Brave ef­fort but er­rors prove fa­tal


FOR the sec­ond year run­ning Johnny Magee’s Wick­low Se­nior foot­ballers man­aged to emerge from a for­get­table league cam­paign and put in a strong and com­pe­tent cham­pi­onship chal­lenge that was filled with pride and pas­sion and no short­age of foot­balling bravado.

Alas, also for the sec­ond year run­ning, those Wick­low sol­diers came up short, this time against Laois in Port­laoise last Satur­day evening, in a game in which they will know they had the ca­pa­bil­ity of win­ning and thereby record­ing a vi­tal Le­in­ster Se­nior cham­pi­onship vic­tory.

The per­for­mance of the Wick­low team left sup­port­ers with that con­fus­ing and strange bun­dle of feel­ings as they streamed out of O’Moore Park on a lovely Satur­day evening. High in their chests was the feel­ing of pride hav­ing watched the un­der­dogs scare the life out of Mick Lil­lis’ Laois men. But sit­ting like a ball of in­di­ges­tion un­der­neath was that all too fa­mil­iar feel­ing of dis­ap­point­ment from know­ing that here was yet an­other golden chance to take a cham­pi­onship scalp that was passed up be­cause of fa­mil­iar weak­nesses and er­rors that have risen to the sur­face in Wick­low teams for decades. Moral vic­to­ries taste as bad as sour milk in the mouths of loyal Wick­low sup­port­ers.

And watch­ing the play­ers make the short walk from the dress­ing rooms to the team bus on Satur­day evening you could tell that they have about as much in­ter­est in stoic show­ings and moral vic­to­ries as any­one has. They were gut­ted, ab­so­lutely gut­ted. It was there for the tak­ing. Laois were on the rack. But we couldn’t push on.

It was a thor­oughly en­joy­able game to watch for the most part. The first half had poor mo­ments but was watch­able and the sec­ond half took off like a train and didn’t stop un­til Donie Kingston blasted past Robert Lambert for the game’s third goal, none of which, un­for­tu­nately, be­longed to Wick­low.

Johnny Magee wit­nessed some fine per­for­mances within his squad but more im­por­tantly what he watched was a team per­for­mance. It was abun­dantly clear, apart from a few play­ers who didn’t dom­i­nate or per­form as they can, that this was a tight unit full of con­fi­dence and be­lief in them­selves.

Robert Lambert will know about the er­rors and he won’t need to be re­minded in this match re­port. Ev­ery goal­keeper felt his pain on Satur­day evening. Ev­ery per­son who has ever stood be­tween the posts and at­tempted to em­ploy a var­ied kick-out strat­egy will un­der­stand that mis­takes can hap­pen all too easy. The Aughrim man had placed some lovely kick-outs through­out this game but, at this level, and against scor­ing threats such as Donie Kingston and the likes, those er­rors will be pun­ished mer­ci­lessly.

Ciaran Hy­land worked hard and drove for­ward once or twice, record­ing a wide in the open­ing half. He was caught badly for the first goal though. The Ark­low man is still some­one you like to see op­er­at­ing in the full-back line.

Paul McLough­lin worked su­perbly all night and drove high up the field to col­lect his own ac­ci­den­tal pass and screw a mar­vel­lous score high be­tween the Laois posts in the open­ing half. Ar­ran Mur­phy was tena­cious and ca­pa­ble and lofted over a classy score of his own. Chris Mur­phy threw him­self about. Dean Healy worked like a ma­chine and bagged two points. Stephen Kelly bus­ied him­self with mop­ping up and tidy­ing up loose ends and the Eire Og was a re­ally im­por­tant cog in the Wick­low wheel.

Rory Finn was su­perb. Tough and un­com­pro­mis­ing and in­spir­ing as a cap­tain should be. His tally of six points in­cluded that bomb in the sec­ond half that was launched from what seemed like about seven miles out from goal that just dropped over Gra­ham Brody’s cross­bar.

