Wicklow Under-20’s fightback falls short against Dublin in Leinster championship opener

Three second-half goals not enough for Alan Costello’s side

The Wicklow Under-20 footballers in their post-match huddle after their defeat at the hands of Dublin in the Leinster football championship.

Brendan LawrenceWicklow People


Wicklow 3-6

Dublin 1-14

It was another case of what might have been for the Wicklow Under-20 footballers on Wednesday night when they fell to a strong Dublin side in horrific conditions in Baltinglass.

However, unlike last year when Alan Costello’s side were knocked out by Westmeath after just one game, this year the Garden County have the chance to learn from this battle where, while outclassed at times, they looked very good in patches.

A disappointing first half from the home side in front of a reasonable support on a drizzly, damp Tuesday night suggested that Jim Lehane’s side would have far too much in the second period given that they were turning around with the wind at their backs.

Wicklow went in trailing by 1-6 to 0-4, the goal arriving from the boot of Ethan Dunne after a long ball wasn’t dealt with by the home defence with 13 on the clock.

But three half-time substitutions and two Sean Doyle goals brought Wicklow back to within three points of their formidable foes with 28 gone in the second half.

Alas, Dublin always seemed to have the power to push on and flash over quality scores despite a superb defensive showing from corner-backs Adam Byrne and Adam Kinsella, and they added two points after Doyle’s second major which meant that when Jack Kirwan thundered through the visitors’ defence and fired home past Andrew Smyth with 33 minutes on David Hickey’s watch, time was well and truly against Alan Costello’s men, with the final whistle sounding immediately after the restart.

Walking the pitch in Baltinglass after the game and it’s a wonder that the two teams were even able to produce the entertaining encounter they did or score the array of impressive points they managed over the 60-odd minutes. It was nothing short of a bog due to the heavy rain that fell all evening and goes some way to explaining the damaging number of times which Wicklow coughed up possession as they raided into the Dublin defence.

One 23 different occasions Wicklow lost the ball to the visitors and throw in two shots at goal saved by Smyth in the Dublin goal and six wides and you’ll see what chances and possession they had in this game. They were by no means bossed, but they came up against a far more clinical team that powered up the field off the shoulders or sought a sharp attack led by the class Luke Breathnach with long balls.

Of Dublin’s 1-14, all but one score came from play, that from a 45, and but for Jack Sargent’s excellent reflex save in the second half, they would have had a second major. They were impressive without being outstanding and Wicklow could have beaten them if they had taken their chances or made better use of their possession in Dublin territory.

From Wicklow’s point of view, scoring six points is not going to win you any championship match but the manner in which they created their goals and the talent they have in the forwards suggests that they will have more productive days in front of the posts in the games to come.

A bright start for Wicklow that saw Tommy Keogh fire over off his right for the game’s opening score soon faded with although the same man watched as his goalbound effort was saved by Smyth after five.

A clash of heads saw Wicklow’s centre-back James Boland and Dublin’s Dara McGrath have to leave the field. The Kiltegan man returned six minutes later by which point the visitors were ahead by 0-3 to 0-1 thanks to efforts from Alex Gavin, Luke Breathnach and Eoghan O’Connor Flanagan.

Dublin’s goal was a hammer blow for Wicklow and they followed it up with a point from Tom Brennan. In total they had nine different scorers.

Bray’s Tim Harrington was a real bright spark for Alan Costello’s men, chipping in with two tasty efforts in the first half, the first after 17 sandwiched between two wides but the lively Joe Quigley struck back for the Dubs to make it 1-5 to 0-2 after 20 minutes.

Harrington’s second arrived after 27 and when JP Nolan swept over a free a moment later things were starting to look slightly better, but Tom Brennan’s second white flag sent the visitors in leading by 1-6 to 0-4.

Dunlavin’s Sean Doyle, An Tóchar’s Conor Fee and Blessington’s Dan Cooney were introduced at half-time and while Wicklow looked brighter, they clocked up two more wides and had Jack Sargent to thank for keeping them in the game when the Blessington netminder saved smartly from Darragh Dempsey, Joe Quigley rifling over the resulting 45 to open up a six-point gap.

Substitute Dan O’Leary waltzed up through the Wicklow defence to fire over a stunning score but a rapid 1-1, the point from JP Nolan, the goal from Sean Doyle from the penalty spot left just three between the sides.

One of the stars of the show on a dreary night under lights in Baltinglass was Dublin full-forward Luke Breathnach and he split the posts with two superb scores to make it 1-10 to 1-5 with 12 gone in the second half.

For the next 10 minutes Wicklow lost possession to Dublin seven times while Dublin had headaches of their own, including two wides, a shot dropped short to Sargent and a black card for Alex Gavin. But they also had another point, that from the boot of Dan O’Leary with 21 gone.

Conor Fee was looking sharp in the full-forward line, and he slotted a fine score from a free and when Sean Doyle got on the end of a goalmouth scramble following a 45, all of a sudden it was 1-12 to 2-6 with 28 gone.

But Dublin had another gear to find. Midfielder Greg McEneaney fired over while Wicklow went on to cough up possession twice more before Conor Dolan raised Dublin’s last white flag in what will surely go down as half a goal chance.

Back came Wicklow, Jack Kirwan surging up through the middle and exchanging passes with Niall Sheeran before walloping home to the back of the net.

But time was up, and the final whistle brought a real sense of disappointment over the crowd and players. But it is better to be disappointed at a lost opportunity of taking the scalp of Dublin than be crushed after a hammering.

There’s hope here, and potential. Hopefully they’ll realise that next Tuesday when they travel to take on Offaly at the Faithful Fields.

Wicklow: Jack Sargent (Blessington); Adam Byrne (Rathnew), Liam O’Neill (Coolkenno), Adam Kinsella (Knockananna); Austin Brennan (Blessington), James Boland (Kiltegan), Mark Murtagh (Dunlavin); Matt Nolan (An Tóchar), Jack Kirwan (1-0) (Baltinglass); Joe Prendergast (Éire Óg Greystones), Cathal Baker (Avondale), Adam Arslan (Avoca); Tim Harrington (0-2) (Bray Emmets), Tommy Keogh (0-1) (Baltinglass), JP Nolan (0-2, 1f) (An Tóchar). Subs: Cian Derring for J Bolan (8, temp, reversed on 13) Sean Doyle (2-0, 1pen) for A Arslan (H/T), Dan Cooney for M Murtagh (H/T), Conor Fee (0-1, f) for T Keogh (H/T), Niall Sheehan for C Baker (53), Cian Deering for A Brennan (53).

Dublin: Andrew Smyth; Eoghan O’Connor Flanagan (0-1); Theo Clancy, Evan Nugent; Alex Gavin (0-1), James Cotter, Dara McGrath; Michael McDonald, Greg McEneaney (0-1); Ethan Dunne (1-0), Luke Ward, Tom Brennan (0-2); Darragh Dempsey, Luke Breathnach (0-4), Joe Quigley (0-2, 1 45). Subs: Dan O’Leary (0-2) for D MaGrath (8, inj), Ross Keogh for E Dunne (41), Charlie McMorrow for M McDonald (43), Conor Dolan (0-1) for T Brennan (53), Tim Deering for A Gavin (55), Kelem O’Brien for D Dempsey (60).

Referee: David Hickey (Carlow)