Friday 20 April 2018

Game had an air of inevitability

No devastation, no visible hurt, no anger, no passionate outbursts, no rallying cry against relegation, in the end it all smacked of horrible inevitability.

We all knew deep down that this last chance saloon was only going to have one ending and that was a limp surrender to the men of Sligo and even though Wicklow had periods of domination this game was lost long before the panel boarded the bus back in the Garden County it seemed.

Putting survival aside, even though in the end all Wicklow needed was a six-point win to stay up, any sort of victory would have helped in a huge way here. It would have chased off that glum expression on the majority of the players' faces after the games, it would have lifted the slumped shoulders, banished the awful resignation and this almost complete lack of confidence that is rife in the squad. It's there to be seen.

A victory in Sligo would have given a injection of enthusiasm, a vital boost as they set off on this seven-week run in to the championship game against Longford in Aughrim but the manner of the collapse in the last quarter has done nothing but reinforce this sense of doom that has pervaded since Fermanagh waltzed into Aughrim and blew a poor home side away.

Yes, these Wicklow players are trying and are giving everything, nobody is doubting that and Harry Murphy said after the game on Sunday that "I can't fault their honesty, they are bursting their hearts and trying fierce hard" but there is a rot at work here that needs to be sorted out and sorted out quick.

"Shocking disappointed," is how Harry Murphy began his post match briefing with a small band of reporters. He talked about Wicklow having a platform to go on and win the game after they scored three points after the restart but that a mistake let Sligo back into it and Wicklow then "fell asunder".

And perhaps most worrying was the resignation in the Rathnew man's voice. He spoke of being "used to it now" when it came to disappointment and bad luck.

Murphy did keep his players behind in the dressing room for a good 20 minutes after the game and while we are not privy to what was discussed only one voice and a very stern tone could be heard coming from the locked room.

"I don't know if it's us or the lads," he said when he was discussing the difficulties being faced by the team over the league campaign, "but we are going to have to look at our own performances," he added.

The Wicklow cause wasn't helped by the withdrawal of Seanie Furlong from the squad due to a heel injury and the loss of Conor McGraynor who suffered a broken bone in his elbow in a league game for Avondale against Arklow Gers.

McGraynor might not have started but Furlong was a massive loss and despite showing well Austin O'Malley just doesn't have the same threat close to goal.

Added to this the fact that Jacko Dalton is in America and Rory Finn was work tied and you have four players who Wicklow just can't afford not to be available not to mention the likes of Leighton Glynn who is so badly needed it's almost funny.

Kevin Murphy from Baltinglass and Daniel Woods from Eire Og Greystones were given starting berths for this final Division 3 clash and while Murphy worked hard it's unlikely either will feature in Aughrim against Longford. Woods was withdrawn at half time having not really featured but it must be frightful difficult for any newcomer to join that team given the dark clouds that hang over their league campaign.

Looking at the positives then and the performance of John McGrath is the first thing deserving of a mention. The Baltinglass man tormented the Sligo backs for long periods, had a successful enough day from the frees and tried his best to encourage and lift his colleagues for the 70 minutes.

Aughrim's Robert Lambert replaced John Flynn in goal and he was very assured and very capable, especially under a number of tricky high balls that he dealt with superbly. There was little he could do about the goal and his kickouts were improved from his brief cameo earlier in the league.

Other positives were the busy performance of Damian Power at full back and the always impressive Alan Byrne.

Negatives were in plentiful supply unfortunately. Sligo's Adrian Marren profited richly from some loose defending by Ciaran Hyland but it's unfair to be too critical of the Arklow man as the trouble was starting further out the field and he also played superbly at times. Stephen Byrne was brave to the point of recklessness and gave everything to the cause but whether he'll start the championship clash at centre half back should be up for discussion.

Wicklow were offered the usual busy showings from Darren Hayden and Dean Healy but nothing to write home about. Aside from one great catch by James Stafford and a few well-placed balls into the full forward line it was a below par performance from the Wicklow midfield pairing who have shown unbelievable potential at times but are prone to lapsing into a strange indifference.

