Kevin Quinn’s performance was one of a number of highlights for Colin Kelly’s side
WICKLOW got their 2022 campaign underway in earnest with a hard-fought win over Wexford in the O’Byrne Cup last Wednesday night.
It was the first chance that new manager Colin Kelly had to have a look at his new charges in a competitive context, after their scheduled clash with Meath was cancelled following Covid-19 issues and injuries within the camp.
Compared to the one that faced Wexford in a challenge match recently, the team that faced them again on Wednesday had more of a familiar feel.
From that first team, Mark Jackson, Mark Kenny, Niall Donnelly, Dean Healy, and Andy Maher were the only players to play the challenge game who also faced the Model County in the Leinster championship in 2021,
Seeing Paddy O’Keane back in the full-back line was promising, while Padraig O’Toole, Jamie Snell, Eoin Darcy, and Conor Byrne all had positive impacts off the bench as Colin Kelly welcomes names back.
It was Kevin Quinn who shone brightest with an imperious performance. Deputising in the place of the absent Seanie Furlong, the Blessington boy, whose right boot bagged his club their first county title in 38 years, more than held his own.
Highlighted by Colin Kelly for his performance in the aforementioned challenge match, Quinn continued that momentum on Wednesday with a talismanic 1-5 to spearhead Wicklow to a confidence-building victory.
He was far from being the only one. Zach Cullen, another one who drew appraisal from his manager, filled in well as the quarter-back of sorts at centre-back, while that back three of O’Keane, Nicky Devereux, and Eoin Murtagh were formidable throughout.
Such was the defensive resilience of the back six that only Ben Brosnan and (2) and Sean Ryan of Wexford’s starting forwards scored from play over the whole game. By comparison, 1-9 of Wicklow’s 1-11 came from the starting forwards, while Eoin Darcy and Conor Byrne scored after being brought on in the second half.
It took a while for both the game and Wicklow to get into their groove. In the slippery conditions on a cold night in Bray, the first half was defined by Wexford’s inability to break the stubborn Wicklow rearguard while Wicklow’s decision-making in the scoring areas left a lot to be desired.
It was Wexford who dominated possession and territory for much of the opening half. But Colin Kelly’s men were well-drilled, disciplined, and focused off the ball. Unfortunately, when Wicklow countered, they were not able to take advantage, and ended up registering nine wides from 13 shots in the first half.
The one piece of quality that permeated through the tepid mire was the game’s opening goal.
With Wexford leading 0-2 to 0-1, Mark Kenny broke through a tackle and, with Andy Maher bombing on from wing-back to his left, he sent a kickpass up the pitch to Kevin Quinn. One quick spin of the hips and he had turned away from Robbie Barron, before holding off his recovering tackle and smashing the ball beyond Darragh Brooks.
Wicklow would only score one more point, once again through Quinn, in a listless first half from an attacking point of view. At the other end, while they were unable to fashion convincing and clear-cut goalscoring chances, Wexford were able to do enough to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
They went into the half-time break leading by one thanks to two late frees from Ben Brosnan.
The half-time break saw Kelly make a change in introducing Padraig O’Toole for Oisin Cullen. With Niall Donnelly moving into the half-forward line, O’Toole taking his place in midfield, and Kevin Quinn and Paul Cunningham forming a two-man full-forward line, it gave Wicklow more control in that area of the pitch.
It helped, too, that there was more direction and intent behind Wicklow’s offensive play. Kevin Quinn, in particular, began to see a lot more of the ball, and rewarded that service with two straight scores to bring them level at 1-4 to 0-7, before a Cunningham free gave them the lead for the first time since Quinn’s goal in the first half.
While Wexford continued to struggle to break Wicklow down, the spine of Mark Jackson, Nicky Devereux, Zach Cullen, Dean Healy, Mark Kenny, and Kevin Quinn was operating more cohesively, while the decision-making was better, typified by just three wides in the second half, compared to nine in the first.
There threatened to be a sting in the tail when Conor Carty split the defence with a ball in behind for substitute Robbie Brooks for their opening goal, but Wicklow were in the ascendancy. Subsequent scores from Conor Byrne, Kevin Quinn (2), Eoin Darcy, and Paul Cunningham sealed the deal.
The loss of Devereux to what looked like a hamstring injury put an asterisk on the positives taken from the game, but all told, a good day at the office.
Wicklow: Mark Jackson; Paddy O’Keane, Nicky Devereux, Eoin Murtagh; Andy Maher, Zach Cullen, Arran Murphy; Dean Healy, Niall Donnelly; Craig Maguire (0-1), Mark Kenny, Cillian McDonald; Oisin Cullen, Kevin Quinn (1-5), Paul Cunningham (0-3, 2f). Sub: Padraig O’Toole for O. Cullen (H/T), Jamie Snell for N. Devereux (48, inj), Eoin Darcy (0-1) for N. Donnelly (51), Conor Byrne (0-1) for C. McDonald (56), Gavin Fogarty for A. Murphy (62), Sam O’Dowd for P. Cunningham (70).
Wexford: Darragh Brooks; Graham Staples, Gavin Sheehan, Robbie Barron; Jim Rossiter, Naomhan Rossiter, Conor Carty (0-1); Glen Malone, Niall Hughes (0-2); Colum Feeney, Dean O’Toole, Sean Ryan (0-1); John Tubritt, Eoghan Nolan, Ben Brennan (0-3, 2f). Subs: Liam O’Connor for G. Staples (44), Robbie Brooks (1-0) for J. Tubritt (44), Alan Tobin for N. Hughes (47)(inj), Tom Byrne for S. Ryan (52), Mark Rossiter for E. Nolan (52), Kevin O’Grady for D. O’Toole (52), Dylan Furlong for J. Rossiter (58), Eoin Porter for L. O’Connor (63, inj), Jack O’Leary for B. Brosnan (66).
Referee: Dan Stynes (Dublin)