Wick­low march on

Bray People - - SPORT -


THE roar that greeted Wick­low’s first Le­in­ster cham­pi­onship vic­tory since 2014 in O’Moore Park, Port­laoise, last Sun­day evening was one of the sweet­est sounds heard by a Wick­low GAA sup­porter for a long time.

Over the course of the 70 min­utes of nor­mal time and the 20 of ex­tra-time that fol­lowed that roar had grown with each pass­ing score from a whis­per to the rau­cous bel­low of de­light and re­lief that filled the air on a beau­ti­ful May evening and con­demned the pre­vi­ous three years of de­spair to the past once and for all.

That sense of a weight be­ing lifted off a county’s shoul­ders was un­de­ni­able as the very healthy con­tin­gent of Wick­low sup­port­ers took to the field to con­grat­u­late a right­fully de­lighted group of foot­ballers who have toiled long and hard in the hunt for in­ter-county suc­cess and, more im­por­tantly, progress.

John Evans has put a dis­ap­point­ing league cam­paign be­hind him as he per­se­vered with his in­tro­duc­tion of youth into the side and the re­wards for his strat­egy were there for all to see for the ma­jor­ity of this game with Mark Jack­son prov­ing him­self to be a goal­keep­ing and point-scor­ing star, John Crowe and Saoirse Kearnon run­ning them­selves into the ground, Cathal Magee mak­ing a mas­sive con­tri­bu­tion when called upon in­clud­ing fist­ing over the fi­nal score of the game, Eoin Murtagh dom­i­nat­ing and Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald show­ing won­der­ful ex­u­ber­ance and con­fi­dence to tear the Offaly de­fence apart and slot home a stun­ning goal that ul­ti­mately killed off the Faith­ful chal­lenge.

As well as the in­jec­tion of youth, this Wick­low side are su­perbly fit. They quite sim­ply ran a dis­il­lu­sioned Offaly side into the ground on Sun­day, grow­ing more and more com­fort­able look­ing and ca­pa­ble as the game went on.

It’s none of Wick­low’s con­cern that Offaly foot­ball seems to be in a chron­i­cally bad place, but it might be use­ful to tem­per run­away spec­u­la­tion or mis­placed con­fi­dence by ac­knowl­edg­ing that all is most cer­tainly not well in Stephen Wal­lace’s camp and that the sit­u­a­tion un­doubt­edly played a part in the out­come of this game.

Nev­er­the­less, Wick­low, aside from the open­ing half, were by far the bet­ter team and grew into this en­counter with each pass­ing minute and should go on to face Dublin with a sense of ad­ven­ture and abandon and use the clash to gain vi­tal ex­pe­ri­ence and in­sight. It could be said that this is the per­fect time to be fac­ing the reign­ing All-Ire­land and league cham­pi­ons and al­though a bat­tle of Aughrim is not on the cards, given the op­po­si­tion and the man­ner of the vic­tory last Sun­day, it is very likely that Wick­low will be very well sup­ported in Port­laoise later this month.

The key mo­ment in Sun­day’s vic­tory had to be the penalty save from Mark Jack­son from Offaly full-for­ward Nigel Dunne late in the sec­ond half of this game. Wick­low’s Paul Mer­ri­gan prob­a­bly feels hard done by after be­ing con­victed of push­ing Offaly num­ber three James Lalor in the square. There was lit­tle ev­i­dence of a push but the Rath­new man’s hand was on the Offaly man’s back and Lalor didn’t seem too keen to stay on his feet as the Faith­ful County came look­ing for a score to put Wick­low back on their be­hinds with just over 10 min­utes of nor­mal time re­main­ing.

Given what is re­ported to have tran­spired fol­low­ing the strange sub­sti­tu­tion of Nigel Dunne after just 28 min­utes of the open­ing half – it has been said that the Offaly full-for­ward at­tempted to leave O’Moore Park and had a blazing row with team men­tors – the de­ci­sion to al­low Dunne to take the penalty must now seem mis­guided.

In fair­ness to the Sham­rocks man, it wasn’t a bad penalty kick, he placed it well to Mark Jack­son’s left but the key to the save lies in the Baltinglass man’s po­si­tion­ing in the mo­ments prior to Dunne tak­ing the kick. As the Offaly full-for­ward places the ball and re­treats, Jack­son stands far to his right and makes him­self look as big as he can. From Dunne’s point of view, when he looks up to get his bearings all he can see is a huge space to Jack­son’s left, al­most three quarters of the goal, and Jack­son is al­ways go­ing down to his left and su­perbly saves the low strike out for a 45.

This was a huge mo­ment in this game. It served to lift the Wick­low play­ers and sup­port­ers and Jack­son went on to score the next three points for the Gar­den men to se­cure the draw and send this game to ex­tra-time where fit­ness, char­ac­ter, be­lief and no shortage of abil­ity drove Wick­low on to a sweet, sweet vic­tory.

After the open­ing 35 min­utes there was ab­so­lutely no way of know­ing what was about to un­fold. Around O’Moore Park heads shook in frus­tra­tion and dis­ap­point­ment after a flat and er­ror-rid­den half of poor foot­ball from both teams with An­ton Sul­li­van’s goal sug­gest­ing that John Evans’ side were in a spot of bother at the back.

The loss of Jamie Snell to in­jury after 27 min­utes and Mark Jack­son’s de­layed kick out re­sult­ing in a throw ball were wor­ry­ing signs, but Wick­low had cre­ated a few goal chances, were only a score down at 1-5 to 0-5 and had a de­ter­mined look­ing Ross O’Brien com­ing in for Snell while Seanie Fur­long, Mark Kenny, Dean Healy and Theo Smyth all looked mad for work.

Two Bernard Allen points were an­swered by a Jack­son free and a sweet Mark Kenny ef­fort to leave it level after 14.

Nigel Dunne re­turned Offaly to the lead from a free be­fore Dean Healy brought a fine save from Alan Mul­hall when the Pat’s man gath­ered pos­ses­sion in the Offaly square after James Stafford had kept in a hope­ful shot from Seanie

Wick­low’s Dar­ragh Fitzger­ald cel­e­brates after scor­ing his su­perb goal dur­ing the Le­in­ster GAA Foot­ball Se­nior Cham­pi­onship clash with Offaly.

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