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Sunday 24 September 2017

Wicklow to face Meath in Division 2B decider

GAA Allianz National Hurling League Division 2b: Murphy’s men see off Down in Arklow

Wicklow's Luke Maloney, Garry Byrne and Ronan Keddy set the trend for the game by closing in like wolves on their Down victim
Wicklow's Luke Maloney, Garry Byrne and Ronan Keddy set the trend for the game by closing in like wolves on their Down victim

Brendan Lawrence

Watching and listening to Seamus Murphy and Michael Neary on the sideline when the Wicklow Senior hurlers are playing is a joy to behold.

Wicklow 1-19 Down 0-11

In a funny way there are similarities between them and a young couple in the early throes of love.

You know that period in a relationship where everything is new and fresh and wonderful, where you could stare for hours into the eyes of your beloved, share food, sleep while entwined in each other's arms, and where the little quirks of each other hasn't started to grate like fingernails on a blackboard.

The buzz building in the Wicklow Senior hurling camp is a bit like that, and it seems to be originating from the energy and chemistry between the manager and coach, and long may it continue.

From the moment the ball is thrown in to the final whistle both Seamus and Michael are as alert as two prairie dogs who have caught the sniff of a soaring hawk above.

Up and down the sideline they prowl, urging their players on, dosing them in high praise for good play or sweet scores and lashing them with stinging criticism when they make silly errors or if they appear to be dropping off the pace.

In Roscommon, Danny Staunton went from hearing words of wonderful praise from Seamus Murphy to barbs of wicked criticism from the same tongue in the space of about 25 seconds. In Arklow, on Sunday, Padraig Doyle heard similar compliments from the sideline at various times and then when he bombed a shot wide from distance his return journey to his position featured a soundtrack of strong advice as to the errors of his shot selection.

But all of that is more than acceptable to the players because every single player seems to have invested themselves in the manager's and coach's beliefs and their cause and their goal. Nobody, that we can see anyway, is launching a volley of counter argument back at the sideline, nobody is storming off, nobody is throwing the toys out of the pram. No doubt there is friction, we're not saying the camp is a slice of heaven, but it seems to be in a good place.

It's very interesting to watch and if you are close by you can't but feel energised and excited and that, in this writer's very humble opinion, goes some of the way to explaining the renaissance in Wicklow county hurling in 2017.

Now, we can qualify all that by saying Roscommon were poor or that Derry were without certain players or that Down had three men sent off or whatever else you can think of but all those realities and excuses exist every year in every competition.

The teams who triumph and succeed are the teams who have that spark, that gusto, that drive, that togetherness, and watching Wicklow on the hurling fields at the moment it cannot be denied that these lads are hurling with abandon within a very structured and well-constructed plan.

Down suffered at the hands of this energy and cleverness on Sunday in Pearses' Park, in Arklow.

They were guilty of plotting their own downfall as well with three men seeing red in the second half but Wicklow looked like they were always going to win this game.

Not once did that impression of vulnerability cross the faces of the Garden County hurlers on Sunday. Not once.

Captain Christy Moorehouse was again to the fore with a 10-point haul, eight from placed balls, and his work around the field was again inspiring to his colleagues. He has been an excellent choice as captain.

Andy O'Brien continues to light up Division 2B with his poetic skill with the hurl. It didn't work out for him at times on Sunday but his speed of thought and his pure hurling instinct is amazing to watch. His pass to Eoin Mc Cormack for the goal was lightening quick and his two monster points were something to take the breath away.

Eoghan O'Mahony kept a clean sheet and performed very well and is tightening that grip on the number one jersey with his reliability and steadiness.

Luke Maloney and Eugene Dunne were tigerish and hostile as corner-backs should be while Martin O'Brien is improving all the time at full-back and the Meath clash will be one he will surely relish as a marker of where his hurling is at this moment in time.

