Wicklow manager Harry Murphy speaks to his players before their drawn O’Byrne Cup game against DCU in Greystones on Sunday. Wicklow play Carlow in Bray in their second game at 7.30 p.m. this evening (Wednesday).
AS I drove the short but welcome drive from my home in Kilcoole to Eire Og G.A.A. club for last Sunday's O'Byrne Cup match I was in considerable awe of the fantastic sporting facilities Greystones has to offer and in particular in the space of a couple of hundred yards of the G.A.A. pitch.
Within this area one can find a soccer club, a rugby club, a tennis club, Eire Og G.A.A. club, Shoreline Leisure Centre, Greystones Golf Club and many more sporting activities available on Greystones beach. What an incredible array of amenities - no wonder Greystones was recently so highly placed as one of the best places in the world to live.
In terms of sporting facilities one has to be somewhat grateful to both the Celtic Tiger and the National Lottery whom I'm sure played a significant role in developing some of these wonderful grounds for the many sporting enthusiasts in the local catchment area.
The county footballers' first game of the year against DCU attracted a nice crowd in the splendidly turned out Eire Og grounds. The game ended in an entertaining draw on a respectable scoreline of 1-12 to 2-9. A few new faces were given their chance to shine, most notably Matthew Byrne (St. Pat's) and Brendan McCrea (Carnew), and both of these players to their credit rose to the occasion and will be happy with their contribution.
In particular Brendan McCrea who capped a fine 70 minutes with his well-taken first-half goal and point. He also won three close-in frees which were duly converted. The game also saw the welcome return from a long-term injury of Paudge McWalter (St. Pat's) and both he and his clubmate, Dean Healy, in his new roving half-forward role particularly impressed me.
Harry will be pleased to have avoided a defeat in the first game and the draw will keep their chances of qualifying from this group alive. In the absence of four of last year's starting championship forwards - Leighton, Seánie, John McGrath and the now retired Tony Hannon - Harry will be encouraged by the scoreline and in particular the performances of the above two debutants, but he will no doubt be anxious to get his injured players back in time for the challenge facing the team in Division 3.
As one would expect for the first game of the season, the ball movement was somewhat laboured, particularly in the secondhalf and as a result numerous scoring opportunities were lost. DCU's greater fitness levels in the second-half enabled them to finish a lot stronger and Wicklow were let off the hook with some poor finishing from the students, particularly in the last ten minutes when the game opened up.
When the current injuries clear up and when some of the panel members return from playing with their own colleges, Harry will have a huge pool of players to pick from and the biggest problem he will face will be keeping this large panel motivated and providing sufficient game time to everyone. It's great the year has started with such a positive performance and the team should benefit greatly from the next two games in the competition against Carlow and Dublin.
This week I want to talk briefly about two more recipients of the Wicklow G.A.A. awards.
Paul Earls of St. Pat's was awarded Senior Club Footballer of the year. When St. Pat's needed him most (and not for the first time) Paul came up trumps with a match-winning goal in this year's county final against Baltinglass. A highly-consistent player for both club and county over the years, Paul is a model player and an example to all juveniles.
Despite the close attention a player of his calibre always receives, we never see Paul get involved in anything he shouldn't. His electrifying pace and his capability to win quick, low ball are some of his excellent qualities. His experience and his proven goal-taking ability will be vital as Wicklow embark shortly on their Division 3 campaign. He is one of the most respected Wicklow players on and off the field and thoroughly deserves this award.
The Senior Club Hurler award was given to Raymond Nolan (Avondale). When Avondale enjoyed a mini hurling renaissance in 2012 in reaching the SHC semi-final, Ray was to the forefront of this achievement. His consistency from placed balls and open play was remarkable and on current form he is now in the same excellent free-taking category as Jonathan O'Neill and Don Hyland, and in this regard and on his current form would be a welcome addition to the county panel.
Ray had somewhat dropped off the hurling radar in the county a few years back but he worked incredibly hard and returned a more focused and fitter player. It is most unusual for a player who is not from either the county champions or the runners-up to receive this award, and Ray's success is a testament to the high level of his performances over the last calendar year.
Ray will be anxious for Avondale to continue their progress and go one step further in 2013, and if he continues with the form he showed he will drive them to achieving their goal.