A YEAR TO REMEMBER
League success eases championship hurt
ONE THING that GAA supporters the country over - perhaps I should say world over - yearn for is the chance to see their native county performing on the big stage.
To paint a proper picture and make this almost perfect the venue has to be Croke Park; the man standing on the podium in the Hogan Stand at match end with one hand on a cup must be the President of the day.
To make the picture really perfect the player with one foot on the first step of the stand, trying to pull himself away from adoring supporters, brushing off the lipstick with one hand and straightening his hair for the cameras with the other, simply has to be your own captain.
When that day comes for a Wicklow person, man or woman, everyone in the 'Garden' is smelling of roses. 2012 brought such a dream to reality for Wicklow supporters when Leighton Glynn was the captain supreme as Harry's men turned in their greatest performance of the year to brush aside Peter Canavan's Fermanagh to claim the Division 4 Cup.
For my own part I was back again, looking down from the dizzy heights of the Press Box in Croker at a Wicklow captain waving a cup aloft (in 2011 it was Caitriona McKeon with the All Ireland ladies trophy).
It doesn't happen to us too often so you can bet your bottom dollar that every Wicklow man, woman or child watching live in the great stadium, seeing it on the box or listening to Michael Sargent and Gerry Grehan on radio are unlikely to ever forget what that sample of life in 2012 was like.
I believe that I am speaking for every Wicklow supporter when I say that what we want in the year ahead is more of the same.
The high point of the GAA year in Wicklow was that display against Fermanagh and lifting the Division 4 Cup but on the way to that crowning glory there was many exciting moments and a number of great matches as well.
It was Harry Murphy's first year as manager after he replaced the great Mick O'Dwyer. His selectors were Gavin Wynne and Mick Murphy, who was also physical trainer. Kit Manager was Ciaran Byrne while administrator was Trevor Culbert.
Wicklow made a slow start to the year, as might be expected - losing their first match to DCU in the O'Byrne Cup at Baltinglass.
The students got off to a flying start but a goal by Joey Kelly brought Wicklow level at 1-6 to 0-9. DCU still led be 0-13 to 1-7 at half time.
The final score was DCU 0-18; Wicklow 1-14 but Wicklow missed two frees in the closing stages that could have given them victory.
Wicklow 2-16; Athlone IT 1-10 Harry's men bounced back a week later with a win over another collage team at Baltinglass. Paul Cronin, Nicky Mernagh, Tony Hannon and Rory Finn were the top scorers.
Wicklow lost to Wexford in the Shield semi-final at Enniscorthy but only after their best display of the New Year. It was a goal in the second period of extra time that saw the home side scrape a win - 115 to 0-17.
National Football League
In the NFL Wicklow beat Kilkenny 3-25 to 1-1; Limerick 2-13 to 0-14; Carlow 1-9 to 0-10; Leitrim 213 to 1-10; London 1-16 to 0-10; Clare 1-15 to 1-12.
We lost to Fermanagh 0-9 to 0-11 and Waterford 1-12 to 4-7 before beating Fermanagh in the final 216 to 1-11 in Croke Park. That was a day we had long dreamed of.
When captain Leighton Glynn received the cup from President Liam O'Neill, it was the moment that Wicklow supporters had long been waiting for.
We are not going through the League blow for blow but a couple of performances did stand out.
One was against a fancied Limerick team in Aughrim when the 'Wicklow People' report said - 'Harry did two things on Sunday - he played himself into favour with the Wicklow supporters and he probably got another brick or two in place in his team building operations'.
U-21 captain Dean Healy had a great game; Rory Finn established himself as a midfielder while Mick McLoughlin impressed at centre back.
Wicklow won by 2-13 to 0-14 and the scorers were - Tony Hannon 1-4; Leighton Glynn 1-3; Seanie Furlong 0-5; Rory Finn 0-1.
The second stand out performance was the day we clinched promotion with a win over Clare in Aughrim.
It was a fully fired up Clare team that needed only a draw to clinch promotion and leave Wicklow still stranded in no man's land.
However Wicklow were on fire, from John Flynn, who brought off some spectacular high catches in goal to 'top of the left' (as Michael O'Hehir would say) John McGrath every man gave his all.
Chester Kelly stood out in defence; James Stafford controlled the airways while Rory Finn was consistency itself.
Leighton Glynn played a captain's part while Tony Hannon who scored 0-7 and Anthony McLoughlin were others to shine in a good team performance. The final score was - Wicklow 1-15; Clare 1-12.
The team that beat Fermanagh in the final was: John Flynn, Ciaran Hyland, Anthony McLoughlin, Alan Byrne, Dean Healy, Michael McLoughlin, Stephen Kelly, James Stafford, Rory Finn, Leighton Glynn, Daragh O'Sullivan, Darren Hayden, Tony Hannon, Seanie Furlong, John McGrath. Subs used: Peadar Burke and Paul Earls.
With the League title and promotion safely in the bag Harry was free to concentrate on the championship. The draw was not too favourable and waiting to ambush us in the first round was the old enemy.
