'Garden' Future starting to look Rosy with Micko
Published 02/06/2008 | 00:00
While the sadness at losing their game to Laois on Saturday night will hit the players and mentors of Wicklow hard in its own right, what will really hurt them is the manner in which that defeat came about.
Because the harsh reality that must be separated from the romance of the underdog as represented by Wicklow is that they were the cause of their own downfall. That is always harder for losers in any sport to swallow, that they failed to do themselves justice on the big occasion.
Right from the start this was the case and in every situation where sharp concentration and a cool head was needed it was Wicklow players who got it wrong. As a result they handed over ball after ball with shocking carelessness to willing Laois players. It allowed Laois dominate the first half and they should have led by a lot more than the 0-9 to 0-4 at the break.
Worst of all for Wicklow was that errors in the first half were elementary ones such as dropping the ball, losing possession every time a player was tackled, some awful short passing and a total lack of leadership at a vital stage of the game. It was no wonder Laois got a foothold in that period, which left Wicklow trailing for the entire game.
It is quite likely that acute nervousness took hold with many Wicklow players from the start of the game. There is no other simple excuse for the series of childlike mistakes and the fact that in the second half the performances of most of their players were transformed proved that point. Why Wicklow should be so on edge from the start is hard to fathom after their fine performance in Croke Park against Kildare.
The biggest difference between these teams, of course, is that Laois were recently a Division 1 team while Wicklow have been buried in Division 4 for years. Lots of people deride the national league, including Mick O'Dwyer, but the truth is that the quality of league football has a vital role to play in developing players. In Division 4, players make little or no progress because good players are rarely challenged by their opponents but simply meander along in the NFL with no great sense of purpose or improvement. That showed in Saturday's game because the Laois players have been mixing with the very best players in the country for a number of years now and have thus acquired a sharper edge to their play.
In terms of individual footballing ability there was not much between the sides but Laois had a fine half-back line, one of the best in the country, in Tom Kelly, Darren Rooney and Padraig McMahon. They scored two points as well, which happened to to be the winning margin.
It is a disgrace that Wicklow, after such a barnstorming performance in the second half, will not play in the qualifiers. It proves once again that the weak counties are mere cannon fodder to give the semblance of a 32-county All-Ireland Championship. The sooner we get two premier All-Irelands of 16 teams each the better.
I have no doubt Mick O'Dwyer will be there next year and with a bit of help Wicklow have the potential to become serious Leinster contenders in a year or two. But first they must get out of Division 4.