Absence of key men a big factor in Wicklow defeat
Leinster U20 Football League: Offaly 4-10 Wicklow 0-12
Offaly proved too strong for Kevin O'Brien's Wicklow under-20 squad in their opening Leinster league encounter at Walsh Island on Saturday afternoon.
In the first of three competitive league fixtures ahead of their crunch Leinster under-20 football championship meeting with Dublin in Aughrim on Saturday, February 8, Wicklow found themselves under pressure well before throw-in with the news that Eoin Darcy, Andy Maher, Zach Cullen and Paddy O'Keane were all unavailable for selection after Senior manager Davy Burke had selected them for the O'Byrne Cup clash with Longford in Aughrim at the same time as the game in Walsh Island.
Nevertheless, a very useful looking panel made the trip to the Offaly venue and while there are plenty of elements of concern and much room for improvement, Kevin O'Brien won't be too despondent given that he will be welcoming all four of the named players back into the panel ahead of the next game this Friday evening in Stradbally against Limerick.
Overall this was a poor performance from the Wicklow side on a calm and dry day in the midlands. Mistakes put the young Garden County side on the backfoot with two of Offaly's four majors coming from Wicklow errors in the first half and sent Kevin O'Brien's men in trailing by four rather than leading by two.
Offaly's midfield superiority will be a major concern to the management team but this was a very impressive Faithful County side with fine physical athletes in the majority of positions and a full-forward line that returned 4-7 (including three frees and an offensive mark) from the total of 4-10.
Things were looking very positive in the opening stages of the game with Matthew Ging (free) and a fine Darragh Rochford point from play answering Offaly's opener from full-forward Jack Bryant (free).
Wicklow were operating a two-man full-forward line with Matthew Ging and Oisin McGraynor the outlets up top and Cillian McDonald withdrawn to his traditional sweeping role. Tinahely's Eoghan Byrne would start at centre back but would see time at full-back and midfield before this game was out.
A handling error led to Offaly's first major of the game after eight minutes and another Bryant free followed immediately to make it 1-2 to 0-2 for the home side.
An offensive mark from Matthew Ging led to Wicklow's next score as the Tinahely man swung that trusty left boot with pleasing precision.
Bryant brought his and Offaly's tally to 1-3 soon after with another free as the strong-running Faithful County players put considerable pressure on the hard-working Wicklow defenders.
Progress up the field was proving easier for the home side but Wicklow were finding gaps here and there with Gavin Fogarty, Craig McGuire, Kevin Quinn and Cillian McDonald all more than willing to cover hard yards before trying to find Ging or McGraynor further ahead.
However, it was a lonely life for the two attackers at times with a hungry Offaly defence handling much of the Wicklow threat and the impressive Clive Keena blocked a decent chance from Oisin McGraynor before Donard-The Glen's Shane Daly curled over a beauty off his left after charging into space inside the Offaly heartland.
A Wicklow kick-out was claimed by Offaly midfielder Peter Byrne with 17 on the clock and he fed Bill Carroll who picked out Micky Cunningham in front of the Wicklow goal and Ben Fennell had no chance from the finish to the back of his net. Wicklow now had a serious job of work on their hands against a physically dominant Offaly side.
A stunning drive off the outside of his left from Matthew Ging from the Offaly 45 reduced the arrears after 23 before points from Offaly's Bill Carroll and Wicklow's Pauric Murray brought the first half to a close with the home side leading by 2-4 to 0-6.
Kevin O'Brien's charges started brightly in the second half with Ging (free) and Eoghan Byrne dropping over fine scores to leave just two between the sides. William Rogers, Arun Daly Danne and Colm Keogh entered the fray at the break.
But Offaly were always dangerous in attack and hit the Wicklow crossbar before Micky Cunningham pointed for the home side.
Wicklow had one of two definite goal chances soon after when Arun Daly Danne pulled his shot wide after seven minutes of the second half but it was the Offaly side who were looking the stronger and they led by 2-8 to 0-10 at the end of the third quarter when disaster would strike for the visitors.
Substitute Jack Dunne would see his shot blocked by Offaly's Kieran Dolan and when Offaly attacked down the wing, a long speculative ball from the right wing drifted over the head of Rogers in the goal with the Wicklow management screaming for attention for full-back Oisin Cullen who had went down injured after a collision while contesting for possession.
That major seemed to knock the stuffing out of the Wicklow men and when Micky Cunningham struck for his hat-trick after 17 it was game over.
Points from Matthew Ging and Oisin McGraynor concluded Wicklow's scoring on a day when they found Offaly's physicality and footballing ability too hot to handle.
Wicklow's remaining fixtures:
Friday, January 10: Wicklow v Limerick in Stradbally, Co. Laois, at 8pm.
Sunday, January 19: Wicklow v Clare in Baltinglass at 1pm
Saturday, February 8: Leinster championship against Dublin in Aughrim. Time TBC.
Scorers - Offaly: Micky Cunningham 3-2, Jack Bryant 1-3 (3f), Aaron Keallaghan 0-2 (1f, 1m), Bill Carroll 0-1, Cathal Donoghue 0-1, Morgan Tynan 0-1. Wicklow: Matthew Ging 0-6 (3f, 1m), Oisin McGraynor 0-2, Darragh Rochford 0-1, Shane Daly 0-1, Pauric Murray 0-1, Eoghan Byrne 0-1.
Wicklow: Ben Fennell; Tom Moran, Oisin Cullen, Jordan Brady; Gavin Fogarty, Eoghan Byrne, Craig McGuire; Darragh Rochford, Ciaran Coffey; Kevin Quinn, Shane Daly, Pauric Murray; Matthew Ging, Oisin McGraynor, Cillian McDonald. Subs: Arun Daly Danne for D Rochford, Colm Keogh for J Brady, William Rogers for B Fennell, Ronan Murray for K Quinn, Jack Dunne for C Coffey, Lee Turner for O Cullen (inj), Kevin Mulhall for C McDonald, Brian Bohan for P Murray.
Offaly: Sean O'Toole; Adam Bolger, Kieran Dolan, Clive Keena; Lee Peerson, Aidan Bracken, Eoin Hyland; Peter Byrne, Cathal Donoghue; Cathal Flynn, Kevin McDermott, Bill Carroll; Micky Cunningham, Jack Bryant, Aaron Keallaghan. Subs: Morgan Tynan for J Bryant (inj), Gavin Young for P Byrne, Sean Flynn for C Flynn; Sean Courtney for A Keallaghan, Paddy Hurley for C Donoghue.
Referee: David Fedigan (Louth)