Allianz NFL Division 4: Wicklow 2-11 Waterford 1-6
Wicklow are off the mark in the 2020 Allianz National Football League after recording a well-earned win over Waterford in Aughrim on Sunday afternoon, courtesy of a composed and clinical performance that saw Eoin Darcy and Chris O'Brien grab goals in the second-half.
After going into the half-time break with a 0-8 to 1-1 advantage over the visitors, Wicklow turned the screw in the second; substitute Eoin Darcy scoring a well-taken goal midway through the half, before setting up AGM clubman O'Brien for the second.
Despite getting the game's first goal, in the first-half, and playing with the win in the closing half, Waterford were unable to claw back the deficit, as they found themselves frustrated by a Garden rearguard that was exceptionally marshalled by Niall Donnelly, Paddy O'Keane, and Dan Keane.
Going into Sunday's game in Aughrim, the persistent narrative surrounded Wicklow's inability to turn possession into scores on the board, having registered just nine points in their Division Four opener in Carlow.
With that in mind, manager Davy Burke handed Kiltegan's Seanie Furlong his first competitive start for the county since he stepped away from the fold last year. That would prove to be an inspired choice as the second-half full-forward line, consisting of Eoin Darcy (substitute), Chris O'Brien, and the aforementioned Furlong notched up 2-7 between them.
It took just a minute for Furlong to advocate this decision, as he opened the scoring from a free that was won by Dean Healy.
Healy added to the scoring shortly thereafter, leaving Darren Hayden to cap off this bright start with a score of his own. Jason Curry would grab the away side's first point with seven minutes on the board, before Furlong got his second of the day at the end of a counter-attack that started with a shot that dropped into the arms of Mark Jackson, and involved Darren Hayden, Mark Kenny, Chris O'Brien, and Andy Maher.
Despite being well on top, Wicklow's deserved three-point advantage was instantly extinguished on the quarter-hour, when Darragh Corcoran put the ball into the back of the net, irrespective of the best efforts of Mark Jackson on the goal-line. Waterford would mount a mini-resurgence, but were found wanting when in scoreable areas; registering seven wides and four dropped shots in the game.
To quell the rising Deise tide, Burke introduced Dan Keane for Andy Maher in an attempt to give them added steel at the back. The change worked, as Wicklow regained their composure to finish the half well, including preventing Waterford from scoring for the remainder of the half.
Chris O'Brien saw a shot cleared off the line by a defender after Mark Kenny had robbed goalkeeper Paudie Hunt of the ball. Moments later, Hayden fed Rory Finn, who struck the left-hand post with his resulting shot.
Wicklow would kick on from there; Seanie Furlong (2), Mark Jackson (45'), and Chris O'Brien all splitting the posts to send them into half-time with an 0-8 to 1-1 lead.
Such was the extent of their past offensive struggles in this winter's O'Byrne Cup, as well as last weekend's game in Carlow - in addition to the wind that would be blowing in Waterford's favour in the second-half - there was always a danger that Wicklow would rue their missed goal chances in the end.
They would cope with such elements in the second period, however, instead putting in a controlled performance that saw them not only restrict Waterford to just five points, but also outscore them entirely.
Dermot Ryan scored off an advanced mark for the visitors to kick-off second-half proceedings, before Eoin Darcy - brought in at half-time for Conor Byrne - grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck to steer Wicklow into a commanding position.
Dean Healy and Podge O'Toole traded possession on the edge of the Waterford area, before the latter fed Seanie Furlong, who saw a subsequent shot spectacularly saved by Paudie Hunt. On hand was Eoin Darcy, who reacted quickest to fist the ball into the back of the net.
Waterford would react well to the set-back. Assisted by some occasionally suspect officiating by referee David Hickey, Jason Curry split the posts with three frees from a total of 12 frees that were awarded to the visitors by Hickey in the second-half.
Wicklow continued to dominate the ball in hand, however, and showed an improved ability to turn such dominance into vital scores.
Darren Hayden got the pick of the bunch with a terrific strike from out on the right-hand side.
Seanie Furlong capped of an assured personal showing with his fifth score, coming off of a typically incisive run from Dean Healy in midfield.
Finally, with less than ten minutes left to play, Burke's men capped off a professional second-half display with a well-worked goal.
Once again, Darren Hayden was in the thick of events. The Éire Óg stalwart combined well with Mark Kenny and Padraig O'Toole. O'Toole then lifted the ball across the square to Eoin Darcy, who showed great awareness to fist the ball into Chris O'Brien, who then buried the ball past the helpless Paudie Hunt.
Waterford would get one last chance to put a gloss on proceedings as the game entered injury-time, only for the marauding Darragh Corcoran to see a shot brilliantly saved by Mark Jackson. That was all she wrote for the Deise, as Wicklow opened their league account with a vital home win, with Sligo coming to Aughrim next Sunday, February 9.
Scorers: Wicklow: Seanie Furlong (0-5; 0-2f), Chris O'Brien (1-1; 0-1f), Eoin Darcy (1-1), Darren Hayden (0-2), Dean Healy (0-1), Mark Jackson (0-1 45'). Waterford: Jason Curry (0-4; 0-3f), Darragh Corcoran (1-0), Dermot Ryan (0-1f), Dylan Guiry (0-1).
Wicklow: Mark Jackson; Oisin Manning (for Jack Hamilton), Jamie Snell, Paddy O'Kane; Darren Hayden, Niall Donnelly, Dave Devereux (for Darragh Fitzgerald); Padraig O'Toole, Dean Healy; Rory Finn, Mark Kenny (for Gearóid Murphy), Andy Maher (for Dan Keane); Conor Byrne (for Eoin Darcy), Chris O'Brien, Seanie Furlong.
Waterford: Paudie Hunt; Darach O'Cathasaigh, Brian Looby, Robbie Flynn; Darragh Corcoran, Seanie O'Donovan, Dermot Ryan; Michael Curry (for Corey Kirwan), Mike Kiely (for Aaron Jones); Dylan Guiry (for Niall McSweeney), Jason Curry (for James Beresford), Jason Gleeson (for Donie Fitzgerald); Conor Murray, Brian Lynch, Stephen Curry.