Dunne and dusted
St Patrick's 0-14 Baltinglass 0-12
St Patrick's got their hands on their first silverware of 2019 when team captain Stephen Duffy lifted the Dunne Cup for the third year running after beating Baltinglass in Aughrim on Tuesday evening last after a competitive and entertaining encounter.
Played before a tiny crowd in the county grounds, the attendance probably reflected the overall importance of the fixture to both teams as much as Duffy's few words did when presented with the cup when he showed his appreciation for the victory and he hoped that both teams would meet again later in the year when the stakes were monumentally higher.
The phrase 'a dress rehearsal for the county final' was uttered on more than one occasion in Aughrim on Tuesday evening. It's a tad premature but nobody neutral would complain about the Senior championship coming down a clash between these two ambitious and useful teams. At times this was a very decent affair. Other times it wasn't, but there's both time and room for improvement by both and it's an awful long road until the county final.
Positives for Pat's were the performances of their full-back line of Wayne Doyle, Shane Murley and the excellent Patrick O'Keane, conceding only three points from play and no goals, while Murley looks to be on a mileage bonus given how keen he is to explode up the field. Casey O'Brien witnessed strong showings from Dean Healy, Paudge McWalter, Donie Fitzgerald and Tommy Kelly while he will be very impressed with the showing of corner-forward Conor O'Brien who bagged three points for himself against a handy full-back line.
Baltinglass won't have enjoyed the defeat but Sean O'Brien certainly won't be losing any sleep over it. He will, however, be concerned about John McGrath and the straight red card he picked up for an incident involving Dean Healy that was brought to referee Noel Kinsella's attention by linesman Pat Dunne in the second half. A Baltinglass attack without the services of the former Wicklow attacker will be weaker without his scoring threat and all-round game intelligence.
There were plenty of positives for Baltinglass as well. Peadar Burke's midfield prowess is a pure pleasure to watch. We've become so accustomed to watching Mark Jackson sweep over magical scores that there is a danger we might not appreciate them as much as they should be, but his three points were stunning.
There were also positive showings from Tom Burke, Cian Lee, Chris Heaslip and Adam McHugh and all things being equal this Baltinglass team should be contesting and contesting strong at the business end of this championship.
It was the defending champions who enjoyed the brighter start to this game, firing over three unanswered points in the opening three minutes.
Conor O'Brien fisted over the opener before Donie Fitzgerald and the imperious Paudge McWalter slotted the second and third as Casey O'Brien's men started the game at a blistering pace.
Baltinglass soon came to grips with that and drew level through John McGrath, Chris Heaslip and a Mark Jackson free and they took the lead shortly afterwards through Heaslip who probably should have goaled for his first point when he was through on Ian Murphy but drop kicked it over the crossbar.
A free from Adam McHugh pushed Baltinglass two ahead but Pat's rallied and O'Brien's second and Tommy Kelly's first drew them level at 0-5 apiece after 14 minutes.
A foul on the influential John McGrath saw Mark Jackson depart from his goal-line and drift a beauty over the bar but this was answered by a Donie Fitzgerald point after good work from the relatively quiet Stephen Duffy with 16 on the clock.
Pat's launched a searing attack moments later with Shane Murley hightailing it up the field, but Dean Healy didn't see the full-back and he fired wide when the better option would have been to feed the hungry defender and let him do his worst.
A pull on a Baltinglass arm earned Sean O'Brien's side a free close in and Adam McHugh wafted it over the bar before a strong 10-minute period saw Baltinglass push 0-9 to 0-6 ahead thanks to points from Johnny Keogh and another Mark Jackson free after John McGrath had been fouled by Ciaran Doyle.
As much as it was a positive phase for Baltinglass they would also register a pair of wides while St Pat's would clock up four wayward shots before Stephen Duffry stopped the rot in the 31st minute of the half from a free to leave it 0-9 to 0-7 for Baltinglass at the break.
Casey O'Brien made a double change at the break, bringing in Aidan Dunne and Matthew Traynor for Jack Dunne and Jonathan Delahunt and the former Wicklow hurling manager must have made his feelings known on that first half performance because the defending champions emerged a more focused bunch.
Tommy Kelly closed the gap to one after superb work from Conor O'Brien, Dean Healy drew a fine save from Mark Jackson in the Baltinglass goal, the aforementioned O'Brien fisted his second before Paudge McWalter banged over the lead score to make it 0-10 to 0-9 after 10 minutes of the second half.
She was ding-dong at this stage and McWalter pushed Pat's further ahead before two stunning Peadar Burke points dragged Baltinglass back level as the third quarter ended.
Tommy Kelly and Johnny Keogh traded scores to leave it at 0-12 apiece but that would be the last time Baltinglass would trouble the umpires in this game and they would lose John McGrath to a straight red after an incident with Dean Healy that was spotted by linesman Pat Dunne.
Donie Fitzgerald and Tommy Kelly added two further points for Casey O'Brien's men by the 22nd minute and that would be that for the scoring exploits.
Baltinglass would register three wides before the final whistle, Pat's one, right at the death from a Stephen Duffy free, for a fairly disappointing end to what was a reasonable game.
It'll take a very good performance to dispose of the defending champions. Baltinglass are most certainly one of the few teams who would be capable of that in the white heat of championship.
Interesting times ahead.
Scorers - St Patrick's: Tommy Kelly 0-4, Conor O'Brien 0-3, Donie Fitzgerald 0-3, Paudge McWalter 0-3, Stephen Duffy 0-1.
Baltinglass: Mark Jackson 0-3 (3f), Adam McHugh 0-2 (1f), Chris Heaslip 0-2, Johnny Keogh 0-2, Cian Lee 0-2, John McGrath 0-1.
St Patrick's: Ian Murphy; Wayne Doyle, Shane Murley, Patrick O'Keane; Ciaran Doyle, Dean Healy, Paudge McWalter; John Crowe, Jonathan Delahunt; Jack Dunne, Donal Fitzgerald, Bryan Doyle; Conor O'Brien, Stephen Duffy, Tommy Kelly. Subs: Aidan Dunne for J Dunne (H/T), Matthew Traynor for J Delahunt (H/T).
Baltinglass: Mark Jackson; Darragh Doyle, Tom Burke, Paddy Kirwan; Stephen Heaslip, John Murray, Paddy Whelan; Mikey English, Cian Lee; Johnny Keogh, Peadar Burke, John McGrath; Chris Heaslip, Jordan Deans, Adam McHugh. Subs: Sean O'Brien for J Deans (56), Tadgh O'Toole for A McHugh
Referee: Noel Kinsella (Lacken-Kilbride)