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Wicklow 3-17 Meath 2-12
Match report sponsored by Cúltec Hurleys
Wicklow are into the Christy Ring Final for the second year in a row after beating Meath in a scorching Arklow, writes Shane Ferguson.
The Garden County produced a performance that blew away their opposition in the first twenty minutes to lead from 30 seconds in until the full time whistle.
It was the first in a trilogy of matches against the Royal County over the next 5 days, with the senior footballers facing them in Carlow tomorrow and the Junior Footballers up in Meath on Wednesday. For Casey O’Brien’s men, it was a match that came with a significant prize, an appointment in Croke Park and a chance to banish the memories of the 2011 defeat to Kerry.
Casey O’Brien kept faith with the 15 that saw off Derry in the 2A Quarter Final two weeks ago with quite a bit of talk rumbling about the appearance of Stephen Kelly at 6. The Eire Og man will face both of Meath Senior Team’s in successive days with a trip to Carlow beckoning on the Sunday.
Peasre Park didn’t have a cloud in sight though, making conditions an opponent in itself. But as the crowds started making their way in, the atmosphere was set for seventy minutes of action that signalled summer had arrived.
It would arrive in style too, with Wicklow racing out of the blocks. Andy O’Brien notched up the first two points within 60 seconds of the start, the first after some great work by Kearns and the second out wide, hitting it into a cross field breeze.
But if that wasn’t enough to settle the nerves, what followed done the business. A high ball in was misjudged by Willie Mahedy, with the bounce landing kindly for Glenealy man Wayne O’Gorman. He didn’t hesitate and swung in a thundering shot low into the far corner to raise Wicklow’s first green flag of the day.
The Royals were stunned, but when chances did fall their way in the early part of the half, they failed to make the most of them, hitting successive wides before Captain Glynn created some space on the left and hit it over the mark. Wicklow were rampant, and it was Bosco’s turn to get in on the act. With his back to the posts he used his instinct to turn and strike a wonderful effort over the posts before following it up with another from play, a good distance out.
Ten minutes in and Casey’s men found themselves 1-05 to 0-00 up. An impressive score line which was built up without any wides. Meath on the other hand were struggling to find their range, but eventually got off the mark with a free from Kirby.
Both sides exchanged points twice in the next few minutes, with Clynch’s ’65 cancelling O’Briens point from wide. Noel Kirby found himself with a free in front of the posts but settled for the point as opposed to shooting for the nets, the score nullified by a Bosco free a minute later.
But it was all about Andy O’Brien then, who judged a dropping ball perfectly to turn and find enough space to hit the sliothar against the ground, the bounce deceiving the Meath keeper to add another 3 pointer to Wicklow tally.
The Royals pulled a point back in bizarre circumstances a shortly afterwards. Conneely launched one in that was waved wide by the Umpire, and looked wide from the stand. But the linesman waved a point and convinced the Offaly Ref Carroll that the white flag was to be raised.
Meath started to sense opportunities. Peter Durnin broke free from his marker and ran at Wicklow keeper Murphy only to see his shot blocked. A massive scramble saw the ball cross the line. I, for the life of me, couldn’t tell who got the goal given the amount of Wicklow and Meath shirts gathered in front of the goals. I reckon it was someone in a green shirt though.
Durnin followed up this attack with a point and Horan added another after Bosco pointed a free.
Then Arklow experienced what can only be described as a rip in the space-time continuum as the announced one minute of injury time lasted five minutes. And what a five minutes it was.
It would see Joe Murphy drop the ball on the line, and Meath scramble in another goal. It would see another demonstration of clinical finishing from Bosco as he pointed from a free. And controversially, it would see a harsh red for Meath no 11 Steven Donohue for a clash with Wayne O’Gorman.
So for all of Wicklow’s dominance in the first 15 minutes, there would only be four points between the sides at the whistle, 2-10 to 2-06 in the Garden Counties favour.
The second half started at pace and saw both sides get another couple of points each. One of those coming from Moorehouse, who had come on for Eugene Dunne at half time. Wicklow knew they had to build up a bigger lead though, for fear of Meath getting confidence from their earlier fight back. And it started to build up slowly, being kicked off with the score of the game from Bosco.
The finish itself was neat and precise, but what made it so great was the work of O’Brien, who drew two defenders with him as he ran towards the corner, only to turn and hit a flat pass to the Gelenaly man to take his time and point under no pressure.
And then came Moorehouse, the man with pace to burn, and another green flag for the Garden County. He picked up possession just inside the Royal’s half, and broke free of three challenges to run at Shane McGanns goal. A feint right and then a low shot across the bow gave Wicklow a level of comfort on the scoreboard and in truth, we never looked back.
The game was closed out with points from both sides, but the biggest scare was when Stephen Kelly went down seeking attention. If Harry Murphy was in the crowd he would have been a worried man. But the #Machine got up injury free and the County breathed a sigh of relief.
At the final whistle, all that was left to do was applaud Casey O’Brien and this group of Hurlers. Only five weeks ago, they were staring down the barrel of Division 2B. But since that win over Down, they have beaten Kerry and Derry and now after today will travel to Croker in the hope of silverware and just reward for the devotion and passion for hurling they have given this county.
As for their opponents, well, they will have to wait until next week to find out. Down and London could not be separated after extra time and must face each other again in Ruislip in 7 days time.
Either way, the Garden County is there, as they launched the summer in style in Arklow.