Niall Gaffney didn’t fea­ture as he can and was re­placed at half­time with Bless­ing­ton’s An­thony McLough­lin com­ing in to take his place. McLough­lin of­fered real dy­namism for the sec­ond 35.

Dar­ren Hay­den was busy but didn’t star; clocked up the open­ing point when his long ef­fort bounced in the Laois square and hopped over the bar.

John McGrath fired some kick­able frees wide in the open­ing half but lofted over a screamer sec­onds be­fore be­ing with­drawn for Pa­trick O’Con­nor in the sec­ond half.

Mark Kenny didn’t fea­ture in the game as he would have liked or in the way which he is ca­pa­ble of but he will have a ma­jor role to play in the qual­i­fiers.

His club mate Paddy Byrne fired over Wick­low’s sec­ond point and got on some de­cent ball early on and the start and the ex­pe­ri­ence will bring him on no end.

Paul Cun­ning­ham showed real abil­ity from the frees in the sec­ond half and while he won’t dom­i­nate the scor­ing charts, he will win all sorts of ball and will work tire­lessly ei­ther at full-for­ward or at cen­tre-half for­ward.

Bray’s Marc Len­non showed some nifty skills in this game and can be a real threat, of that there’s lit­tle doubt; cer­tainly a cor­ner-for­ward with a long fu­ture in the Wick­low jersey.

Laois led by 1-10 to 0-08 at half-time and were prob­a­bly full value for that lead. Evan O’Car­roll had opened their ac­count with a pointed free af­ter 30 sec­onds and Paul Cahillane raced through the Wick­low de­fence and blasted over what was def­i­nitely a goal chance mo­ments later.

Dar­ren Hay­den’s search­ing shot bounced over the Laois cross­bar af­ter three min­utes that pro­vided some ev­i­dence that the Laois full-back line were not en­tirely tuned in. Paul Cun­ning­ham gath­ered a ball shortly af­ter­wards, fed John McGrath who slipped a nice ball out to Paddy Byrne and the Bal­ly­manus man sent it in and sent it over the bar off that trusty left boot of his and the score was tied at 0-02 apiece.

But Laois seemed to have the po­ten­tial to rip open the Wick­low de­fence and a long ball to full-for­ward Gary Walsh saw the Bal­lyli­nan man gather on the end line, push past Ciaran Hy­land, dodge a flail­ing Wick­low body and lash home from close range past Robert Lambert in the Wick­low goal. Con­cerns of a goal fest were present at this time.

Points were ex­changed by Ross Mun­nelly and Rory Finn, Finn’s from a free and then Laois added two, one from Evan O’Car­roll who waltzed through the Wick­low de­fence, and the other from a Donie Kingston free af­ter Gary Walsh was fouled by Ciaran Hy­land.

Paul McLough­lin then de­cided he needed a change of scenery and the Bless­ing­ton man set off on a voy­age up the field and he split the Laois posts with an ex­cel­lent score be­fore catch­ing the bus home for the re­turn jour­ney.

The Wick­low wides were start­ing to add up now. Rory Finn recorded one be­fore Gra­ham Brody was caught in pos­ses­sion and John McGrath pointed the free that arose from his trans­gres­sion.

Rory Finn prof­ited from a short free to pop over a fine score be­fore a sweep­ing Laois moved ended with Walsh fir­ing over af­ter 23 min­utes to leave it 1-07 to 0-06 for Laois.

The home side fin­ished the half stronger and added three more scores while Rory Finn and Dean Healy brought the Wick­low tally up to 0-08 with big im­prove­ments needed in the sec­ond half.

And those im­prove­ments came. McGrath fired over a humdinger and was then with­drawn for Pa­trick O’Con­nor. An­thony McLough­lin ri­fled over a screamer and sud­denly it was 1-10 to 0-12. Laois hit back with an Evan O’Car­roll free and then Ruairi O’Con­nor fired home Laois’ sec­ond goal.

