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Tuesday 20 November 2018

Eoin points Wicklow to mighty win

Wicklow 0-17 London 0-16

Wicklow's Christy Moorehouse and London's Stephen Bardon compete for a high ball during the Christy Ring Cup
Wicklow's Christy Moorehouse and London's Stephen Bardon compete for a high ball during the Christy Ring Cup

Brendan Lawrence

Wicklow hearts skipped a beat when the long arm of Eoin Mc Cormack shot into the air in Aughrim and his Bray hand plucked the flying ball from the air from a London sideline ball in the dying embers of the Christy Ring Cup tussle in Joule Park Aughrim against London.

The sides were level thanks to George O'Brien's lovely floated point moments earlier and the momentum had turned entirely in favour of the Garden county.

And here was Mc Cormack, that lofty frame slipping through a gap in the London defence like a young mountain goat on the way to charm a fertile female, those powerful young limbs powering through the almost impenetrable London territory, each step taking him closer to the Promised Land.

He crosses the 45, three green and white shirts in close proximity.

Did Wicklow deserve a winning point? Damn right they did. Would it be daylight robbery? Get away out of that with yourself, will you.

Seamus Murphy's men had hung on when everything suggested nothing other than a London victory. They had kept battling and fighting at every turn, at every twist in the road.

They hadn't played particularly well and they were encountering a London side who looked as though they might pull away at any moment and put this tie to bed. But they didn't. And they didn't for many reasons, Wicklow courage and persistence being just two of them.

And when a team shows the bottle that Wicklow showed and when they're still in with a shout with 10 minutes to go and when they suddenly seem much fitter than their opponents, it's then that they can go for the jugular. And that's exactly what they did.

Christy Moorehouse's free-taking had pulled us back to within punching distance, those frees earned by the hard work of Andy O'Brien and Eoin Mc Cormack and many more. We're close to the end. A long Gary Hill ball seeks out substitute Tadgh Healy at full-forward. Stephen Kelly is marking him and Martin O'Brien is close by on Shane O'Donnell.

The ball drops out of the afternoon sky like a grenade. Healy turns his back to it, expecting Kelly to miss it or follow him and then the London substitute would take it on the bounce and rip the onion bag and put this tie to bed once and for all.

But this is 'Chester' Kelly. Think Cool Hand Luke. Think calmness personified. Never once does the Éire Óg man take his eye off the dropping ball. As his and Healy's bodies entwine in the danger zone there's only ever going to be one winner and into that welcoming palm of Kelly's hand drops the ball and he clears with vengeance up the field.

This is there for Wicklow. You can feel it. The shockingly small crowd knows it too. The one crying shame about this game was that there were so few people there to see it.

An almost frightened scattering of supporters were dotted around the stand and only the diehard few manned the bank. It was such a pity. It is such a pity that these hurlers don't get the support they deserve.

Any Wicklow GAA supporter who had the pleasure to witnessing Eamonn Kearns' performance last Sunday would have gladly paid double the gate fee.

To witness Andy O'Brien come up against a brick wall in the form of Galway's Ger Mahon and never give up and to always be hunting and pursuing that slimmest hope of a break was an immense pleasure. Chester's catch and overall performance, Martin O'Brien's bravery, Christy's leadership and skill, Garry Byrne's distribution, Danny Staunton's flair, Keddy's engine, John Henderson's endless class, George O'Brien's doggedness and never-say-die attitude, Peter Keane's energy and courage, Masterson's power and tenacity, Warren Kavanagh's no nonsense hurling, Eoghan O'Mahony's steadiness, all the above would fill any Wicklow heart with pride.

Chester's clearance is almost plucked from the sky by a flying Andy O'Brien who has drifted out the field to try and escape the immense shadow of Mahon. The Pat's man can't gather and the ball breaks to Garry Byrne who pulls and the ball goes out off a London body for a sideline to Wicklow. John Connors takes, right outside the officials' dugout. The cut is good but finds only Gary Hill. He's immediately pressurised by Christy Moorehouse and George O'Brien. The ball breaks and goes out and a London sideline is the decision. Has the chance gone?

Hill takes the sideline cut. Sends it dangerously across the field into traffic.

Danny Staunton is there with his opposite number 12 Neil Rogers. Both men's hurls rise into the air. It looks to glance off Rogers' stick and that touch takes it over Staunton and into the path of the rampaging Mc Cormack. Air is sucked hungrily into the hundred or more pairs of lungs in Joule Park Aughrim. Could it be? Could it be?

