Weekend to remember for Wicklow supporters
THE success starved Wicklow supporters at last got a weekend to remember - and some silverware to go with it.
Casey O'Brien and his brave band of hurlers got the show on the road at Pairc Tailteann, Navan on Saturday when they took on hot favourites Down in the final of Division 2B of the National Hurling League. National finals are never easy to win as another fancied team, Carlow, found out the next day.
Motivation has never been a problem for Casey but this time he had three good reasons for wanting to win this one
First, he needed to avenge an earlier eight point defeat by Down in the first round of the league in Ballycran this year; secondly, it would see the captain, Wayne O'Gorman, lift the Cup as champions of the division and finally, it earned Casey O'Brien's side promotion to a higher division of the league - something he has always claimed was his top priority.
A lighting fast start in both halves was the key that opened the door to this win over the hot favourites. It put Down on the back foot and left them playing 'catch-up' for most of the way.
And a 'lighting' start it certainly was. His team were on their toes and rearing to go as the referee was masking the final check with his umpires and linesmen to see that every thing was in order.
Ronan Keddy grabbed the sliotor from the throw-in, spotted Dainel Staunton sprinting into space and fed him the pass about 60m out. The umpire was reaching for the flag with only 15 seconds gone.
'Lightning' was most certainly the word that would adequately describe the Wicklow start. Mikey Lee, who was listed at centre forward, won possession out near the sideline from the puck out and drove the ball back over the bar with 45 seconds gone.
Jonathan O'Neill won the next puck out again returned the ball in to Andy O'Brien who was fouled on the stroke of 60 seconds and Lee converted the free.
Down staged their first attack and won, but missed, a free and Wicklow were back for another point by Lee in the fourth minute.
Daniel Staunton set up Andy O'Brien, who had started at full forward, for Wicklow's fifth point before Conor Woods pointed a free for Down's first score. Wayne O'Gorman, who was wearing number 14 but had taken up a roving commission, had a great point from out on the wing but Down, who were coming strongly into the game, got the next four points to leave only two between the sides.
Jonathan O'Neill set up his club mate O'Gorman for a point but that brought a quick reply from the Mourne men.
The game had levelled out after that with Down hitting over some great points and by the 20th minute only two points separated the sides.
Wicklow pulled away again with Lee and Christy Moorehouse benefiting from good work by O'Gorman and Andy O'Brien getting points and by half time the score stood at Wicklow 0-12; Down 0-9 .
Again Wicklow hit the ground running in the second half with Wayne O'Gorman playing a captain's part sending over a point inside a minute.
Daniel Staunton and Andy O'Brien had tacked on points and the gap was out to six again. An exchange of points between Christy Moorehouse and Conor O'Prey followed before the game took a turn in Down's favour.
Scott Nicholson, who had come into the Down attack for the second half, drilled home the only goal of the match and Down were back in business. In the past that could have been the beginning of the end for Wicklow hopes but not with this team.
Their reply was fast and effective. Andy sent over a smart point. Staunton set up O'Gorman for another and when Mikey Lee pointed a free the goal had been wiped out, all inside three minutes.
Probably the biggest cheer on the match came when Jonathan O'Neill took a pass from Staunton and sent over a great long range point. 'Bosco' returned the compliment a minute later when he set up Staunton.
Wicklow still had a fight on their hands; from the 18th to the 28th minutes Down scored four unanswered points. Mikey Lee stopped the rot with a point. However, two points in added time left only a single point between the sides.
Down were now going flat out for the equaliser that would have sent the game to extra time. However, Lee came to the rescue again with a point from play in the 38th minute and it was all over.
Man of the match? Near enough impossible to call. Mikey Lee's 10 points must put him in pole position. Wayne O'Gorman played a captain's part and worked like a Trojan all through.
The very young players like Daniel Staunton and John Henderson are maturing all the time.
Ted was as sound as ever in goal and could not be faulted for the one that beat him. 'Chester' was again the pillar in defence; with Liam Kennedy also keeping his man very quiet.
Ronan Keddy's power and drive at midfield was all important. The strength and hurling skill of Andy was another big factor.
And what about substitute Geoffrey Berminghan? If Bosco's point got the cheer of the match then the entry of another great veteran was a good second.
A good all round display by Wicklow with most of the stand out players in the attack but Casey O'Brien still has some tightening up to do in defence before they take on Kildare in the first match in the Christy Ring Cup at Newbridge in four weeks time.
John Horan, Chairman of Leinster Council presented the Cup to Wicklow captain, Wayne O'Gorman.
Scorers - Wicklow - Mikey Lee 0-10 (6f); Wayne O'Gorman 0-4; Andy O'Brien and Daniel Staunton 0-3 each; Christy Moorehouse 0-2; Jonathan O'Neill 0-1.
Down - Scott Nicholson 1-1; Johnny McCusker 0-6 (5f), Connor O'Prey 0-3; Conor Woods 0-3f; Conor O'Neill 0-2; Sean Ennis 0-1;Daniel Toner 0-1; Fintain Conway 0-1.
Footnote - What about the 'incident'; Yes, we did have one very brief incident near the end of this game.
The referee intervened quickly and handed out two yellow cards; then realising that the Down player was already booked he called him back and made that a red.
The Down man, midfielder Fintain Conway reacted violently; charged at Jonathan O'Neill who was not involved, struck and kicked him before he was restrained and brought to the line.
Later, Christy Moorehouse was also sent to the line so both teams were down to 14 men. But, credit to Moorehouse, when the final whistle sounded he went directly to the player who he had fouled and shook hands.