Bell tolls for Minors
Poor third quarter proves fatal for Wicklow team
WICKLOW 2-09 OFFALY 1-13 A real roller-coaster of emotions for all in Aughrim last Wednesday evening. Included in that would be the decent support that the Offaly team brought with them for this Minor football championship eliminator.
Five points down two minutes in to the second half the visitors would have been fearing the worst and with good cause.
Wicklow were looking like they had found the means to really hurt the visitors and all looked good in the Garden.
The next 16 minutes are where this game was won and lost, Offaly scored an unanswered 1-7 to propel themselves in to a 1-12 to 1-7 lead and all but seal their passage to a home quarter-final with Wexford despite a spirited Wicklow in the closing stages.
Just lately Leicester manager Claudio Ranieri revealed lately he often called out “dilly ding, dilly dong” to awaken his players when they looked like their performance levels were dropping below acceptable levels, a few roars from the side-line and the stand got Offaly moving again and they were a different team. From where I was sitting on Wednesday I can’t be sure if Offaly manger Padraig Murray called out this particular motivation call but whatever happened between the 32nd minute and the 48th minute the bell certainly rang for the Offaly team and they put paid to Wicklow’s hopes for 2016 in Leinster with a scintillating scoring burst that they couldn’t claw back but by God they tried.
Wicklow played very well at different stages of the game but there wasn’t a consistency in their game and dropping off for that spell in the second half was pivotal.
Both teams started as selected in the programme and Wicklow had first use of a strong breeze blowing to the town goal.
Conor Lynham was wide with an easy enough free for Offaly in the first minute. Wicklow swept forward after Jack Bellamy won the kick out and Dan Kelly was harshly adjudged to have over carried.
The same player picked up what could go down as the softest yellow card ever dished out in Aughrim moments later after an innocuous foul was punished by a nervous looking Laois referee who wasn’t giving the youngsters on either team much opportunity of getting any sort of momentum going.
Darragh Fitzgerald got the opening score of the game after a jinking run in the third minute and Dan Kelly pointed a free in the sixth to double the Wicklow lead. Straight from the kick out Offaly got off the mark with the lively Cian Johnston pointing after a sweet passing move the length of the field.
Wicklow felt they should have had a free out for a foul on Tom Maher but it went to Offaly instead and Wicklow marking was slack as Johnston played it short to full forward Shane O’Brien who levelled matters in the 14th minute at 0-2 apiece.
Offaly were pushing up on the Wicklow kick out and as a result Mark Jackson was struggling to find his man with the pressure they were exerting, a Lynham free put Offaly ahead for the first time.
Saoirse Kearon won possession from the next kick out and soloed forward before offloading to his Avondale team mate Conor Byrne who found the bottom corner of the net with a super finish to really ignite things.
The Offaly management acted fast and switched Dan Molloy in on Byrne with his pace a real threat to the Offaly back line.
Wicklow visibly grew in confidence and Dan Kelly kicked a point off his left after more good work by Bellamy.
The same combination was at it again seconds later as Kelly was wide of the mark with maybe a slip pass to Darragh Fitzgerald probably the better option after the Agb man had snook inside the Offaly cover. Aaron Curran was dispossessed near the side-line and Offaly got their first score in eight minutes, 1-3 to 0-3.
Another point from Shane O’Brien narrowed it even further before a long range point from Jack McCall kept Wicklow ticking after Cathal Kelleher had worked hard to turn over an Offaly player in possession.
Cian Johnson pointed for Offaly what was really a goal chance before Darragh Fitzgerald scored a carbon copy of his opening point.
The first half scoring was finished by the hard working Cormac O’Shea who was clever enough to stay down as two Offaly men contested the same ball and Wicklow retired to the dressing rooms leading 1-6 to 0-5 and looking good.
Thomas Kearns who had an outstanding game at corner back was trying really hard to keep the Offaly danger men quiet with Tom Maher and Aaron Curran also having their hands full.
An early Offaly wide was followed by another Dan Kelly point, the Baltinglass player looks like he will be wearing the county jersey for many years to come on the strength of his minor displays in 2016.
Then the bell rang for the Offaly men, Michael Mooney the big midfielder was left all alone as he pointed, Johnson kicked over a beauty from play before pointing another free as Wicklow wilted.
Struggling to get ball around the middle of the park and not taking the few chances that were coming their way would prove costly.
Kelleher and O’Shea both had wides off their left before Wicklow gifted Offaly the ball just under the stand, a speculative cross field pass seen Johnson got in behind the Wicklow full-back line to find the net and Offaly led 1-8 to 1-7.