There goes Mc Cormack, his strike quickens to gain that bit of space, his pursuers are close, their hurls moving in to hook. He takes a glance at the posts. There they are like they've always been, waiting patiently for Wicklow dreams to come true, welcoming all hopes and ambitions if only the foundations were right to get them that far. And here we are.

Mc Cormack swings. The strike is good. Nothing outrageous. He's not looking to land it in Doyle's of Ballinglen or anything. It's a textbook strike, sweet and true, over the black spot. Get over you little beauty. Up go the cheers and the yells and the pride and the passion.

This is all anyone wants. Up goes the white flag. Wicklow lead by one. The ball is pucked out. The whistle sounds. Happy days.

There's surely no sweeter feeling than winning a battle that looked to be getting away from you until the closing stages.

To be able to turn things around and then pluck victory from the jaws of defeat is something that makes sports fans keep returning again and again, that drives players onwards and upwards time and time again.

Seamus Murphy's men won't be getting carried away with this narrow victory. The Rathnure man and coach Michael Neary will be far too experienced and intelligent to let the momentary high after the final whistle go to the players' heads. A clincial mind would deduce that Wicklow did not play that well on Sunday, leaving aside the battling qualities and individual moments of superb hurling.

The long journey home will have provided the London men ample time to reflect on two gift-wrapped goal chances, the three-on-one in the opening half and O'Loughlin's chance in the second that was thwarted by the defending of Martin O'Brien, and their overall failure to see out the game when it looked to be theirs for the taking.

Edmund Kenny opened their account in Joule Park Aughrim and Shane Lawless fired wide as London started the game very well. Wicklow steadied the ship and started to attack. George O'Brien was named at half-forward but lined out in the corner with Diarmuid Masterson coming out the field.

The best of the early chances fell to Andy O'Brien who might have had a goal from a long George O'Brien ball but for the quick wrist of Ger Mahon who flicked the ball off the line to relative safety. Mahon pursued the ball out long the endline but pressure from Andy gave Eoin Mc Cormack the chance to gather and he passed to Christy Moorehouse who was blocked and the ball eventually came to Ronan Keddy who fed Masterson and the Bray man lofted over for Wicklow's opener.

It was pretty much tit for tat for the rest of the first half with Moorehouse (5), Andy, and a Danny Staunton rocket thanks to a sublime Garry Byrne ball down the wing left Wicklow trailing by 0-11 to 0-08 at the break with London showing a superior edge during the opening 35.

At 0-12 to 0-08 in the early stages of the second half the signs were there that London could pull away if they clicked into that higher gear but they just couldn't shake Wicklow off. Anto Byrne came in for Peter Keane and his physicality shook things up in the middle third.

Chrsity pointed a free won by George O'Brien. O'Loughlin hit back with one of his own and then one from play. Luke Maloney was sent in for Warren Kavanagh. Masterson pointed. Andy followed his example with a bomb from the sideline. Christy with a free. And then another.

But London are a good side. They put a bit more daylight between the sides. John Connors comes in for Masterson. The clock is ticking. George O'Brien pops up and swings over a beauty. The sides are level. And there's Mc Cormack, mighty Mc Cormack, the man with a wand for a hurl. And over she goes.

Scorers - Wicklow: Christy Moorehouse 0-10 (6f, 1 65), Andy O'Brien, Diarmuid Masterson 0-2 each, George O'Brien, Danny Staunton, Eoin McCormack 0-1 each. London: Kevin O'Loughlin 0-9 (4fs, 2 65s), Edmund Kenny 0-2, Enda Cooney, Mark Dwyer, Shane Lawless, Neil Rogers, Shane O'Donnell 0-1 each.

Wicklow: Eoghan O'Mahony; Warren Kavanagh, Stephen Kelly, Martin O'Brien; Garry Byrne, John Henderson, Eamonn Kearns; Ronan Keddy, Peter Keane; George O'Brien, Christy Moorehouse, Danny Staunton; Diarmuid Masterson, Andy O'Brien, Eoin McCormack. Subs: Anto Byrne for P Keane (40), Luke Maloney for W Kavanagh (48), John Connors for D Masterson (60).

London: Eoin Kelly; Mark Conroy, Ger Mahon, Paul Horkan; Stephen Bardon, Brian Regan, Gary Hill; Enda Cooney, Mark Dwyer; Richard Murphy, PJ Rowe, Neil Rogers; Shane Lawless, Edmund Kenny, Kevin O'Loughlin. Subs: Oisin Gately for S Bardon (42), Shane O'Donnell for S Lawless (44), Tadhg Healy 7 for R Murphy (50), Daryl Roberts for E Kenny (62).

Referee: J O'Brien (Laois)

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