Minors earn another shot at Lilywhites
Keogh points dramatic equaliser
BRENDAN LAWRENCE at St Conleth’s Park
EVERY man, woman and child with even the slightest hint of a connection to Wicklow GAA should make it their business to be in Joule Park Aughrim this Friday evening at 7pm for the replay of the Leinster Minor football championship clash of Wicklow and Meath.
Kevin O’Brien’s charges will be looking to go one step further and seal their place in the provincial decider against Meath when they take to the field against the capable Lilywhites and a massive home support might just be the extra man they need to get the job done.
The drawn game last Sunday afternoon in St Conleth’s Park could be looked at in a multitude of ways: glass half full, glass half empty, glass overflowing or even glass starting to look like it needs a refill. Let me explain.
Wicklow should have had the chance to wrap this game up at the end of normal time when a late attack saw at least three fouls committed on Wicklow players as they barreled their way into the Kildare heartland in one last attack but no free was given. Would they have deserved the late victory? Absolutely.
Conversely, Kildare could have had the game wrapped up in the first half as Wicklow struggled to contain their excellent running game and failed to make a massive impact at the other end due to a continual breaking down of Wicklow attacks.
Kildare turned the Garden County over 32 times in the game on Sunday and they kicked 15 wides and forced several excellent saves from Ben Fennell. Did they leave it behind them? Probably.
If Wicklow could use a big crowd in Joule Park Aughrim this Saturday, they certainly got that in St Conleth’s Park last weekend. Garden County supporters outnumbered their Lilywhite counterparts in a big way with a big crowd taking up home in the stand and a scattering of sunbathers enjoying the game from the far terrace.
The Wicklow team were applauded off the field at full-time and at the end of extra-time and were roared on throughout. Did that have an impact on their performance and their utter commitment to the cause? Absolutely.
On the other hand, Kildare’s performance in extra-time, save the last 90 seconds, was clinical. Two Aaron Kennedy goals looked to have all but ended Wicklow’s Leinster campaign but from somewhere deep inside, perhaps at a depth from which few Wicklow teams have ever managed to go, and with that touch of good fortune that has evaded Garden County teams more often than not down through the years, Wicklow pulled it out of the bag and survived to fight another day.
Will the Lilywhites bring that clinical attack and strong performance to Joule Park Aughrim? You can sing that.
A cause of some concern for Kevin O’Brien will be the fact that Wicklow only managed two points in the opening 24 minutes, the first after two minutes from Matthew Ging, the second from the same man 22 minutes later.
In between those two scores for the visitors, the home side rattled over six points as they laid siege on the Wicklow defence and cut off the supply to danger man Eoin Darcy at the other end.
But you can’t keep an attacker like Darcy quite for long. At 0-8 to 0-2 behind and with Wicklow badly needing something big, Darcy won a long ball out in front of Kilcock’s Sean Hill and rounded the Kildare full-back. He raced in on the Kildare goal and slotted it home to the bottom corner of the John Ball’s net for what was essentially a lifeline for Kevin O’Brien’s charges.
A Matthew Ging converted free looked to have cut the Kildare lead to two points but right at the death of the first half, corner-forward and general thorn in the Wicklow side, Jack Smyth, from Carbury, stuck the ball to the back of Ben Fennell’s net to sicken the Wicklow cause. Credit to the Wicklow supporters though, they applauded their young men off the field after 30 minutes of honest football.
If Kildare dominated the first half, Wicklow owned the second half. Points from John Keogh and Matthew Ging cut the Kildare lead to three points and then Wicklow were awarded a penalty which Eoin Darcy fired home with pure style and class to level matters with 39 minutes on the clock.
Ging, Sean Doody and two Eoin Darcy 45s left Wicklow winning the second half by 1-6 to 0-4 and they should have been given the chance to nick a late victory after at least three fouls on Wicklow players went unpunished as they barged into the Kildare defence.
With legs and minds tiring in the sweltering heat of St Conleth’s Park, extra-time was always going to be a massive task for both sides and it was Kildare who settled the quicker and they looked as though they had put the game to bed after a stunning 2-1 by the 76th minute with full-forward Aaron Kennedy grabbing both goals.
Up to that point, Wicklow’s reply had been two Eoin Darcy frees and one from his Tinahely colleague Matthew Ging, but with only four minutes remaining Wicklow’s goose looked to be as good as cooked in the oven of St Conleth’s Park.
