Micko's Garden party continues
WICKLOW 1-18, SLIGO 0-16
ALL-IRELAND SFC QUALIFIER
HIS face displays the passage of time now, but the boyish smile that beams out from Mick O'Dwyer after a championship victory remains a hallmark image of a GAA summer.
He was at it again in Aughrim on Saturday night as Kevin Walsh's Sligo became the latest in a long line of supposed favourites to meet their end in the Wicklow football fortress.
It was a match that had been billed as the last leg of Micko's stroll with the Garden.
But a lively encounter ended with Wicklow advancing into the second round of the qualifiers after deservedly seeing off a Sligo side who were thwarted by a defiant display from Leighton Glynn and Co.
Sligo boss Walsh refused to discuss his managerial future after the defeat and he lashed out at the decision of referee Eddie Kinsella to play only three minutes of added time.
But there was no disputing the fact that an excellent 62nd-minute goal from teenage substitute Conor McGraynor was the decisive score and just reward for a tireless Wicklow and their tireless 75-year-old manager O'Dwyer.
"Since I came here, we haven't been beaten in Aughrim in the championship. We have lost in the league but not in the championship, and, as you know, that's the only thing that matters -- the championship," grinned O'Dwyer afterwards.
"I think it's one of the best performances by a Wicklow team since I came here, because we were up against it all the way. Three points up against a strong wind in the second half, I thought wouldn't be enough.
"The midfield played very well. Both of them were terrible against Kildare the last day. Our team in general didn't perform the last day, but that's part and parcel of football."
The hard graft of Eamonn O'Hara and the impressive finishing of corner-forward Adrian Marren looked like a solid foundation for Sligo.
But Wicklow's ability to force turnovers in the tackle and the aerial dominance of James Stafford and Rory Finn prevented Sligo from gaining the upper hand.
"Hats off to my own fellas. We've had a very chequered season with injuries and suspensions and everyone on the pitch tried their best and it just wasn't good enough," said Walsh, before being critical of the added time played.
"We more than likely wouldn't have caught Wicklow as they were pulling away at the end, but for other teams involved I'd certainly like someone to look at how these referees end up with two or three minutes (added time) every single day and it's an absolute joke as far as I'm concerned.
"I felt there were a good few injuries and more than three minutes to be played. It has happened in other games and it can be frustrating if there is only one point in it. It would have happened to us last year, definitely, in the Connacht final.
"There were three minutes given here and there were possibly four or five in it. It doesn't matter, we're out of it for the year, but it's something I'd like the GAA to look at and tighten up on; maybe have an independent (time keeper) so the referee can get on with his job."
Wicklow were forced into four changes before throw-in through injury. But with a strong wind behind them and Glynn revelling in a roving role, they started brightly.
However, Marren was proving unmarkable and being fed plenty of ball through the hard work of O'Hara and Mark Breheny.
The sides were level on 0-6 apiece after 25 minutes but Wicklow's aerial dominance began to really tell and classy points from Stafford, Finn, Tony Hannon and Glynn helped them go in 0-10 to 0-7 up at the break. They were unlucky not to be further in front -- Tony Taylor cleared a Nicky Mernagh shot off the line.
After 10 minutes Marren had got Sligo level again, before a Mernagh point and an excellent Sean Furlong free moved Wicklow clear.
Wicklow's intensity was causing problems for Sligo, who were spilling ball and unable to live with Wicklow's direct approach.
The Garden county's big break came in the 62nd minute when Brendan Egan misplaced a ball at midfield and it was snapped up by substitute McGraynor, who, with his first touch, drove at the Sligo goal and struck a low shot to the corner of the net.
From the kick-out, Sligo attacked and looked certain to cancel out that score when Marren was through on goal, but his shot was well saved by John Flynn and Wicklow rode out the storm.
"It was a wonderful display of good open football with some great scores and movement and the subs who came in performed very well, so there are still a few footballers around Wicklow I think," said Micko.
"That young fella McGraynor is only just out of minor and did his 'Leaving' and is a big man and a good footballer as well, and while there are fellas like him around we have a chance."
SCORERS -- Wicklow: C McGraynor 1-1, T Hannon 0-4 (1f, 2 '45s'), L Glynn (1f), S Furlong (1f) 0-3 each, N Mernagh, J Stafford 0-2 each, D Hayden, R Finn, P Earls 0-1 each. Sligo: A Marren 0-9 (7f), T Taylor 0-3, E O'Hara, B Egan, M Breheny, S Coen 0-1 each.
WICKLOW -- J Flynn 8; C Hyland 5, A Byrne 6, S Kelly 6; A McLoughlin 7, B McGrath 7, D Hayden 7; J Stafford 9, R Finn 8; T Hannon 8, N Mernagh 7, P Earls 7; JP Dalton 7, S Furlong 7, L Glynn 9. Subs: P Higgins 7 for C Hyland (inj, 18), C McGraynor 8 for Dalton (60), P Dalton for T Hannon (71).
SLIGO -- P Greene 6; P McGovern 6, B Kennedy 6, N Ewing 6; C Harrison 7, N McGuire 7, R Donovan 7; E O'Hara 8, B Egan 6; S Gilmartin 6, M Breheny 7, D Rooney 6; S Coen 6, T Taylor 6, A Marren 8. Subs: J Davey 6 for Rooney (41), D Kelly 6 for Coen (46), F Quinn 6 for McGuire (53), P Hughes 6 for Gilmartin (60), I Mullen for Breheny (68).
Ref -- E Kinsella (Laois).