Paul O’Riordan didn’t hang around and rang the changes, Ciaran O’Shea replaced Aaron Curran, Fintan O’Shea came in for Jack Cotter and the Eire Óg man had a really good game getting on lots of ball and making things happen in the closing stages.
Another Johnson free stretched their lead as Wicklow struggled for any decisions from the referee with the management visibly unhappy with many of the judgements in the middle period of that second half in particular.
Mooney pointed again after finding himself all alone once more before Ronan Hynes came up from wing back to kick Offaly’s best score of the night and it was now 1-11 to 1-7 as Adam Boland replaced Fitzgerald who appeared to go down with cramp after an all action display. Johnson pointed another free as their scoring burst finally came to an end for the Offaly men
Jack McCall got forward and shot for a point, his shot was dropping short and Jack Kelly was alive and alert, he gathered, his shot for goal was blocked by an Offaly boot and Wicklow had a penalty.
Kelly showed nerves of steel as he sent the keeper the wrong way to get them right back in the game. Offaly were guilty of trying to pass the ball out of their back line moments later and good work by Cal Kelly forced a free which Kelly pointed and amazingly after looking dead and buried it was back to the minimum with seven minutes to play.
Ronan Hynes kicked another point for Offaly to lift the siege before Kelly once more found the range. Conor Byrne was wide with a difficult free from out on the wing as Cian O’Flaherty entered the action for Wicklow in place of Jack Kelly.
Indeed, moments later O’Flaherty was clearly fouled in front of the Offaly posts but no free was given and more frustration for the home crowd. Tom Maher caught a great high ball and Wicklow won three frees on the trot enroute to the Offaly goal.
Offaly are certainly well versed in how to see out a game with some of their tactics in the closing stages very cynical as Wicklow sought to build momentum and on another night may have seen more than the one black card coming their way.
A Dan Kelly free from a difficult angle was cleared away for a 45 as two minutes of injury time were announced. A high ball from Mark Jackson in to the Offaly goal mouth was flicked towards the Offaly line possibly by Rob Kelly and looked very close to being over the line before Darragh Norris got back to clear it away. One umpire looked as if he was about to award the goal while the other stood motionless and Wicklow were to suffer heartbreak once more.
Not long after the final whistle sounded and a silence fell over Aughrim but for the cheers of the midlanders who probably did deserve their win with Wicklow’s inability to keep up their performance levels proving costly.
Some good performances from Wicklow players but all involved will be very disappointed at not being able to make home advantage count and after a lot of effort they depart without a championship win.
While the referee certainly couldn’t be accused of giving any home town decisions and came in for criticism from the home support the calls were marginal.
Scorers: Dan Kelly (1-5, 1-0 pen, 3 fs), Conor Byrne (1-0), Darragh Fitzgerald (0-2), Jack McCall and Cormac O’Shea (0-1 each).
Offaly: Cian Johnson 1-4 (0-2fs), Conor Lynam 0-3 (1fs), Michael Mooney, Ronan Hynes 0-2 each, Cian O’Neill and Shane O’Brien 0-1 each.
Wicklow: Mark Jackson (Baltinglass); Thomas Kearns (Ashford), Tom Maher (AGB), Aaron Curran (Kilbride); Jack McCall (Barndarrig), Saoirse Kearon (Avondale), Jack Cotter (Blessington); Jack Bellamy (Kilcoole), Cal Kelly (AGB); Cormac O’Shea (AGB), Conor Byrne (Avondale), Darragh Fitzgerald (AGB); Cathal Kelleher (AGB), Dan Kelly (Baltinglass), Jack Kelly (St Patrick’s). Subs: Fintan O’Shea (Eire Óg) for Cotter (36), Ciaran O’Shea (AGB) Curran (40), Adam Boland (Blessington) for Fitzgerald (inj, 44), Rob Kelly (Hollywood) for Bellamy (44), Cian O’Flaherty (Eire Óg) for Kelleher (54).
Offaly - Barry Rohan; Darragh Norris, Dylan Kavanagh, Jack Quinn; Ronan Hynes, Stefan Geoghegan, Dan Molloy; Michael Mooney, Shane Molloy; Eoin Farrell, Cian O’Neill, Andrew Delaney; Cian Johnson, Shane O’Brien, Conor Lynam. Subs: David Fleming for O’Neill (45min), Luke Mangan Gavin for D Molloy (51min), David Bodsy for M Mooney (56min), Seanie Farrell for J Quinn (58min), Robin Galbraith for E Farrell (62 BC).
Referee: David Moore (Laois)
Wicklow’s Conor Byrne celebrates after scoring a goal against Offaly in Aughrim.
Wicklow’s Darragh Fitzgerald shoots for the Offaly posts.
Ronan Hynes fails to halt the progress of Wicklow’s Cormac O’Shea.