Wicklow produce promise of more to come
O’brien stars as Garden put Down to the sword
CASEY O'BRIEN got the new season for his Senior hurling team off to a great start with a win over old rivals Down in a game played on the Astro Turf at the Bray Emmets complex on Sunday.
Despite gloomy forecasts from the weather men and a heavy blanket of snow looking down on the pitch from the lofty heights of the Sugar Loaf, this game was played in cold but reasonably pleasant conditions.
Apart from a short period in the first quarter Wicklow led all of the way in this very competitive and equally entertaining match.
Last year Wicklow had travelled north to Newry and played a draw with the Mourne men and later had a narrow win over them at a neutral venue but down the years little or nothing has separated the sides.
Caolan Baillie gave Down the lead when he pointed a free in the very first minute but it took Andy O'Brien only another 60 seconds to bring Wicklow level, also from a free.
Baillie gave Down the lead once more but again Andy was on target when he pointed a free for a foul on himself and the sides were level for a second time.
The flying Christy Moorehouse used his blistering pace to go around the Down defence and put Wicklow in front for the first time after 14 minutes and Ronan Keddy added another from play.
Andy Savage and Mikie Lee exchanged points before Down hit one of their good patches in the match and Baillie and Michael Turley cut back the deficit with points. Points by O'Brien (free) and Eoin Mason in exchange for one by Baillie left Wicklow leading by 0-9 to 0-7 at half time and we all retired to the clubhouse where Frances Stephenson and her helpers had the very welcome cup of hot tea.
However we got something more to warm the cockles of our hearts when the game restarted. The Wicklow full forward line combined to split open the Down defence with Christy Moorehouse and Mikie Lee doing the spade work and Andy O'Brien applying the finish for the only goal of the match.
Wicklow were on their way but there was still a long road to travel and a stiff battle ahead. Wicklow held on to their five point advantage thanks mainly to the accuracy of O'Brien from frees and good work by flying midfielder Ronan Keddy.
As the game ticked into the fourth quarter Down took over again. Sub Paul Sheeran, James Coyle and Daniel Toner sent over points and the Ulster men were back in contention once more. It was a stiff battle right through the last quarter.
Jim Conors, who was playing in the unusual position of centre forward, sent over a point to rally the Wicklow men and Andy O'Brien pointed one more free, this time from his own 65m line, a total distance of almost 85m.
Even then it was far from over and Toner sent over another point to underline that message. However another free from Andy put four between the sides and even though Down corner back Conor O'Prey to send over a long range point in the dying seconds it was to have no real affect on the outcome.
Casey and his men have a win under their belts and could go home to plan for their next match which will be against DCU at a home venue next Sunday - most likely Bray again. The manager and his selectors Gerry Murray, Brian Gleeson and Emmet O'Sullivan had to plan without regulars like Joe Murphy, Wayne O'Gorman, Eamon Kerins, John Henderson, Stephen Chester Kelly, Enan Glynn, Liam Kennedy and Eoin O'Neill from last year's Christy Ring team but a number of the young players they tried out certainly came up to scratch and gave the fair attendance of Wicklow supporters plenty of hope for the future.
The most interesting experiment of all that Casey tried out on the day was playing his top scorer but far from fit Jonathan O'Neill in goal in place of the injured Joe Murphy. He also caught out a number of people by sending out regular defender Jim Conors to lead the attack. To some at least it appeared that playing a complete novice like Mikie Lee in a full forward line that, if it lacked anything it was experience, was another gamble.
It was a big ask for a young fellow like Lee to take on seasoned defenders at this time of year but he survived well.
One interesting interlude was a Down point
Wicklow Senior hurling manager Casey O’Brien urges his troops to fight to the finish against Down.