O’Toole grabs late winner for Wicklow
A DEPLETED Wicklow side made the trip to Tullamore on Saturday last for the opening round of the All-Ireland Under-20 ‘B’ Hurling championship (Richie McElligott Cup) which was played in excellent conditions at O’Connor Park.
Manager Garry Laffan was short at least ten players due to holidays injuries and local championships, however the panel that made themselves available deserve credit for making the journey at such short notice; a squad that included county Senior players, Bryan Kearney, Eoghan Byrne, Cian Staunton, Jonathan O’Neill Jnr, Gary Hughes and dual player Padraig O’Toole, who formed the back bone of the squad.
The game proved to be an evenly matched contest which saw both teams committed to the task with never more than three points between the sides at any time, which saw 15 players figure on the score sheet, some excellent defending and many great battles around the field that saw the game go right down to the wire, but it was the Wicklow who clinched victory deep into injury time.
In the past, Wicklow teams always fared well in this competition and were successful under manager Jonathan O’Neill Senior in 2014 when they beat old rivals Meath in the decider. Two years later, Wicklow also contested the final under the guidance of Michael Neary, but the Garden County had no joy as Kerry proved too strong on that occasion.
On this occasion the depleted Wicklow squad rose to the task that lay ahead as Garry Laffan’s troops emerged victorious with a one –point winning margin in what was a keenly contested game that was played in a sporting manner before a handful of Wicklow supporters to leave the Garden County lads advancing to a quarter-final clash against old rivals Kerry next weekend at a venue to be decided.
The opening few minutes produced two wides each before Kiltegan’s Padraig O’Toole showed his ability by splitting the Mayo defence and slotting over a point. This brought a quick response from the men from the west, and following an attack up the field, wing forward Liam Moffett landed a point to bring the sides at one point each after six minutes in the opening half.
Some fine attacking play by the eventual winners unfolded but they were unable to break down a solid Mayo defence in which centre back John Geraghty was prominent. Wicklow kept plugging away as they brought the game to their opponents once more but were guilty of some bad shooting in which they recorded three wides inarow.
The pressure on the Mayo defence soon yielded results. Wicklow went on to record two excellent points from centre forward Gary Hughes, one from a free following a foul on Fionn Furlong, to leave Laffan’s side leading on a score of 0-3 to 0-1 after 12 minutes.
At this stage the Mayo men set about reducing the deficit as they upped the tempo and went in search of much-needed scores; midfielder Cormac Phillips landed a point from a free, Wicklow centre back Padraig O’Toole was showing his ability and won a free which saw Gary Hughes shoot wide and, following another attack, Jonathan O’Neill landed a second wide which could have proved costly in the end.
Following a Mayo attack, midfielder Aidan Morrisroe split the Wicklow defence to shoot a point and level the game at 0-3 each.
Centre forward Luke Hurley brought a brilliant save from Wicklow captain Cian Staunton which inspired his team mates and following a move involving several players resulted in Ian Clancy scoring a point while another attack saw Eoghan Byrne get his name on the score sheet which gave Gary Laffan’s men a twopoint cushion at 0-5 to 0-3 after 16 minutes.
Not for the first time in the game, Mayo responded, Cormac Phillips grabbing two points from frees.
Play flowed from end to end with Luke Hurley and MacDara O Midheach exchanging a point each but it was the Mayo men that edged a point ahead soon after when Eoin Delaney pointed a free.
Wicklow responded well and following a good move Eoghan Byrne sent a long ball forward which saw Jonathan O’Neill win possession and he showed his ability to land a point from play to bring the teams level once more at 0-7 each after 25 minutes.
Mayo finished the stronger of the half which saw them land a point each through Luke Hurley and Liam Lavin and could have had more scores were it not for some solid defending by the Wicklow defence which saw the half-time score read 0-9 to 0-7 in favour of Mayo.
The second half saw the Mayo men first out of the traps but not for the first time in the game Cian Staunton produced an excellent save to foil a goal before alert midfielder Aiden Morrisroe tapped over a point to give his side a threepoint cushion four minutes into the second half.
Once again the Wicklow men responded superbly and showed great character as they kept battling away and following a move involving several players, it was Jonathan O’Neill who wacthed as his shot was brilliantly saved out for a 65. Alas, Wicklow were off target with their shooting, but after both sides recorded a wide each, up stepped O’Neill to land an important score with a point from play to reduce the deficit to 0-10 to 0-8.
A point each from play were traded through James Gallagher and Padraig O’Toole and with both defences on top scores were scarce for the next six minutes.
Soon after, and for the only time in the game, Mayo full-forward Paddy Lyons escaped from a tight-marking Bryan Kearney to land a point and give his side a three-point lead at 0-12 to 0-9 at the end of the third quarter.
From a Wicklow point of view the turning point finally arrived when a move that was started in their own defence and following good work by Eoghan Byrne saw a long ball find Jonathan O’Neill who gained possession and rounded his opponent to score the only goal of the game to bring the sides level once more at 0-12 to 1-9.
Wicklow continued to keep the pressure on.
Gary Hughes split the defence to win a free and MacDara O Mideach landed the point from the free to edge Wicklow in front.
This brought a quick response from the west side as James Gallagher brought the sides level again to make it 1-10 to 0-13 with ten minutes remaining and all to play for.
But with the winners showing greater hunger, they were rewarded with a point from a hard-working Padraig O’Toole while another attack saw Gary Hughes split the Mayo defence but the Glenealy man was penalised for over-carrying which resulted in a free out which gave the Mayo side a chance to surge forward and following solid defending by the winners defence in which Bryan Kearney was outstanding, finally second-half substitute Ciaran Doherty brought the sides level once more on a score of 1-11 to 0-14.
The remainder of this encounter kept the small band of supporter on their toes as both teams exchanged a point each and it looked like extra-time was on the cards.
Mayo went in search of the winner but were foiled by solid full-back Kearney who lead by example from start to finish. The Kiltegan defender surged his way forward before giving a perfect pass to his club colleague Padraig O’Toole who slotted over the winning point to give Wicklow a deserved victory in what was a good all-round team performance.
Scorers - Wicklow: Jonathan O’Neill 1-2, Padraig O’Toole 0-4, Gary Hughes 0-2 (1f), Ian Clancy 0-2, MacDara O Midheach 0-2 (1f), Eoghan Byrne 0-1.
Mayo: James Gallagher 0-3, Cormac Phillips 0-3 (2f), Liam Hurley 0-2 (1f), Eoin Delaney 0-2 (1f), Paddy Lyons 0-1, Ciaran Doherty 0-1, Liam Moffett 0-1, Liam Lavin 0-1, Aidan Morrisroe 0-1.
The Wicklow side who came out on top against Mayo.