Wicklow 2-12 Longford 1-13

Wicklowgaaonline.com - Official photographer - Michael Kelly

Wicklowgaaonline.com - Official photographer - Michael Kelly

Wicklow 2-12 Longford 1-13

O’Moore Park – Port Laoise

Championship fever descended on Port Laoise on Sunday afternoon as Wicklow and Longford locked horns with Micko the maestro facing an old student in Glenn Ryan. A sea of blue and yellow buzzed through the turnstiles under the burning sun as Summer finally arrived.

Wicklow showed a couple of changes from the team named by wicklowgaaonline.com last week with Damien Power taking the place of Alan Nolan and Rory Nolan moving up the field to start at half forward in place of Jacko Dalton. Walsh and Stafford were named as expected in the middle of park and Dara O’hAnnaidh retuned at centre back after almost a year on the sidelines. Longford had the Barden brothers and Brian Kavanagh in a strong line up.

Longford started the brightest and registered the two opening scores in blistering heat in O’Moore park. Wicklow had plenty of possession but failed to turn it into scores. Wicklows first 4 scores came from dead balls as Tony “Tino” Hannon gave an exhibition in placed ball kicking worthy of note at every level. A range of difficult set pieces floated over the bar with each majestic belt of the Hollywood mans boot. After the uninspiring exchanges Wicklow lead by 0-4 to 0-3. Longford hit a bit of a purple patch after that but with 7 wides aided by a strong breeze at their backs the slender lead at half time was not what they had hoped for. Half time Longford 0-7 Wicklow 0-6.

At half time Micko replaced Damien Power with Brian McGrath after the Rathnew man received a first half yellow card. McGrath was an incredible success, marshalling the half back line from centre back showing immense composure when working the ball out of the back line. Whatever Micko put in the tea worked a treat and as they say goals win matches. Within a minute of the restart, Nolan bagged the Garden County’s opening goal which sparked a period of total dominance in which the Garden hit an unanswered 1-5. The Baltinglass man was unmarkable and in the right place when captain Leighton Glynn saw his shot come off the upright and the unmarked Nolan was well placed to gather possession and slot the ball past Longford goalkeeper Damien Sheridan. Wicklow racked up the scores and their domination in midfield was helping them take control of the game. Frustration also began to set in with Shane Mulligan and Brian Kavanagh receiving yellow cards as Wicklow made full use of any breaks that went their way. Longford were reeling by the time Seanie Furlong went one on one with the goalkeeper before opting to punch the ball over the bar.  Amazingly, and without All-Ireland winner Kavanagh who had been substituted, Longford kicked 1-4 during a six-minute spell to level the contest for the first time in 36 minutes. Points from McGee and Kevin Smith were followed by Berry’s well-struck goal, and further points from Dennigan and Paul Barden as the sides went level on 1-11 apiece. The Wicklow faithful could not believe what was unfolding in front of them. A 7 point lead was gone and Longford were in the ascendancy. A ragged period followed lacking any quality until Paul Earls won a free near the side line on the terrace side. Seanie had already pulled a very disappointing effort earlier from a similar position. 4 minutes to go in the Leinster Championship, exhaustion setting in the Kiltegan man moved to kick. Wind at his back, sun beaming down and an air of anticipation sweeping across O’Moore Park. The kick was high, very high…it curled and was greeted with cries of joy with a murmur of despair from the small longford support. A long kick out to midfield was plucked from the air by Thomas Walsh who found Seanie 40 yards from goal, he lucked up and put a high ball towards Paul Earls who sprung to take the ball before crashing home Wicklows second goal and sending the travelling army into raptures. Longford tried to come again but they could only manage two points by the time Marty Duffy had called for the ball. Wicklow had started another journey towards the promised land.

When the dust settles on the first round win it seems all the more impressive. Wicklow were good but nowhere near great. James Stafford, Thomas Walsh, Leighton Glynn and Seanie Furlong were good, but not great. The optimism is based on the knowledge that these players have the capacity to perform twice as good as they did against Longford….they have the capacity to be great. Seanie only started to tick when the game went level at which point he grew in stature, winning all his ball and making his marker look like a man who’s spirit had been broke. Walsh dominated but only in the latter parts and to much of the what was great was only done in patches. Ciaran Hyland was outstanding and debutant Padge McWalter gave a performance void of nerves and built on power and determination. Paul Earls and Rory Nolan were at times operating on a different level to those around them. Earls played much of the game out of the forwards often operating further down the field, his tracking and tackling matched with his sheer power and will to succeed amazing to watch. He constantly seeking the ball and scoring the clinching goal was just reward for a fantastic afternoons work. Nolan despite a lack of height sprung like a salmon and tagged on 1-1, not bad for a back!!

Man of the Match – Paul Earls

Mick O’Dwyer. “It was a good championship game,” he said after the game. “We were up seven points and sat on our lead as usual. That’s what we normally do.

“But when they came level again we showed good character in our team and came back really well to get a great goal that made all the difference.”

Apologies about the late review but I would point to the slogan, By the fans, for the fans!

I am a fan, a big one it happens and I was in no fit state to write a match report either Sunday or Monday! A trend that is not likely to buckle if we keep winning!!

Thoughts as always are welcome to

WICKLOW : M Travers; C Hyland, D Power, A Byrne; P McWalter, D Ó hAnnaidh, P Dalton; J Stafford, T Walsh; T Hannon (0-4, three frees, one 45) , L Glynn, R Nolan (1-1); D Odlum (0-1), S Furlong (0-4, two frees), P Earls (1-2). Subs : B McGrath for Power (half-time).

LONGFORD : D Sheridan; D Reilly, B Gilleran, P Foy; D Masterson, E Williams, S Mulligan; G Dennigan (0-4, three frees), K Smith (0-1); P Berry (1-1), F McGee (0-4, four frees), D Barden (0-1); P Barden (0-1) , K Mulligan, B Kavanagh (0-1). Subs : N Farrell for Masterson, P Dowd for Kavanagh (both 57 mins); C Mimnagh for Mulligan (70+2).

Referee: M Sludden (Tyrone).

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