Late strikes thwart su­per Gar­den ef­fort

Healy, McLough­lin and O’Toole shine

Wicklow People - - SPORT - BREN­DAN LAWRENCE

LAOIS WICK­LOW 2-11 2-10

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-

Wick­low’s Darragh Fitzger­ald launches a shot to­wards the Laois goal. Pho­tos: Bar­bara Flynn

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