Friday 17 November 2017

Belief and courage

A MIGHTY last quarter fight back saw Wicklow snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Division 4 of the National Football League on Sunday.

A mighty last quarter fight back saw Wicklow snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in Division 4 of the National Football League on Sunday.

The game was entering the last quarter and we had gone four points behind; the wind was rolling loose papers and cigarette boxes along the ground towards Robert Lambert's goal and he had no hope of getting his kick outs anywhere near midfield.

In fact for all intents and purposes Wicklow's day was over - they had got their 'comeuppance'.

But fair dues to Harry and his selectors, Johnny and Mick, they still had not played their ace of hearts - two of the heroes of the day had still to make their big contribution - but read on.

The game was played on a little country pitch in southwest Antrim near the small village of Ahoghill but apart from the journey and the difficulty of finding the road we had little else to crib about.

They had all the necessary facilities; a big pitch with a heavy coating on grass to warm up on; then a somewhat smaller but well manicured and marked pitch to play the match on, a nice club house with dressing rooms and the all important kitchen where we enjoyed the welcome 'cuppa' at half time.

The referee was also fairly local - from just over the border in Tyrone but he was alright, quite fair I thought and certainly did Wicklow no harm.

A strong wind blowing straight down the pitch should have turned this into a match of two halves, but didn't.

In fact it could be said that both sides played better against the wind.

Wicklow had the first use of that wind and got off to a good start with points by Darren Hayden and Leighton Glynn (2). When Conor McGraynor was brought down in the 11th minute the captain Leighton Glynn blasted the net and everything in the Garden smelt of roses.

That picture was soon to change as the game entered the second quarter. The home side began to get on top and late addition to the team, C.J. McGourty, began to send over points at every opportunity.

He was wearing the 21 jersey, probably started at midfield and no one appeared to know where he was playing or who should be marking him.

They landed five points with a point from Seanie Furlong as Wicklow's only reply.

Half time - Wicklow 1-4; Antrim 0-5 - not looking too good. Even as we headed across the field for the club house at half time the wind was blowing us towards the goal that Wicklow would be defending in the second half.

Wicklow looked in big trouble at that stage but with Harry's words ringing in their ears they hit the ground running and Seanie Furlong and Paul McLoughlin rallied them with early points.

However it was not long before the home side took over the show; C.J. McGourty got his fifth point of the match in the fifth minute and in a followed attack Tomas McCall blasted the net and the sides were level for the first time and only six minutes gone.

The home supporters got behind their team and in the space of five minutes they had kicked over four unanswered points. Wicklow looked dead and buried.

Conor McGraynor rallied Harry's men with two great points from difficult long range frees in the 15th and 16th minutes;

Enter the first of the Wicklow heroes of the day. As the game entered the last quarter Antrim got a golden opportunity to put the game out of reach of the Wicklow men when they won a penalty.

A goal at that stage and it was all over but Aughrim goalie, Robert Lambert, was equal to the occasion and brought off a great diving save and the chance was gone.

Harry played his trump card at that stage; he sprung James Stafford from the bench and the big fellow was only minutes on the field when he collected a ball just outside the square and slid it neatly to the corner of the net under the diving body of the goalie.

I was not alone in wishing that he had kicked it a little harder; as it rolls agonisingly slow towards that goal line we had time to speculate on what dreadful things might happen. Would it go in or wide? Would it hit the post or would a stray boot get to it?

Wicklow were in front again. Antrim took the lead once more after landing two smart points but at that stage Wicklow were not to be denied.

Stafford was winning the dirty ball at midfield, high or low. He was breaking tackles and carrying the ball forward. He grabbed another ball and was going through again, was brought down and Leighton Glynn blasted the net from the penalty spot.

That was in the 27th minute and there was still time for the home side to save the day. Damien Power was having a mighty game at full back and was coming out as far as midfield to clear balls.

Rory Finn's mighty engine was still running and taking him all over the place.

The selectors had made another change that was working wonders.

They had pulled Darren Hayden back to defence and brought in Paul Earls in attack.

The Eire Og lad was clearly happier facing the ball and did great work, just as he had been doing in attack while the crafty Earls knew how to hold the ball and take off the pressure. Antrim had one chance to equalise before midfielder Niall Gaffney sent over a late point to seal victory.

With the London/Carlow match off and the other two matches in the division ending in draws that win was enough to put Wicklow clear at the top of the table

Scorers: Wicklow - Leighton Glynn 2-2; James Stafford 1-0; Seanie Furlong and Conor McGraynor 0-2 each; Paul McLoughlin, Niall Gaffney and Darren Hayden 0-1 each.

Antrim: Thomas McCann 1- 2; C.J. McGourty (0-7), Michael Pollock 0-2; Niall McKeever and Ryan Murray 0-1 each.

Man of the Match - A number of candidates in this solid, if not spectacular, performance. Robert Lambert for that match winning penalty save in a good all round performance; Damien Power, back to his mighty best at full back; top scorer Leighton, particularly for the way he put away the two penalties.

My man was James Stafford, even if he only played less than 20 minutes football.

In that time he scored a goal; won a penalty for another goal and became the real bully boy around midfield.

Wicklow People

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