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.