But this Wicklow team have bottle. They have courage. They are fearless. Onwards they marched, taking hits and challenges along the way. They say you create your own good fortune if your mentality is wholesome and positive and Eoghan Byrne’s seemingly poor effort at a point landed wonderfully in the back of the Kildare net when goalkeeper John Ball’s line of sight was blocked for an instant and the Lilywhite’s lead was cut to one. Perhaps fortune really does favour the brave.
Only seconds remained for Wicklow to rescue their Leinster dreams from the fires of Newbridge. Kevin O’Brien’s men attacked but were repelled. Possession was lost but Kildare sent the free out over the sideline on the Wicklow 45. Back come Wicklow. Time up. Referee’s watch looked at, whistle in mouth, here they come, last chance, one more drive, one more surge, once more unto the breach dear friends.
Chris Grimes to Eoghan Byrne, a sweeping ball from the Tinahely man off his left to Kevin Quinn on the stand side. Quinn has a man to beat, his legs sapping from a ferocious effort over the course of the game. Beat him he does. His jersey is pulled on the Kildare 45. No free. On he goes, tackled and harassed with every step. He crosses the 21, legs taken from under him, down he goes, the whistle sounds, a free in for Wicklow.
One thing Wicklow do not lack is leaders. All over the field they have warriors who are prepared to step up and take responsibility. John Keogh was the man of the moment for this free kick. The Baltinglass man stooped down and lifted the O’Neill’s ball from the deck, looked up at the posts at the dressing room end of St Conleth’s Park and proceeded to swing the ball over the black spot. Absolute joy among the Wicklow supporters, relief washing in waves around the Newbridge venue.
The final whistle sounded shortly afterwards. Wicklow had gotten out of jail. Kevin O’Brien said afterwards that he wasn’t happy with the performance but that he was infinitely proud of the players and the parents for their vital role in the journey that has been this campaign for this wonderful squad of players.
Kildare will come to Joule Park Aughrim believing that they left a victory behind them in St Conleth’s Park. Wicklow will arrive at their home venue on Saturday knowing that if they play to their potential, if they cut out the unforced errors and if they play with the ambition and belief that they have on so many occasions this year, that they can secure a place in the Leinster decider against Meath and take another step on this wonderful voyage.
Get down to Joule Park Aughrim this Friday and lend your voice to this talented Wicklow team. Could it be a day you’ll never forget? Absolutely!
Scorers – Wicklow: Eoin Darcy
2-5 (2 45, 3f), Matthew Ging 0-5 (4f), John Keogh 0-2 (1f), Sean Doody 0-1, Eoghan Byrne 1-0.
Kildare: Aaron Kennedy 2-2, Jack Smyth 1-2, Muiris Curtin 0-4 (3f), Alex Beirne 0-2, Sam Morrissey 0-1, Paddy McDermott 0-1, Michael McGovern 0-1.
Kildare: John Ball; John Lynch, Sean Hill, Jack Hamil; Nick Jackman, Kevin Kelliher, Paddy McDermott; Liam Broderick, Marcus Kiely; Tom Browne, Alex Beirne, Michael McGovern; Muiris Curtin, Aaron Kennedy, Jack Smyth. Subs: Eoghan O’Haire for J Smyth (BC), Daniel Caulfield for N Jackman, Drew Costello for L Broderick, Sean Englishby for M Curtin, Davy Higgins for M McGovern, Liam Broderick for M Kiely, Marcus Kiely for Broderick (Blood).
Wicklow: Ben Fennell; Fionn O’Carroll, Samuel Kearney, Tom Moran; Kevin Quinn, Oisin Cullen, Chris Grimes; Eoghan Byrne, Sean Doody; Alan Barrett, Craig Maguire, John Keogh; Matthew Ging, Eoin Darcy, Andy Foley. Subs: Cillian McDonald for O Cullen, Shaun Cranley for C Maguire, John Doyle for A Foley (inj), Jack Fleming Foran for A Barrett, Oisin Cullen for F O’Carroll, David Lawlor for J Doyle..
Referee: Chris Dwyer (Offaly)
Wicklow’s John Keogh shows nerves of steel to kick over the equalising point from a free.
Kevin Quinn of Wicklow tries to shake off the attentions of Michael McGovern of Kildare.
Liam Broderick of Kildare and Eoin Darcy of Wicklow battle for the ball.