Garry Byrne and Peter Keane are two capable half-backs and are enjoying their hurling. Neither starred on Sunday but they worked and hassled and harried and tormented for all they were worth.

The sublime John Henderson dropped back to centre-half back and the Bray man is up there with Andy O'Brien in terms of speed of hurling thought and has oodles of skill.

The Kearns and Keddy combination are like an early Itchy and Scratchy Show, full of creativity and flair and no shortage of merciless hurling.

Danny Staunton is a scavenger. He prowls around the field looking for scraps on which to survive, fighting for dirty ball, winning plenty of it and turning that scant supply into vital food parcels for the inside attackers.

Anto Byrne is a horse of a man and Padraig Doyle is the same and both men can hurl which makes them very valuable commodities around the half-forward line and with Christy Moorehouse offering his services out around the 45 yard line for the most part, the combination can be as heady and intoxicating as a cloud of sexy perfume left in the wake of an attractive minx.

Sunday saw Eoin McCormack join Andy O'Brien inside and the Bray man reaped a harvest of a goal and a point, the goal rocketed high to the back of the Down net after a sweet handpass from Andy. Expect to see lots more of Mc Cormack.

Victory against Down would mean a league final against Meath. And from early on the prospect of getting a chance at such a prize was clearly enticing to the Wicklow players. Meath have been the cause of much hurt and upset on the hurling fields for Wicklow over the last number of years so the opportunity to repair some of that damage has to be something these hurlers will relish.

Two points from Andy O'Brien got Wicklow up and running before the handy Danny Toner opened Down's account from a free in a sun-kissed Pearses' Park where a healthy crowd had gathered to support Seamus Murphy's men.

There were worrying signs early on when fussing and fumbling in defence allowed Down a shot at goal but, luckily for Wicklow, Tony Carroll sounded his whistle for a free out.

Wicklow settled. Christy from a free made it 0-03 to 0-01 and then he added another and then Andy O'Brien proved that he doesn't even need to be standing up to score a point when he walloped over while down on his knees. Anto Byrne added a fine score and suddenly Wicklow were 0-06 to 0-01 up and looking very good.

Chris Egan replied for the visitors before Toner converted a free for a pull back to make it 0-06 to 0-03.

A Down clearance from a Christy Moorehouse sideline cut found the welcoming hurl of John Henderson and he played a lovely ball into space for Padraig Doyle who gathered and lofted up a humdinger of a shot for a point that would have made him a hero had it gone over but, alas, it tailed wide.

A foul on Danny Staunton gave Christy Moorehouse a chance and he obliged with a fine score but Ronan Keddy coughed up a free in the following Down attack and Toner split the posts to make it 0-07 to 0-04 in favour of the home side.

Lovely stick work from Caolan Teggart saw the Down centre-half forward create enough space for him to wallop over the bar and bring Down right back into the game with only two points separating the sides.

But Wicklow were always capable of scoring and points from Moorehouse, Kearns with a bomb, and Mc Cormack after a dainty ball from John Henderson pushed the lead out to double scores at 0-10 to 0-05 where it remained at the break.

Down needed a good start to the second half but they got the opposite when Christy Moorehouse pointed a free, Ronan Keddy profited from good work from Eamonn Kearns and Moorehouse slotted home from a free won by Andy O'Brien to give Seamus Murphy's men the perfect start to the second period and push them out to a 0-13 to 0-05 lead.

Toner kept the Down score ticking over if nothing else with a free after six second half minutes but Moorehouse replied almost instantly.

Down did rally around this time. They had a goal chance that blazed across Eoghan O'Mahony's square before they rattled off three quick points to bring it back to 0-14 to 0-09.

But that was pretty much as good as it was to get for Down. Two outstanding Andy O'Brien points from his own 45 at either sideline killed any hope that the visitors might have had and left Wicklow leading 0-16 to 0-09. They were two tremendous strikes that sailed over with the help of the breeze.

