AFTER A good start to the division two league Wicklow's hurlers look as if they may be headed towards a play off against Down to stave of a quick demotion.
KERRY 2-22 WICKLOW 1-12
Following their first defeat to Kerry at Aughrim on Sunday they have slipped from third place in the table to joint fourth with the Kingdom.
And Kerry have the easier games left against Derry and Down, whereas Wicklow may need a miracle if they are to take league points from either of the two front runners Carlow and Westmeath in their remaining matches.
Certainly the Gods were not smiling on Casey O'brien's men on Sunday. They gifted a goal to Kerry after just six minutes, were denied a first half penalty when Enan Glynn appeared to be grounded as he bore down on goal, and then lost their ace-free taker and talismanic player Jonathan O'neill to injury before half time.
Any notions that Kerry might come to Aughrim in disarray after manager John Meyler dropped three of the four Boyle brothers over playing soccer in the midst of their training programme were quickly dispelled as the visitors displayed the sharper hurling skills and more focussed tactics than Wicklow from the off.
However, there is great spirit and passion in the present Wicklow hurling squad and they were not going to concede without a fight.
Three times they led their fancied opponents in the first quarter as Enan Glynn posted the opening point in the first minute following a long free out of defence by Geoffrey Bermingham; John Connors stroked to the net after more good work by Bermingham in reply to Kerry's Shane Nolan and Jonathan O' Neill drilled a free between the sticks to cancel a point for Kerry by corner-forward Shane Brick.
Wicklow led by 1-2 to 1-1 after 13 minutes and were unfortunate in the extreme to concede Shane Nolan's goal after six minutes.
Nolan's strike from just outside the small square was well blocked by Wicklow's inside defence, but the sliothar wriggled its way between Joe Murphy's body and hurley to find the net.
Minutes later Joe Murphy was to demonstrate what a fine keeper he has become this year as brought off a brilliant diving save to deflect the ball around the post for a 65, which was converted into a point by Shane Brick instead of a goal.
At corner-forward Shane Brick, a hurler of real quality, was a huge thorn in Wicklow's defence throughout this match as he banged over ten glorious points from play and frees. His striking was crisp and sharper than Wicklow's and that was a feature of the Kerry game throughout the field.
In the other corner Shane Nolan was almost as effective for the Kingdom and between them they accounted for 2-13 of the winner's 2-22 total.
Darren Dineen and Colm Harty chipped in with supplementary scores for the Kingdom, but Wicklow remained in strong contention throughout the half, only trailing by four points 1-6 to 1-10 at the break.
Of more serious concern to Wicklow at that stage was the shoulder injury sustained by Bosco five minutes before half time. Wicklow will be without their sharpshooter forward for the remainder of the league and we will be lucky to even have him back in time for the Christy Ring Cup where our opponents will also be Kerry.
Andy O'brien only made his mark on this game when he took over free-taking duties from Bosco, landing his first point in the 35 minute.
Eamonn Kearns and Ronan Keddy had dominated midfield a week earlier against Down, but this time they had to play second fiddle to a slicker Kerry pair Willie O'dwyer and Darragh O'connell.
But then Wicklow were under pressure in a lot of departments in this match. But ever reliable Geoffrey Bermingham hurled defiance at the Kerry men all the way.
Stephen Chester Kelly, who had played for Wicklow's footballers earlier, also lined out for the hurlers at centre-forward, showing what a lion-hearted player he is. As the game progressed he switched to wing-back, Thomas Doyle moved to attack in the hope that it would bring a change in Wicklow's fortunes.
Again we had a promising start to the second half as Enan Glynn provided a response to Shane Nolan's opener for Kerry; Andy O'brien pointed his second free, and then the Saint Patrick's man was denied a goal by Kerry keeper Bernard Rochford with a smart save.
A goal at that stage might well have kick-started Wicklow's second half, especially as they were now playing against the wind. Still there was plenty of fight in the home team, even if they lacked the finer skills of the Kerry men, and there was still only four points between the teams at the three quarter stage (1-10 to 1-14) after Tommy Doyle and Andy O'brien (free) had rifled over two more points for Wicklow.
Tommy Doyle's point was set up by John Henderson who replaced John Connors. Henderson is one of those young players who are the future for Wicklow hurling and plenty of game time at this level can only bring out the best in him.
Kerry took over in the final quarter as they ran in eight points to Wicklow's two and they also had a second clinching goal from Shane Nolan on 63 minutes.
We always knew it was never going to be easy in the higher division two. This is a learning curve for Wicklow, gaining experience at the higher grade, with the hope of pushing on from here in coming years.
Furthermore we did keep pace with Kerry for three quarters of the game; now we need to bring up our hurling skills to their level.
Scorers for Kerry: Shane Brick (0-10, four frees, two 65, rest from play), Shane Nolan (23), Darren Dineen (0-2), James Flaherty (0-3), Ally O'connor (0-1), Colm Harty (0-1), Darragh O'connell (0-1), Pad Joe Connolly (0-1).
Wicklow: Patrick Farrell (1-0), Andy O'brien (0-4, frees), Jonathan O'neill (0-3, two frees), Tommy Doyle (0-2), Enan Glynn (0-2), Christy Moorehouse (0-1).