But still Wick­low bat­tled on. Healy pointed. Cun­ning­ham fired over a free. Wick­low were well in

this game but then Laois started to turn the screw. Kingston could have had a goal but fired over the bar. He added a sec­ond mo­ments later af­ter a poor kick-out. John Crowe replied for Wick­low with a lovely score. Ar­ran Mur­phy fired over for the Gar­den county and it was 2-15 to 0-18 and Wick­low were go­ing for the jugu­lar with Rory Finn pushed high up to the edge of the square.

Dean Healy coughed up a kick­able free and King­son did the kick­ing and the high ball tac­tic into Rory Finn just didn’t pro­duce re­sults on this oc­ca­sion. sAnd then Kingston took a ball from Evin Keane and he ab­so­lutely lashed the ball home to the back of the Wick­low net for Laois’ third goal. Game, set and match.

There was a real feel­ing around O’Moore Park that this was one that Wick­low had let slip. Old fail­ings raised their ugly heads, free tak­ing er­rors hit hard in the open­ing half when some real op­por­tu­ni­ties were spurned, and ul­ti­mately, Wick­low had fought the good fight, they had worked like men pos­sessed, they had pro­duced a gal­lant ef­fort, but they had suf­fered de­feat in the end.

Johnny Magee showed last Satur­day that he can pro­duce a team well ca­pa­ble of a cham­pi­onship per­for­mance. Even with re­tire­ments and panel opt outs he has still cre­ated a tight unit who can mix it and come so close to vic­tory.

What’s needed now is that lit­tle bit ex­tra. What’s needed is the so­lu­tion to the ap­par­ent psy­cho­log­i­cal frailty of Wickow teams who ar­rive at the verge of vic­tory and fail to cross the fi­nal bridge.

If he solves that prob­lem we could have some good days in the sun this sum­mer.

Scor­ers - Laois: D Kingston 1-6 (2f); G Walsh 1-1; E O’Car­roll 0-4 (3f); R O’Con­nor 1-0; R Mun­nelly 0-2 (1f); P Cahillane, J O’Lough­lin, G Dil­lon 0-1 each.

Wick­low: R Finn 0-6 (4f); P Cun­ning­ham (2f), J McGrath (1f), D Healy 0-2 each; D Hay­den, P Byrne, P McLough­lin, A McLough­lin, J Crowe, A Mur­phy 0-1 each.

Laois: G Brody; S At­tride, M Tim­mons, P Cot­ter; D O’Con­nor, D Strong, G Dil­lon; J O’Lough­lin, B Quigley; N Dono­her, P Cahillane, E O’Car­roll; R Mun­nelly, G Walsh, D Kingston. Subs: M Cam­pion for Dono­her (inj); R O’Con­nor for Mun­nelly (both h-t); K Meaney for Cam­pion (48); A Far­rell for Dil­lon (55); E Keane for Walsh (61); J Far­rell for O’Car­roll (67).

Wick­low: R Lambert; C Hy­land, P McLough­lin, A Mur­phy; C Mur­phy, D Healy, S Kelly; R Finn, N Gaffney; D Hay­den, J McGrath, M Kenny; P Byrne, P Cun­ning­ham, M Len­non. Subs: A McLough­lin for Gaffney (h-t); D Woods for Kenny (41 mins); P O’Con­nor for McGrath (43); J Crowe for Mur­phy (50); S Thomp­son for Byrne (56); G Allen for Len­non (66).

Ref­eree: F Kelly (Long­ford).

Paul McLough­lin of Wick­low in ac­tion against Donal Kingston of Laois in Port­laoise last Satur­day.

Rory Finn tries to tackle Ross Mun­nelly dur­ing the Le­in­ster Se­nior foot­ball cham­pi­onship clash in Port­laoise.

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