Down did win a penalty but the burly Gareth Johnson rifled over. Things went pearshaped for the Mourne men soon after as Johnson saw red for striking Eoghan O'Mahony after the Down man mountain clashed with Martin O'Brien out the field only for O'Brien to get back to his feet and come seeking retribution.

Caolan Teggard went for a strike on Eugene Dunne and in between that and the third sending off for the Down men, Wicklow scored 1-03, the goal from Eoin Mc Cormack and three points from the hurl of the outstanding Moorehouse, one from a free, to leave Wicklow deserving winners on a score of 1-19 to 0-11 and with the tantalising prospect of two games against Meath on the horizon.

Scorers - Wicklow: Christy Moorehouse 0-10 (8f); Andy O'Brien 0-05 (2f); Eoin Mc Cormack 1-01; Anto Byrne 0-01; Eamonn Kearns 0-01; Ronan Keddy 0-01.

Down: Danny Toner 0-05 (4f); Chris Egan 0-02; Caolan Teggart 0-01; Eoghan Sands 0-01; Gareth Johnson 0-01 (p); Scott Nicholson 0-01.

Wicklow

1 - Eoghan O'Mahony (St Pat's)

2 - Luke Maloney (Bray Emmets)

3 - Martin O'Brien (Carnew Emmets)

4 - Eugene Dunne (Avondale)

5 - Garry Byrne (Glenealy)

6 - Eamon Kearns (Avondale)

7 - Peter Keane (Éire Óg Greystones)

8 - John Henderson (Bray Emmets)

9 - Ronan Keddy (Kilcoole)

10 - Danny Staunton (Glenealy)

11 - Anto Byrne (Éire Óg Greystones)

12 - Padraig Doyle (Bray Emmets)

13 - Christy Moorehouse (Bray Emmets)

14 - Andy O'Brien (St Pat's)

15 - Eoin Mc Cormack (Bray Emmets)

Subs

Diarmuid Masterson (Bray Emmets) for A Byrne (50min); J Connors (St Pat's) for M O'Brien (Blood, 50-56min); Jamie Byrne (Glenealy) for E McCormack (72min); Enda Donohoe (Carnew Emmets) for C Moorehouse (72min), Wayne Kinsella (Carnew Emmets) for R Keddy (72min).unused

16 - Robert Fitzgerald (Carnew Emmets); 17 - Stephen Kelly (Éire Óg Greystones); Billy Cuddihy (Éire Óg Greystones); Aaron Nugent (Glenealy); Emmet Byrne (Glenealy).

Down

1 - Stephen Keith

2 - Andrew Bell

3 - Michael Hughes

4 - Seán Ennis

20 - D Hughes

6 - Conor Woods

7 - Michael Ennis

8 - Conor O Prey

9 - Declan McManus

10 - Conor Mageean

11 - Caolan Teggart

26 - Malachy Magee

13 - Eoghan Sands

14 - Chris Egan

15 - Danny Toner

Subs

Gareth Johnson for D Hughes (43min); Scott Nicholson for M Magee (47min); Peter McManus for C Teggart (72min).

Referee

Tony Carroll (Offaly)

Man-of-the-match

John Henderson

Tricky one this given that it couldn't be said that any Wicklow player totallly dominated the game. Christy Moorehouse's tally of 0-10 points would give him a shout but Henderson at key moments was massive in this game. Other candidates would be Luke Maloney, Eamonn Kearns, Andy O'Brien, and Peter Keane while Down goalkeeper Stephen Keith was excellent throughout.

Talking point

We can't let this game pass by without mentioning those two long range points from Andy O'Brien.

Standing on his own 45 out on both sidelines he walloped over two outstanding points over the Down crossbar within minutes of each other

In terms of the game, the great start to the second half for Wicklow gave them a cushion at 0-13 to 0-05 and they never really looked back despite Down closing the gap to five points at one stage.

The sendings off and the Eoin Mc Cormack goal wiped out the Down challenge

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