Brave effort against Donegal but Wicklow are in trouble

Leadership required to lift the county

The Wicklow hurlers in their huddle before the game against Donegal.

Brendan LawrenceWicklow People

Wicklow 3-8

Donegal 2-16

A vastly improved second half from Wicklow prevented this defeat to Donegal from becoming an embarrassing rout in Division 2B of the NHL in a near deserted Aughrim on Sunday.

At 2-8 to 0-3 on the scoreboard when James Owens sounded the half-time whistle, the nightmare potential of a hammering for the home side from Mickey McCann’s men was very real and looking likely to become a reality when the game got back underway for the second half.

However, credit to the young Wicklow side, they turned things around and the goals from John Toomey, Torna Mulconry and Seanie Germaine dragged Wicklow back to within touching distance of the visitors where a win was not out of the question only for Donegal to show their superiority and push on with two late scores.

Writing match reports for the Wicklow hurlers has become a distinctly unpleasant task of late. On the one hand there is no desire whatsoever to constantly highlight shortcomings or deficiencies of this young team who have been thrust into competing at a level some of them are unaccustomed to. And to be fair, no doubt, in time, they will find their feet, but the problem is what level will Wicklow hurling be at when they do?

On the other hand, there is the glaringly obvious elephant in the room of the plethora of experienced players who are not in the Wicklow panel at this point in time, probably for a variety of reasons no doubt but surely the Garden County must be a first in the history of inter-county teams to have witnessed and suffered such an exodus of talent like they have this past while.

There’s no blame being apportioned here. There’s no doubt that all parties here feel completely justified in whatever has happened or hasn’t happened but now is the time for leadership, right now, before Wicklow hurling takes a step backwards to Division 3A and Nicky Rackard Cup.

Hopefully, and nobody would be happier than this reporter if it happens, this Wicklow team can survive in both league and championship. Nobody will cheer them louder if they do, but because this team is made up of young hurlers who are proud to wear their county jerseys but who do not have experienced warriors alongside them to guide them and teach them and inspire them, they are, at times, looking in trouble against teams of men at a different level of physicality and hurling.

At this stage it doesn’t matter where the fault lies. It doesn’t matter who did what or who doesn’t like who or why. At this stage Wicklow hurling needs a leader or leaders to step up and put this right and to encourage players who have given years of service to the county jersey to come back in and heal whatever wounds have been inflicted.

Now, some players have stepped away for perfectly normal reasons, but surely some of those who have departed can be encouraged to come back in.

I’ve written it before, but it’s worth noting again. Out of the 30 starters of last year’s county final, only one started last Sunday, Cian Staunton in goals. From the Bray Emmets panel from last year’s championship, the team who have dominated Wicklow club hurling for the past decade almost, only Eoin McCormack remains after Marc Lennon and Davy Maloney left. It is understood that John Henderson is on the way back from injury and may be fit for the Christy Ring.

Just two players represent Glenealy, none from St Patrick’s after the departure of the four O’Briens and now no Éire Óg players after the reported departure of Shaun Cranley from the panel ahead of the Donegal game.

This is not about the hurlers who came within a whisker of beating Donegal. No doubt, as I said, they will find their feet given time but at what cost in terms of league and championship status and also of the state of hurling in the county if this is allowed to continue.

Good work is being done at under-20 and Minor level by all accounts and that’s great to see but something must be done to unite and strengthen the adult camp.

It’s worrying to consider the number of talented players who are not hurling for their county and, given the dire numbers of spectators that turned up in Aughrim on Sunday, this is also affecting interest, although hurling has never been supported in a significant way to be fair.

I don’t recall seeing one young child in Aughrim on Sunday. There may have been some over in the stand, but I didn’t see any. No flood of enthusiastic hurlers onto the field at half-time, no buzz, no passion, no belief, no hope, just stunned silence.

And, again, credit the Wicklow team, they came out in the second half, switched Ciaran Harmon out to centre back and had brought in Mark Murphy just before the break and they started to take the game to a limited Donegal.

John Doyle Jnr fired over one of his two lovely points, A Donegal mistake out the field allowed Torna Mulconry the chance to raise a green flag and the Avondale man took it with aplomb. The class Seanie Germaine fired over a free and the mighty Mark Murphy bombed over from distance and the tiny support started to believe.

Germaine flicked home past Slaughtneil’s Luke White to leave just two between the sides with Donegal still to score and 11 on the clock.

Donegal gathered their thoughts. They could find scores when they needed to. Wicklow only scored four points from play.

The gap was 2-14 to 2-8 when the impressive John Toomey fired home to the back of the Donegal net after great work from Tommy Collins and Mulconry. Two points between the teams and a victory within reach, potentially.

Alas, Donegal pushed on again and added two more scores from the electric Davin Flynn who fired over 10 points on the day and the win was theirs, but it could have been different had Wicklow taken goal chances in the first half.

Looking down through the Wicklow team sheet, it’s worth noting that two of the starting 15 played in secondary schools competitions in recent weeks, and right across the board youth is what screams out from the page aside from the experienced Martin O’Brien and Ciarán Breen.

Those young hurlers needed to be slowly brought into a panel at this level. Wicklow appear to have dropped them off a cliff and are expecting them to carry the expectations and hopes of an entire county on their shoulders.

Again, no blame is being apportioned here, but someone needs to stand up and be counted and get the small but devout hurling community in Wicklow back together again.

London and Sligo are the remaining league games for this team, with the game against London this weekend. A win in Ruislip would be a massive boost for this side ahead of the visit of Sligo on March 20.

Currently, the Garden County are second from bottom on score difference with Mayo below them. If things don’t change on the table, Wicklow will take on Mayo in the relegation play-off.

Having drawn with them in Mayo, Eamonn Scallan’s side will be hopeful. However, Marc Lennon, Davy Maloney (sub), Shaun Cranley and Andy O’Brien (sub) were part of that team in Ballina.

Here’s hoping that they can win this weekend and avoid such an eventuality, but even that won’t solve the issues bedeviling the Wicklow hurlers. That will take leadership.

Wicklow: Cian Staunton; Bryan Kearney, Ciarán Harmon, Martin O’Brien; Michael Mangan, Ciarán Breen, Jacques McCall; Brandon Ryan, Tommy Collins; Aaron Byrne, John Toomey (1-0), John Doyle- (0-2); Torna Mulconry (1-0), Seanie Germaine (1-4, 4f), Kieran Conway (0-1). Subs: Mark Murphy (0-1) for B Ryan (36), Shane Browne for A Byrne (57), Eoin McCormack for J McCall (67).

Donegal: Luke White; Gavin Browne, Stephen Gillespie, Padraig Doherty; Conor O’Grady (0-2), Jack O’Loughlin, Sean McVeigh; Conor Gartland, Danny Cullen; Ronan McDermott (1-0), Bernard Lafferty (1-1), Josh Cronolly McGhee; Daire O Maoleidhigh (0-2), Davin Flynn (0-10, 6f, 1 65), Gerry Gilmore (0-1). Subs: Brian McIntyre for J O’Loughlin (17, inj), Niall Cleary for S McVeigh (34, inj), Oisin Marley for J Cronolly McGhee (43)

Referee: James Owens (Wexford)