O'Byrne Cup victory a real positive ahead of league
Bord na Mona O'Byrne Cup: Wicklow 2-9 Longford 0-14
Dramatic heroics from Chris O'Brien at one end, and Robert Lambert at the other, gave Davy Burke and the Wicklow senior footballers a confidence boosting win over Longford in their final O'Byrne Cup clash in a perfect start to 2020.
O'Brien blasted home a late, late goal in the second-half to seal the come-from-behind victory, following a first half in which goalkeeper Robert Lambert made a pair of tremendous saves to deny Longford certain goals.
The win is Wicklow's first in this season's O'Byrne Cup, and ends their campaign on a high with three weeks to go before they travel to Carlow in the league, on January 25.
Wicklow approached their final O'Byrne Cup clash with all guns blazing with a high line when out of possession, and the commitment of numbers up the field with ball in hand.
The end result was an open first half. Rory Finn put the hosts into the lead with just over a minute on the clock, only for Daniel Mimnagh to produce two fine scores to turn the game in Longford's favour.
Wicklow weren't behind for long, as Dean Healy used his signature powerful runs from deep to grab a pair of points to put his side into the lead.
Those scores from the St. Pat's stalwart came with just seven minutes on the clock, and would be as good as it got for Wicklow before a difficult middle portion of the half.
Four quick-fire scores from Dessie Reynolds (2), Iarla O'Sullivan, and Darragh Doherty (free) put Longford in command with 0-6 to 0-3. Those were followed by a clever Rian Brady point to give the visitors a four-point cushion.
While Wicklow were continuing to commit men forward at will, options in behind the Longford backline were few and far between. Meanwhile, Longford were looking incredibly dangerous on the counter-attack, as best seen when Rian Brady split the posts mere seconds after Chris O'Brien saw a shot drop helplessly into the Longford keeper's arms.
Despite Wicklow's struggles in the middle portion of the first-half, the difference remained at four points, setting the stage for the half to be flipped on its head when Conor Byrne was brought down in the Longford square for a Wicklow penalty. Rory Finn calmly sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, closing the gap to one point at 1-4 to 0-8.
Longford responded straight away, only for Robert Lambert to produce a fantastic save down to his left-hand side to deny Daniel Mimnagh a goal. Buoyed by this, Wicklow ended the half well to turn affairs around; Mark Kenny equalising before Chris O'Brien sent the hosts into the break in front at 1-6 to 0-8.
Before O'Brien could grab the leading point, Lambert was once again on hand to thwart Mimnagh, which he did with another strong hand down to his left. Having committed an error that cost Wicklow a goal last time out last time out, against Kildare, Lambert was rising to the challenge presented by Mark Jackson's injury.
Compared to the first half, the second half was a damp squib up until Chris O'Brien's late, late goal stole the victory. Following a bright start to the period, with Eoin Darcy scoring his first point as part of the senior football fold, Longford spent large parts in control, and comfortable in the lead that they would accumulate.
The increasingly influential Rian Brady grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with four points, reclaiming the lead in the process. While Brady was finding it harder to miss with his strikes, Wicklow were finding no such joy whenever they managed to manufacture opportunities in front of the Longford sticks; nine shots dropping short into the arms of Longford goalkeeper David Mulvihill, despite the wind that was blowing in the Garden's favour in the second-half.
And yet, irrespective of the hold that Longford had of possession throughout a lacklustre, meandering second half, they were unable to create parity with Wicklow, which set the stage for Wicklow to turn the tables through the very way that they were guilty of passing up chances.
The lively Conor Byrne, making his first pre-season appearance, stole the ball in Longford territory. Following a short skirmish on the ground, Dean Healy came away with possession and worked it into Cian O'Sullivan. The Dunlavin youngster swung a high, hopeful ball towards the opposition square, only for substitute goalkeeper Pat Farrell to merely punch the ball into open space, under pressure from Pádraig O'Toole. On hand was Chris O'Brien, who collected the possession and dispatched it into the back of the Longford net.
All of a sudden, the dying embers of an otherwise forgettable 35 minutes of football came alive, as the visitors came in search of an equalising score, only to be met by a defensive line that had something to hold onto; Jack Hamilton, Wayne Doyle, and Paddy O'Keane putting in crucial tackles to keep them at bay.
Keep them at bay they did, and Wicklow came away with their first victory of the O'Byrne Cup to kick off 2020 in style, just three weeks out from beginning their Division 4 promotion push.
Scorers: Wicklow: Chris O'Brien (1-2; 0-2f); Rory Finn (1-1; 1-0 penalty), Dean Healy (0-2), Conor Byrne (0-1), Eoin Darcy (0-1), Mark Kenny (0-1). Longford: Rian Brady (0-6; 0-3f), Darragh Doherty (0-3f), Daniel Mimnagh (0-2), Dessie Reynolds (0-2), Iarla O'Sullivan (0-1).
Wicklow: Robert Lambert; Jack Hamilton, Jamie Snell, Paddy O'Keane; David Devereux, Wayne Doyle, Thomas Kearns; Padraig O'Toole, Rory Finn; Andy Maher, Eoin Darcy, Dean Healy; Mark Kenny, Chris O'Brien, Conor Byrne. Subs: Paddy O'Rourke for J Hamilton, Zach Cullen for D Devereux, Eoin Murtagh for T Kearns, Daniel Keane for R Finn, Cian Lee for E Darcy, Cian O'Sullivan for M Kenny.
Longford: David Mulvihill; Liam Hughes, Andrew Farrell, PJ Masterson; Iarla O'Sullivan, Michael Quinn, Shane Farrell; Barry O'Farrell, Kevin Diffley; Colm Smyth, Daniel Mimnagh, Dessie Reynolds; Rian Brady, Gary Rogers, Darragh Doherty. Subs: Pat Farrell for D Mulvihill, Michael Cahill for PJ Masterson, Liam Connerton for C Smyth, Ciaran Willians for R Brady.
Referee: David Hickey (Carlow)