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Sunday 21 July 2019

Brave Wicklow stung by ruthless Ryan

Allianz National Football League Division 4: Leitrim 1-16 Wicklow 1-12

Wicklow’s Darragh Fitzgerald looks to go past Leitrim’s Shane Quinn during the NFL Division 4 clash in Aughrim. Photo:Joe Byrne
Wicklow’s Darragh Fitzgerald looks to go past Leitrim’s Shane Quinn during the NFL Division 4 clash in Aughrim. Photo:Joe Byrne

Brendan Lawrence

A sense of pure disappointment mixed with pride settled over the county grounds in Aughrim on Sunday afternoon last after a dramatic finish to a pulsating game saw Terry Hyland's Leitrim escape with the league points thanks to a late 1-2 that knocked the stuffing out of a brave and capable Wicklow outfit.

This was as exciting a game as you will see anywhere with the momentum swinging one way then the other, some wicked scores, excellent play, plenty of talking points and an enjoyable atmosphere thanks to a bus load of Leitrim fans making the journey down and adding a great enthusiasm and noise to the occasion.

Both teams were coming into this game on the back of a heartening opening day win; Wicklow away to Waterford and Leitrim at home to Wexford where Ryan O'Rourke captured the headlines. It looked as if he wasn't going to get anything more than a small mention in the team list as the game in Aughrim looked to be going Wicklow's way near the end thanks to the superb efforts of Oisin Manning, but, lo and behold, who popped up to fire home past Mark Jackson only the bauld heartbreaker himself.

This was the classic nip and tuck game of football with the action moving up and down the field and while Leitrim might have had the more natual score takers on the field, Wicklow had Mark Jackson to trot up and sweep over five wonderful scores while Mark Doyle nipped in to grab the game's opening goal and added a free in the second half.

The loss of Anto McLoughlin in the lead up to that Mark Doyle goal was something of a disaster for John Evans' side. Wicklow are not blessed with dominant attackers, and McLoughlin's influence and experience were sorely missed when he had to be replaced after 14 minutes with what looked to be a shoulder problem after getting into a tangle with a Leitrim defender as he headed towards the Rednagh Hill goal.

It might be easier to start at the end for this recollection of a super advertisement for Division 4 football. 69 minutes on the clock and a Mark Jackson free drops shot in the Leitrim square. It's gathered by substitute Chris O'Brien who feeds it out to Mark Kenny. The Ballymanus man finds the man of the match Davy Devereux who returns the pass to AGB's O'Brien who lobs in a shot having already launched a bomb between the posts after 55 minutes.

O'Brien's effort is short and gathered by Leitrim goalkeeper Diarmuid McKiernan. Patrick O'Connor puts the Leitrim netminder under pressure and his pass is intercepted by Darragh Fitzgerald who gives it to Gearoid Murphy. The Annacurra man sells a dummy, reverses and finds Conor McGraynor who is standing like an Avondale version of Johnny Sexton in the pocket and the man mountain fires over a screamer to put Wicklow ahead by a point at 1-12 to 0-14. The Wicklow supporters can taste victory. Momentum seems to be with the Garden County men.

Leitrim move the ball up the field through their athletic midfielder Pierce Dolan. He hands it off to Gary Plunkett who fires in a horrible little dribbling shot across the face of Mark Jackson's goal. The Baltinglass man launches himself at it but can only get the tips of his fingers to it and neither Oisin Manning nor Conor Healy can get close enough to Ryan O'Rourke to stop him finishing the ball to the back of the Wicklow net. Disaster.

Wicklow need the ball, but obviously Leitrim don't want to give it back, so they proceed to play keep ball over the next few moments of time added on for injuries. They also add two stunning scores. The first from midfielder Shane Moran who screwed over a majestic score off the outside of his right boot, and the second from Gary Plunkett to seal the win.

In between those two scores, Wicklow had a glimpse of a chance only for corner-back Micheal McWeeney to get his hand to a ball destined for the onrushing Conor McGraynor who would have only had McKiernan to beat. Alas, tis a game of inches and seconds and Wicklow ran out of both as referee Niall McKenna from Monaghan sounded the final whistle to the jubilation of the Leitrim supporters and players and the sheer heartbreak of the Wicklow people both on and off the field of play.

There was one change to the listed Wicklow team prior to throw in and that was the inclusion of Mark Doyle from Rathnew in place of Avondale's Conor McGraynor. Leitrim began the game with some positional switches which included Ryan O'Rourke starting at 11 but wearing 15. This didn't last long with Oisin Manning being detailed to thwart the Leitrim attacker and for the most part the St Judes man did very well.

A barren spell of 13 minutes that produced plenty of excitement, but no scores, ended with Wicklow scoring what would prove to be a very expensive goal. A Darragh Fitzgerald ball was latched on to by the alert Mark Kenny who had a superb first half in this game. Kenny found Anto McLoughlin who drove hard towards the Leitrim goal with Aidan Flynn proving to be a terrible nuisnance alongside.

