ap­ply­ing most of the pres­sure de­spite play­ing up hill and ap­par­ently against the breeze.

James Stafford and An­thony McLough­lin were giv­ing Wicklow the pull at mid­field, with the Bless­ing­ton man show­ing im­pres­sively while be­hind them McWal­ter was hoover­ing up al­most ev­ery ball in a tour-de-force dis­play that was rem­i­nis­cent of the St. Pa­trick's man at his bril­liant best.

Matt Byrne pointed the home side back into the lead for a third time with an­other con­verted free. An­thony McLough­lin and Dean Healy, who was picked out with a pre­ci­sion cross-field ball from Stafford, stretched that lead to 0-5 to 0-2 at the end of the first quar­ter.

Dean Healy was cast in a new role in this match as an at­tacker in­stead of a wing-back, and he scored two de­light­ful points as well as re­peat­edly track­ing back to help out in de­fence. As the say­ing goes, he bent al­most ev­ery blade of grass on the pitch in sup­port of the cause.

James Kelly was a com­mand­ing pres­ence at full­back, Ciarán Hyland ef­fected some timely in­ter­cep­tions, and Stephen ‘Bruiser’ Byrne was bound­ing for­ward.

DCU did re­spond and in a three-minute spell ef­fec­tive cen­tre-back Michael Quinn and wily cor­ner-for­ward Donal Smith banged over points to nar­row the gap to a point (0-5 to 0-4) af­ter 22 min­utes, with Quinn's score a mighty ef­fort from long range.

Still it was Wicklow who were tick­ing most of the boxes in the open­ing 35 min­utes. As usual, Paddy Dal­ton worked hard along­side Dean Healy, Matt Byrne was on song, but full-for­ward Paul Earls had a quiet af­ter­noon by his high stan­dards.

Far too of­ten he was a vic­tim of the short hand- pass­ing game that has be­come part and par­cel of the mod­ern foot­ball game. He drifted out to the half­for­ward line to try to get in­volved in the ac­tion and then when the ball was even­tu­ally kicked into the goal­mouth there was no one there to take ad­van­tage.

On one oc­ca­sion we counted eleven hand­passes be­tween play­ers from the half-for­ward, mid­field and half back-lines be­fore we had a kick of the ball; some play­ers in­volved a num­ber of times in the move to gain a miserly ten to 15 me­tres.

Carnew's Bren­dan McCrea, who was given a start at cor­ner-for­ward, made his mark on this game be­fore half-time, but his pos­i­tive per­for­mance through­out ear­marked him as a bright prospect for the fu­ture.

McCrea kicked a fine point on 23 min­utes be­fore be­ing fed with a well-placed long ball by Stafford and he drilled to the net for a ter­rific goal. Matty Byrne added a point from play, but Paddy Dal­ton saw his well-struck '45 drift nar­rowly wide on the right, leav­ing Wicklow com­fort­ably ahead by 1-7 to 0-4 at the break af­ter a good first-half dis­play.

Ap­par­ently An­thony McLough­lin ag­gra­vated a re­cur­ring in­jury in the first-half and he had to re­tire for the sec­ond-half. He was a huge loss at mid­field where he had been do­ing so well.

DCU took full ad­van­tage and they got more and more on top as the sec­ond-half pro­gressed, gain­ing com­plete con­trol of the mid­dle of the park.

Jack McCar­ron raised a white flag for the Dublin stu­dents in­side a minute, but Rory Finn re­sponded with a good point from a free on the right.

Donal Smith landed the sec­ond of his three points for the col­lege stu­dents, and then the Dublin­ers stormed back into the game with two goals in the space of three min­utes.

Sub­sti­tute Jack Brady punched the first goal mo­ments af­ter he was in­tro­duced to the fray in place of John Quinn, who had been mak­ing no im­pres­sion at full-for­ward against a ram­pant James Kelly for Wicklow. Kelly showed speed and flair in his play and was not shy in bound­ing for­ward to get in­volved in at­tacks.

