One more goal and Wicklow would be in a semi-final
WICKLOW Senior hurling manager Eamon Scallon took his troops north of the border for the fifth time this year in league and championship when they made the long journey to face arch rivals Derry in the final round of the Christy Ring Cup.
Following their Division 2 league success, it was no secret that Eamon Scallon and his selectors, Tomas Darcy and John Keogh, were anxious to make an impact in the Ring Cup; Wicklow have suffered defeats in both semi-finals and finals under the guidance of former managers Casey O’Brien and Seamus Murphy.
This year’s Christy Ring Cup competition has once again proved to very competitive. In the opening round, the men from the Garden County scored a victory over Donegal. Round 2 saw Wicklow play hosts to Down in Aughrim which proved to a high-scoring game before the Mourne men carved out a 2-25 to 2-19 victory.
On Saturday afternoon it was the turn of Wicklow and Derry to go face each other in what was a crucial game for both counties to keep their Ring cup hopes alive.
Wicklow showed four changes from the starting 15 against Down last time out with saw Andy O’Brien Michael Boland, Enda Donohoe and Peter Keane replace the injured Warren Kavanagh, Eoghan Byrne exam tied, Ronan Keddy and Eoin McCormack.
Games between these counties have always being keenly contested and, on this occasion, it was no different, with two committed teams doing battle in a game that saw many fine individuals displays, many great battles around the field, and both goalkeepers making vital saves at various moments.
Some excellent scores were recorded from both freetakers - Enda Donohue and Richie Mullen - while both teams were guilty of some bad shooting during the course of the game, but the tempo of the game kept the spectators on their toes right to the end.
Entering the game Derry had a slight advantage with a better scoring difference which meant Wicklow had to score at least a six-point victory to remain on track for one of the semi-final berths.
After what was another committed performance from Eamonn Scallan’s men, they scored a worthy three-point victory in what was their third victory over the men from the Sperrin Mountains in league and championship this year but, alas, exited the Christy Ring Cup.
There’s no doubt that the margin of victory could have being much more on the day as the visitors were left to rue at least three missed goal chances which included a first half penalty. On the other hand, the home side were also guilty of several chances they failed to convert from frees and play.
Following the final whistle and even though Wicklow won the game, the result proved to be disappointing as they failed to meet the target required to make the knockout stages and in the end it was Derry and Down, who scored a convincing win over Donegal, who advanced to the semi-finals where Derry will face Meath while Down will do battle with the surprise package of the competition, Roscommon.
The home set the pace from the throw in and were rewarded with early point from full-forward Se McGuigan and followed up with a pointed free from Conor Doherty to leave the hosts leading by two points after four minutes.
A quick response from Wicklow saw a move involving three players end with corner-forward Gary Hughes landing the first of his two points for the day.
Wicklow kept the pressure on but were unable to break down some solid defending by Meehaul McGrath at number six. Scallan’s men had two wides at this time mainly due to a tight-marking defence. Gerard Bradley and Daniel Staunton exchanged a point each both from play to leave Derry leading by 0-3 to 0-2 after 12.
The first goal chance arrived then when full-forward Andy O’Brien rounded his marker, but his rasping shot brought a brilliant save out of Derry goalkeeper Sean Kelly and the chance was lost.
Derry upped the tempo and took the game to the visitors but could only record five wides in a row mainly due to some solid defending by Wicklow.
With play flowing from end to end, Wicklow won a line ball and following good work by Danny Staunton and Eamon Kearns, Andy O’Brien won possession and the Pat’s man won his side a penalty after being fouled in the square.
Bray’s Christy Moorehouse stepped up to take the penalty, but his rasping shot produced another brilliant save from Sean Kelly and another chance for a green flag was lost.
Enda Donohoe and Se McGuigan exchanged a point each in the aftermath of the penalty miss to leave Derry leading by 0-4 to 0-3 after 18 minutes in the opening half.
Carnew’s Donohoe added two points to Wicklow’s tally soon after, one from play and one from a free after a foul on Michael Boland as the Bray man headed for goal, but Derry responded well, and a Liam Himphy brought the sides level at 0-5 apiece after 25 minutes.
Wicklow hit a golden spell at this stage as they dominated in most sectors around the field which resulted in a long delivery from Gary Byrne finding his club mate Gary Hughes who landed his second point. This score inspired his team mates as they responded in good fashion with Eamonn Kearns, Enda Donohoe, and Andy O’Brien scoring a point each from play while Derry responded with a point from Gerard Bradley to leave Scallan’s men up by 0-9 to 0-6 at the break.
Wicklow continued to dominate after the restart. Michael Boland split the home defence and was rewarded with a point from play, and after good work by Christy Moorehouse and Danny Staunton, Andy O’Brien scored a point from play to give Wicklow a four-point cushion five minutes into the second half.
These scores lifted the entire team, but they failed to convert their dominance as they recorded three wides in row through Danny Staunton, Christy Moorehouse and Michael Boland.
After a brief melee 10 minutes into the second half over at the side line, Wicklow’s Michael Boland and Derry’s Dara Curtin were both shown red cards by the referee.
Derry’s top scorer Richie Mullan scored a point from play which brought a quick response from Wicklo. Good work by midfielder Jack Doyle saw Andy O’Brien land a point from play which left Wicklow with a five-point lead on a score line of 0-12 to 0-7 after 14 minutes of the second half.
At this stage the home team set about reducing the deficit with freetaker Robbie Mullan scoring two points from placed balls while Se McGuigan also landed a point from play.
Wicklow responded with an Enda Donohoe converted free but the visitors’ lead was cut to three, 0-13 to 0-10, after 20 minutes into the second half.
Derry were now on top. Three points from play, from Robbie Mullon (2) and substitute Tieran McHugh, brought the sides level once more at 0-13 each, but not for the first time in the game Derry recorded some bad wides from frees and general play which will be a matter of concern for their manager going forward to the semi-final.
Wicklow received a major boost following their next attack when Enda Donohoe bagged the only goal of the match, and then both sides traded a point each before two points from placed balls from Robbie Mullon reduced the deficit to a single point with two minutes left on the clock.
One last effort from the winners saw a late surge for a goal but Andy O’Brien’s effort was miss hit and cleared off the goal line. After good work by substitutes Ronan Keddy and Luke Evans, O’Brien gained possession and won a free which he pointed to close the scoring which left Wicklow worthy winners in their third victory over Derry this year.
The final whistle saw a dejected Wicklow team and officials leave the field of play after losing out in such a cruel way and not qualifying for the knockout stages. The final league table saw Down plus 19, Derry plus 9, and Wicklow plus 3.
The Wicklow Senior hurlers ahead of their Christy Rig Cup clash with Derry in Owenbeg last weekend.