Wicklow hit by Carlow’s early storm
WICKLOW’S participation in this year’s All-Ireland football qualifiers came to an abrupt end on Saturday evening last when they suffered a terribly disappointing defeat to neighbours Carlow in Netwatch Cullen Park.
Talk of the unavailability of John McGrath and the departure from the Wicklow camp of Ballinacor’s Chris Murphy had dominated in the previous week, with speculation that Rathnew’s Jamie Snell might be introduced to the corner-back position to free up the dynamic Arran Murphy to push forward to the half-back line.
With McGrath likely to be missing as well, it meant that Niall Gaffney would be the likely candidate for the 11 jersey but with the Bray man playing the game from midfield. And that is how the team lined out with Snell, listed as a half-back, dropping to the corner, Murphy moving to the half-backs, Gaffney joining Anthony McLoughlin at midfield and Rory Finn taking up position in at centre-half forward from where he would switch back and forth from the edge of the square throughout the game.
Likewise, Carlow had changes of their own. They started Barry John Molloy in place of Graham Power in the half-forward line and brought in Donal Smithers for Paul Broderick at corner-forward.
The story of this game is best told if looked at as a race between two teams.
Carlow got out of the starting blocks instantly and were a long way down the road before Wicklow left the starting line.
Full-back Daniel St. Ledger landed a mighty free from just outside the 45 to get Carlow off the mark within the first minute. This was the beginning of a string of Carlow scores from long distance frees taken from the hand by Darragh Foley. He knocked over five points in a row to leave Carlow leading 1-6 to 0-1 with 20 minutes played.
The goal came as the result of a typical burst through the middle by big Brendan Murphy in the fifth minute. While there may have been some question mark around the manner of his pushing defenders to one side to clear his path to goal, there was no answer to a blistering ground shot which flew past Robert Lambert to the Wicklow net. Paul Cunningham had got the visitors off the mark with a pointed free after 11 minutes.
So, with 20 minutes gone and Carlow leading by eight points, things were looking bleak for Wicklow. They were gaining plenty of possession around the middle third of the field and moving the ball quickly in passing movements.
However, they had no answers when they encountered the massed Carlow defence when nearer to goal. In fact, Carlow were regularly employing a formation of just three forwards in a central line from midfield up thus leaving great space on the wings when they broke out of defence.
In the 20th minute Robbie Molloy brought off a great save from a Paul Cunningham goal bound shot by going down to his left and pushing the ball out for 45. Unfor- tunately, Robert Lambert was wide of the mark with resultant kick.
Arran Murphy made a sally down the field on 24 minutes and landed Wicklow’s first point from play. Oddly enough, Carlow had yet to score a point from play at this stage. This came with Brendan Murphy notching his first after 26 minutes to restore the gap to eight points.
The remainder of this half proved more productive for Wicklow. Rory Finn scored point number three on 30 minutes followed by another from Paul Cunningham two minutes later. In the next Wicklow attack a rebound from the upright fell to Paddy Byrne who set up Paul Cunningham to beat Robbie Molloy to score a badly needed Wicklow goal. Paul added a point from a free but Carlow finished the half with points from Chris Blake and Brendan Murphy to leave four points between the sides at the break.
Given their very slow start and their failure to score for long periods in the first half Wicklow must have felt that they now had an excellent chance especially with whatever wind assistance there was to come in the second half.
However, Carlow had other ideas and started the half as they had finished the first. Darragh Foley had two points from play in the first and fifth minutes to extend the lead back to six points. On eight minutes Darren Hayden had the first of his two second half points but Graham Power responded with a Carlow minor one minute later.
While Brendan Murphy continued to have a dominant influence, his midfield partner Sean Gannon was now storming into the game and proceeded to have a ‘Man of the Match’ performance until he received a black card near the end.
Wicklow’s main attacking ploy was to carry the ball forward at pace using Darren Hayden and Mark Kenny, who was showing a marked improvement in this half. A feature of this half was the number of Robert Lambert’s sickouts which were carrying over the midfield players and were invariably picked up by Carlow backs. A Paul Cunningham pointed free after 17 minutes was cancelled immediately by a Brendan Murphy point.
The Robbie Molloy versus Paul Cunningham duel resumed again when the Carlow custodian again brought off a great save from the Bray man, this time deflecting the shot over the bar.
This was a crucial save as a goal would have a given Wicklow a great lift at this stage. Mark Kenny got on the scoreboard with a point in the 21st minute but Brendan Murphy again cancelled it immediately. Darragh Foley added a point and Carlow were looking safe. Mark Kenny and Darren added points from play while Paul Cunningham pointed a free to bring his personal tally to 1-6.
At this stage Brendan Murphy received a black card to be followed by his colleague Sean Gannon some minutes later. However, it made no difference to the game which Carlow were content to finish playing out the clock moving the ball along the field to their goalkeeper who was in possession at the final whistle.
Daniel St Ledger finished the game as he began by landing a 45 and a free from beyond in the final minutes.
Wicklow will be very desperately disappointed that they took so long to get into this game. While Brendan Murphy and Darragh Foley were a huge influence, so too was Paul Cunningham who finished top scorer on the field. He conceivably might have scored three goals.
Carlow scored nine points from frees, most of them from long distance. That ability plus Wicklow’s desperate start ultimately decided this game.
Scorers: Carlow; Darragh Foley 0-8 (6f), Brendan Murphy 1-4, Daniel St Ledger 0-3 (3f), Chris Blake 0-1, Graham Power 0-1.
Wicklow; Paul Cunningham 1-6 (4f), Mark Kenny 0-2, Darren Hayden 0-2, Arran Murphy 0-1, Rory Finn 0-1.
Wicklow: Robert Lambert; Ciaran Hyland, Paul McLoughlin, Arran Murphy; Jamie Snell, Dean Healy, Stephan Kelly; Rory Finn, Anthony McLoughlin; Mark Kenny, Niall Gaffney, Darren Hayden; Paddy Byrne, Paul McLoughlin, Marc Lennon. Subs: Sam Thompson for Marc Lennon (HT), Danny Woods for Niall Gaffney (43 mins), Patrick O’Connor for Rory Finn (58 mins), John Crowe for Darren Hayden (67 mins), Michael O’Connor for Paddy Byrne (67 mins).
Carlow: Robbie Molloy; Brendan Kavanagh, Daniel St Ledger, Kieran Nolan; Gary Kelly, John Murphy, Hughie Gahan; Brendan Murphy, Sean Gannon; Alan Kelly, Darragh O’Brien, Barry John Molloy; Donal Smithers, Darragh Foley, Chris Blake. Subs: Graham Power for Darragh O’Brien (BC 14 mins), Danny Moran for Gary Kelly (53 mins), Brian Murphy for John Murphy (60 mins), John Murphy for Brendan Murphy (BC 64 mins), Brian Cawley for Sean Gannon (BC 69 mins).
Referee: P O’Sullivan (Kerry).
Wicklow’s Ciaran Hyland gets away from Carlow’s Sean Gannon.
Mark Kenny shakes hands with Carlow’s Kieran Nolan after the game in Netwatch Cullen Park.