DCU had drawn level with Wicklow (2-6 to 1-9) af­ter 44 min­utes.

Con­ced­ing the mid­field ground, Wicklow found them­selves more and more on the back foot. The stu­dents took the lead for the first and only time as Donal Smith split the posts once more.

Matty Byrne con­verted a free on 48 min­utes to tie up the teams for a fourth time.

Even though he may have faded in the sec­ond­half, James Stafford kicked a vi­tal point on 51 min­utes and Dean Healy stretched Wicklow's lead to two three min­utes later (1-12 to 2-7).

Omi­nously, though, it was DCU who were now set­ting the pace. Wicklow were for­tu­nate that the stu­dents were not reap­ing full ben­e­fit from their con­stant sor­ties, their wides to­tal start­ing to mount.

Wicklow man Conor McGraynor, who lined out for the stu­dents at cen­tre-for­ward be­fore switch­ing to the wing, did not have a fruit­ful af­ter­noon, fail­ing to get on the score­sheet and be­ing called ashore in the fourth quar­ter.

A sec­ond Wicklow player also lined out for the stu­dents. Wil­liam Hen­der-Phillips manned the goal and he could not be faulted for Bren­dan McCrea's well-taken goal from a clin­i­cal fin­ish.

DCU kept pound­ing the Wicklow ram­parts. Un­der pres­sure, Stephen Coen spilled pos­ses­sion in front of his own posts, a free en­sued, and Jack Brady for­aged a point from the placed ball.

Wicklow's Matty Byrne had a cou­ple of open­ings in the clos­ing stages and might have struck cru­cial points had he taken his courage in his hands.

Jack Brady pulled wide of the tar­get but Brian Don­nelly made no mis­take from a pass from Pete Dooney and the sides were level for a fifth and last time.

Harry Murphy sprung Dar­ragh O'Sul­li­van from the bench but there was lit­tle time left to sal­vage a vic­tory. Jack McCar­ron missed with an­other chance, while Paul Earls was also off beam from a long ball from Stafford.

At times the Wicklow posts en­joyed a charmed life. DCU had the more chances of vic­tory but Wicklow will be thank­ful to take one point into the sec­ond O'Byrne Cup against Car­low tonight (Wed­nes­day) night at Bray.

Scor­ers for Wicklow: Matty Byrne (0-5, 4 frees), Bren­dan McCrea (1-1), An­thony McLough­lin (0-2), Dean Healy (0-2), Rory Finn (0-1 free), James Stafford (0-1).

DCU: Jack McCar­ron (1-2), Donal Smith (0-3), Peter Dooney (0-1), Brian Don­nelly (0-1), Michael Quinn (0-1), Jack Brady (1-1).

Wicklow: John Flynn; Ciarán Hyland, James Kelly, Luke Ben­son; Stephen Byrne, Paudge McWal­ter, Paul Cun­ning­ham; James Stafford, An­thony McLough­lin; Dean Healy, Rory Finn, Paddy Dal­ton; Matty Byrne, Paul Earls, Bren­dan McCrea. Subs. - Eoin Keogh for A. McLough­lin, Stephen Coen for L. Ben­son, Rory Nolan for S. Byrne, Ian Sheerin for P. Cun­ning­ham, Dar­ragh O'Sul­li­van for P. Dal­ton.

DCU: Wil­liam Hen­der-Phillips; Kieran Sheri­dan, Conor Daly, Wil­liam Lowry; Ea­monn Do­herty, Michael Quinn, Michael Con­carr; Fionáin O Cur­raoin, Peter O'Han­lon; Colin Comp­ton, Conor McGraynor, Pete Dooney; Donal Smith, John Quinn, Jack McCar­ron. Subs. -Jack Brady for J. Quinn, Brian Don­nelly for P. Dooney, Cathal El­lis for M. Con­carr, Shaun Carey for C. McGraynor, and there was an­other sub, Paul Flynn.

Ref­eree: John Hickey (Car­low).

Goalscorer Bren­dan McCrea tries to get away from de­fender Conor Daly.

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