We lost to Meath in that first round of the Leinster Championship 0-11 to 0-16 without ever finding the rhythm or the passion we displayed in the League final.
Wicklow got off to a flying start and went five points up but in hindsight that could have led to a little complacency in an inexperienced team. By half time Meath had got the deficit down to a single point (0-8 to 0-7) and with Wicklow turning over to play against a strengthening wind the signs were not good. And so it turned out to be. Meath were able to lift their game and were soon in the lead and when we lost our captain Leighton Glynn we were really in trouble.
In the end the Royals had five points to spare without managing to get a shot past in-form 'keeper John Flynn.
The only change from the League winning team was that Stephen Byrne (Rathnew) replaced the injured Mick McLoughlin at centre half back. Subs used were Peadar Burke, Paul Earls, Niall Gaffney, Conor McGraynor and Jason Bolger.
We could not complain with our draw in the qualifiers. We beat Waterford at home in Aughrim in the first round by 1-17 to 0-15, thus avenging one of our two League defeats. Again the second round draw gave us a match that we should have been able to win but instead lost to Leitrim at Carrick-on-Shannon 0-10 to 0-13.
It was the end of Harry's first year in charge and while he had delivered to what he promised - to get us out of Division 4 - he may have been a bit disappointed
at the championship form.
For the Junior football team it was also a once off. In more recent years a charity tournament run in Kildare had given us some useful match practice for this team but that was not available in 2012.
Harry, Gavin and Mick were again in charge and they did get in a little preparation before they took on Meath at a Meath venue.
A poor start saw them trail by 0-6 to nil after 15 minutes. Things just had to get better and they did. A goal by Dean Odlum and points by Daniel Woods, Ciaran Walshe and Adam Merriman brought them into the game but they still trailed by 1-8 to 1-3 at half time.
Another goal by sub Aaron Murphy in the second helped but we still lost by 2-4 to 1-16.
Team: Robert Lambert; Shane Mooney, James Kelly, Kevin Hanlon; Barry Murphy, Ian Sheerin, Stephen Farrell; Adam Merriman, Daniel Woods; Brendan McCrea, Matt Gilbert, Theo Smith; Dean Odlum, Ciaran Walshe, Jamie Snell. Sub: Aaron Murphy.
For the second year in a row we failed to even match, not to mention beat Carlow, and with a home venue at that.
Which raises the question - is it not time we resurrected this important grade of football at local level. Carlow got off to a good start at Baltinglass but a goal by Brendan McCrea raised hopes. Carlow still led by 0-9 to 1-2 at half time.
The second half was much better but Carlow still ran out winners by 0-14 to 1-6.
Team: William Hender-Phillips; James Snell, Paul McLoughlin, Kevin Hanlon; Dean Healy, Michael Mangan, Martin O'Brien; Daniel Woods (0-1), Jody Merrigan; Edward Doyle, Thomas Kelly (0-3), John Henderson; Brendan McCrea (1-0), Eamonn Wolfe (0-1), Conor McGraynor (0-1). Subs: Billy Clarkson; Aaron Murphy, Kevin Murphy, Eoin Doyle.
Manage.ent: Damien Byrne and Ronnie Phillips; Selectors: Anthony Nolan, Pat Wogan,
Kit Manager: P.J. O'Connor.
With the Minors
The Minor footballers under Owen Doyle with Liam Cullen, Brendan Daly and Gary Duffy as selectors had a season of ups and downs.
They took a dreadful hammering from a powerful Dublin outfit in the first round of the league and never really figured in that competition
However they started off well in the championship with a win over Laois at Aughrim. The Moore boys came to Aughrim as hot favourites but Owen had got the Wicklow boys well tuned up and a practice match against the All-Ireland Champions had brought them on a ton. They led by 2-1 to 0-3 at half time and were in no way flattered by the final margin of victory.
Scorers: Michael O'Connor scored 1-1; Patrick Phelan 1-1; Daniel Dawson 0-2; Conor French 0-1.
In a second match in Aughrim they lost narrowly to Westmeath 0-10 to 0-7 after missing many scoring chances.
It was definitely a match Wicklow should have won. However they did have a number of players who should figure in Wicklow teams in the years ahead.
Scorers: Michael O'Connor 0-3; Dara Lohan, Conor French, Thomas Donohue and Conor Healy 0-1 each.
Team: Robert Fitzgerald (Annacurra); Jamie Miley (Valleymount), Rory Marron (St Pats), Cathal O'Duallachain (Bray Emmets); Conor Hatton (Tinahely), Dara Lohan (Bray Emmets), P.J. Daly (Kiltegan); Patrick Phelan (Aughrim), Thomas Donohue (Blessington); Daniel Dawson (Dunlavin), Paul Ellis (Rathnew), Aaron Nugent (Ashford); Conor Healy (Donard/Glen), Conor French (St Pats), Michael O'Connor (Blessington). Padraig Kelleher (AGB) played in all other matches while the subs used included - Adam Fleming and David Tompkins (Baltinglass), Andrew Howard (Dunlavin).