Both men became tangled and Flynn seemed to pull at McLoughlin's arm and after he got his shot across goal off the Blessington man pulled up in some distress behind the Rednagh Hill goal. He survived on the field for another moment or two but was whisked off shortly afterwards by physio Máire Doran.

Leitrim replied with a fine score from Ryan O'Rourke on 15 minutes but three more scores for Wicklow - a Mark Jackson free, Darren Hayden with the fist and Patrick O'Connor after a fine run from Devereux - left Wicklow looking very healthy after 22 minutes at 1-3 to 0-1 ahead.

A dropped ball in the Wicklow defence allowed Domhnaill Flynn a chance and the centre half forward took it with aplomb. More squandered Wicklow possession saw Damien Moran profit when he fired over after 24 and three Wicklow wides were followed by Damien Moran's second score of the day, this time from a free with 33 on the clock to leave just two between the sides at 1-3 to 0-4.

Mark Jackson pushed Wicklow three ahead with a 45 but Leitrim full-back Paddy Maguire answered with a stunning effort after rampaging up the field as the first half neared an end.

One of Dean Healy's many trundling runs forward resulted in a fine point from the Pat's man and Wicklow captin and then a strong finish from Leitrim saw Domhnaill Flynn and Shane Moran raise white flags to leave just one between the teams in what was a reasonably fair reflection on the first half.

The visitors were level within three minutes of the restart through Damien Moran and then they led for the first time 60 seconds later when Evan Sweeney split the posts.

Darren Hayden collected a Jamie Snell ball after eight to fire over for a tasty score, the only problem being it was sandwiched between two Leitrim scores, the first from Jack Heslin after Theo Smyth was denied by McKiernan at the other end, and the second from Ryan O'Rourke after he collected a Shane Moran free and barely escaped the clutches of Oisin Manning.

There were strong calls for a penalty in the immediate aftermath of Smyth's saved shot after the Rathnew man hit the deck due to the attentions of Micheal McWeeney but Niall McKenna wasn't interested. It was a major talking point after the game.

Mark Jackson and Pierce Dolan exchanged scores before Mark Doyle and Jackson again (both frees) pulled Wicklow level at 1-9 to 0-12 as the tension and drama rose to new levels in Aughrim.

A magnificent score from Chris O'Brien pushed Wicklow ahead on 55 before Ryan O'Rourke sent over an outrageous free off the outside of his right boot, stand side, Rednagh Hill end, a thing of sheer beuaty.

Ray Mulvery pushed Terry Hyland's men ahead again and then Jackson and Conor McGraynor left Wicklow sitting pretty on 69 minutes.

The rest as they say is history and Leitrim emerged victorious from Aughrim.

Wicklow were impressive at times. There's a lack of a Ryan O'Rourke type attacker in John Evans' side but in terms of work rate, effort, courage and togetherness, I think we are seeing one of the healthiest Wicklow sides for a number of years and one that could be there or thereabouts come the business end of this league if that rogue Lady Luck would get off her high horse and give the Garden County men a break for once.

Scorers - Leitrim: Ryan O'Rourke 1-3, Damien Moran 0-3 (1f), Domhnaill Flynn 0-2, Shane Moran 0-2, Paddy Maguire 0-1, Evan Sweeney 0-1, Jack Heaslin 0-1, Pierce Dolan 0-1, Ray Mulvey 0-1, Gary Plunkett 0-1.

Wicklow: Mark Jackson 0-5 (4f, 1 45), Mark Doyle 1-1 (f), Darren Hayden 0-2, Patrick O'Connor 0-1, Dean Healy 0-1, Chris O'Brien 0-1, Conor McGraynor 0-1.

Wicklow: Mark Jackson; Oisin Manning, Ross O'Brien, Jamie Snell; Davy Devereux, Shane Mooney, Darragh Fitzgerald; Padraig O'Toole, Dean Healy; Darren Hayden, Anto McLoughlin, Theo Smyth; Mark Kenny, Mark Doyle, Patrick O'Connor. Subs: Subs: Chris O'Brien for A McLoughlin (14, inj), Gearoid Murphy for M Doyle (57), Conor Healy for D Hayden (60), Conor McGraynor for P O'Toole (67), Stephen Duffy (69).

Leitrim: Diarmuid McKiernan, Micheal McWeeney, Paddy Maguire, Aidan Flynn; Shane Quinn, Mark Plunkett, Ray Mulvey; Shane Moran, Pierce Dolan; Sean McWeeney, Domhnaill Flynn, Jack Heaslin; Damien Moran, Dean MCGovern, Ryan O'Rourke. Subs: Evan Sweeney for D Moran (38), Gary Plunkett for D McGovern (48), Darragh Rooney for J Heaslin (60).

Referee: Niall McKenna (Monaghan)

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