Late strikes thwart super Garden effort
Healy, McLoughlin and O’Toole shine
A first O’Byrne Cup victory this season was wrenched away from Wicklow in the cruelest of fashions last Saturday evening as Laois conducted a late snatch and grab through substitute Paul Kingston and poor officiating.
Compared to the clash against Louth the previous weekend, this performance was in a different universe and will certainly give hope to Wicklow supporters ahead of the visit to Waterford for the opening league game. However, as Wicklow manager John Evans was quick to point out, they still lost the game and that is something that needs to change and change quickly at that.
St Patrick’s stalwart Dean Healy has been selected as captain of his county for 2019 and there has scarcely ever been a more fitting choice for the role. His showing on Saturday evening would be enough of a reason to pick him but he delivers shifts like that one time and time again. On Saturday in Bray he was immense, constantly looking for work, constantly breaking tackles from a physically impressive Laois side, constantly leading by example.
Local pundits named him as their man of the match from the game, but he was certainly closely followed by Blessington’s Anthony McLoughlin who got through a pile of work over the course of the 70 minutes and bagged 1-5 for himself that included some excellent points and a superbly taken goal in the first half.
Wicklow’s two imports got their Garden County careers up and running in this clash against Laois. Oisin Manning and Davy Devereux operated at corner-back and half-back respectively and certainly caught the eye in terms of movement and footballing ability. The move to bring in the St Judes and Ballinteer St Johns players has its detractors who feel that homegrown players are being deprived of starting slots but in a win-at-all-costs arena John Evans will be looking to get his best 15 players on the field regardless of where they’re from.
One majorly disappointing revelation on Saturday evening was that Kiltegan’s Rory Finn has stepped away from the panel for the foreseeable future. Finn has been a mainstay of the Wicklow starting 15 for the last number of years, offering the priceless services of a left-footed freetaker and pure workaholic to the county side in every game he played. His loss will certainly be felt in the coming months.
Wicklow led by four at the break in this game played at the magnificent Bray Emmets GAA Club grounds just off the M11. Credit must go to the Bray Emmets club who are never found wanting when it comes to hosting major games in their hugely impressive grounds. The welcome is always warm and genuine, and the facilities are top class.
John Evans’s side lost Chris O’Brien to injury just before throwin with Rathnew’s Theo Smyth taking his place.
Wicklow’s four-point lead came courtesy of two first-half goals, the first from Patrick ‘Wacker’ O’Connor who pounced on a breaking ball from a Dean Healy bomb launched out the field to wallop home to the bottom corner, and the second from Anthony McLoughlin who was quickest to react to a sublimely struck Gearoid Murphy free off the ground that careered back off the Laois upright. The Blessington man, in amazing form at the moment it should be said, lashed home mercilessly to the bottom corner of Eoghan Keogh’s net.
Wicklow started very well. Padraig O’Toole and the tank Dean Healy driving John Evans’ side two points clear in the first six minutes with two lovely points, O’Toole’s off the left after a strong drive and Healy’s dropping over the bar after almost decapitating a Laois player as it headed for goal following a storming run from the St Pat’s man that left at least another Laois man crumpled in his wake.
Laois are no shrinking voilets to be fair and would always feel deep down that they can get the better of any Wicklow team and once they got the ball up top, they looked dangerous.
Three minutes after Healy’s thundering score they led by one thanks to white flags from Evan O’Carroll, Rory Bracken and Donie Kingston as Wicklow struggled to contain their natural attackers.
Three minutes later, Wicklow were ahead by three. An Anthony McLoughlin point – he might have had a goal had he backed himself to keep going – was followed by Patrick O’Connor’s goal in the 12th minute to leave it 1-3 to 0-3. If anyone deserved a score it was O’Connor. The Blessington man has started all three O’Byrne Cup games superbly but has yet to dominate the scoring charts. Wicklow boss John Evans agrees that O’Connor has huge potential but that he needs to steady himself in games to maximise that potential.
Laois clawed their way back into the game with two points from Evan O’Carroll (one free) while Wicklow had wides from McLoughlin (free) and shot dropped short to Eoghan Keogh by AGB’s Darragh Fitzgerald who put in a very busy shift at half-back.
Key to Wicklow’s half-time lead was goalkeeper Mark Jackson who was impressive between the sticks.
With 24 minutes on the clock John Evans switched Anthony McLoughlin and Conor McGraynor as the Kerry native looked to reenergise his full-forward line.
Wicklow were still creating scoring chances but just not taking them. Mark Jackson went wide from a free and Mark Fitzsimons fired in an effort from distance only to watch it drop short to Keogh in the Laois goal with 27 minutes gone.
Jackson was again the saviour for Wicklow in the 28th minute when he saved from Michael Keogh just before Patrick O’Connor and Gearoid Murphy switched positions.
Anthony McLoughlin propelled Wicklow into a 2-3 to 0-5 lead with his wicked goal after 31 and the Blessington man followed it up with a pointed free before Evan O’Carroll completed the first-half scoring to leave it 2-4 to 0-6 to Wicklow at the break.
Laois made a host of changes at half-time and one of these was to have a huge influence on the second half. Paul Kingston entered the fray for John Sugrue’s men and proceeded to torture the Wicklow defence, bagging 2-2 in 35 minutes, his goals the heartbreakers that wrenched victory from the jaws of defeat.
He made his intentions known in the third minute of that second half when he lobbed over a sublime score. Laois would come within one of Wicklow after five minutes when Eoin Buggie and Evan O’Carroll would bag two quick-fire points as Wicklow struggled to get to the pace of the game in the early stages.
The home side recovered well, though. Mark Jackson pulled off another excellent save, Anthony McLoughlin swung over a free won by Dean Healy and a free won by Conor McGraynor was converted by Mark Jackson to return Wicklow to a three-point lead at 2-6 to 0-9.
Wicklow were working tirelessly all over the field and were fully deserving of their lead.
Laois hit back with a Donie Kingston score but Anthony McLoughlin replied with a free won by the relentless Dean Healy before Conor McGraynor pushed Wicklow out to 2-8 to 0-10 ahead and things were looking very positive.
There were 28 minutes on the second-half clock when Paul Kingston began to work his magic. A long ball from Donie was gathered by Paul and he walloped home past Jackson.
McLoughlin pointed at the other end. John Evans was now ringing the changes. Ross Davis, Fintan O’Shea, Darren Hayden, Cononr Healy and Cormac O’Shea would all get game time in the second half.
Kingston grabbed his second point to leave it 2-9 to 1-11 after 33. McLoughlin pointed a free.
Back came Laois. A long ball to Kingston, a blatant push in the back not spotted by the officials, a goal, Laois lead by one.
Wicklow attack. Tasty ball gath-
ered as an offensive mark by Wicklow but confusion among the officials lead to the mark, in a totally scorable position, being overturned in place of a throw ball. Laois would win possession and time would run out.
Another defeat for Wicklow but a sense of hope among the supporters and players.
Scorer – Laois: Evan O’Carroll 0-5, Donie Kingston 0-3, Rory Bracken 0-1. Paul Kingston 2-2, Eoin Dunne 0-1.
Wicklow: Padraig O’Toole 0-1, Dean Healy 0-1, Anthony McLoughlin 1-5, Patrick O’Connor 1-0, Mark Jackson 0-1, Conor McGraynor 0-1
Wicklow’s Darragh Fitzgerald launches a shot towards the Laois goal. Photos: Barbara Flynn
Wicklow’s Anto McLoughlin driving forward against Laois.