The question of whether Patrick McWalter is best suited at 11 was asked by a supporter after the game and it's a valid question.

To the game then and Wicklow started well. McWalter sent a ball into O'Malley from the throw-in but it went wide. 90 seconds later and O'Malley had opened Wicklow's account after another ball from McWalter had found McGrath who fed Earls who supplied O'Malley and the Mayo man rifled over with his left.

The St Pat's star then won a free which an on-form John McGrath pointed before Adrian Marren showed a nice bit of pace to get out in front of Ciaran Hyland and open Sligo's account.

Lambert was called upon then in the Wicklow goal as a high ball was sent in against the stiff breeze and the Aughrim man dealt with it very well and very confidently. His selection on the Sigerson team of the year has obviously done the student no harm whatsoever.

With nine minutes on the clock Marren popped up again with another point but a great Stafford take at midfield and a long delivery resulted in a Wicklow free and McGrath did the necessary. Three points to two to the visitors.

Austin O'Malley wasn't the only Mayo man on the field of play, Sligo's James Kilcullen has transferred to the Yeats County this year and his long ball was tapped out for a sideline ball by Ciaran Hyland after 12 minutes. Adrian Marren sent in a high ball to the Wicklow square and Pat Hughes got his fist to the ball and fired it past the flailing Lambert. Delight for the Sligo crowd who up until then had been very sedate aside from some annoying singing from a section of the stand.

McGrath and McWalter notched up two wides for Wicklow before the Baltinglass man scored a superb point after breaking a high ball from Healy, gathering, turning and firing over from 21 yards out. Healy turned scorer a minute later as Wicklow drew level. The Wicklow town man was working hard and he deserved his score.

O'Malley found himself within shooting range but as so often the case when the St Pat's man winds up for a shot he was blocked and this time by none other than his fellow county man Kilcullen who by the final whistle had earned my nomination for man of the match.

A Marren wide for Sligo was followed by a Paul Earls point after Kevin Murphy had provided a long ball and then O'Malley shot a harmless wide after 27 minutes as Wicklow led by a point. Worryingly though Wicklow really needed to be heading for the dressing room with a decent lead but at no point could you ever see them pulling away from a dogged but poor home side.

Ciaran Hyland and Stephen Byrne were then adjudged to have fouled Adrian Marren and the corner forward pointed the free himself. His fellow corner forward Mark Breheny then got his name on the score sheet to edge Sligo into the lead against the wind.

Good play by Power on Kenneth Sweeney resulted in Paul Earls providing John McGrath with a pass and the Baltinglass man banged over. Healy then hit wide for the visitors and an Adrian Marren wide brought the curtain down on the opening half and the sides were level at 1-04 to 0-07.

Rathnew's Nicky Mernagh replaced Daniel Woods for the start of the second half and O'Malley got Wicklow off to a great start with a good score. A tasty McWalter effort off the outside of his right boot gave some hope to the tiny Wicklow following and Ciaran Hyland done really well out in the corner to break up an attack.

Kevin Murphy notched up his first Senior inter-county point after good work by James Stafford but that was end of Wicklow's short burst of dominance against the wind.

A Stephen Byrne foul on Adrian Marren saw Breheny send the ball over the bar and a Marren wide was followed by another Breheny free after 12 minutes of the second half.

McGrath struck back for Wicklow from a free before Brendan Egan pointed for Sligo. Indeed Egan, who had been quiet up until now, really started to come into the game. Sloppy Wicklow play then allowed Sligo substitute Niall Murphy to point and after a McGrath wide Murphy added another to put Sligo one clear after 21 minutes of the second half.

Pat Hughes shot wide for the home side as he took up position at full forward and began to make Damian Power look very uncomfortable. McWalter hit wide for Wicklow as Paddy Dalton entered the fray for Murphy while Luke Benson arrived in for McWalter in what was a very strange decision it has to be said.

Sligo were now mopping up every loose ball they could find and Adrian Marren showed his talent when he bombed over another point after 26 minutes.

Luke Benson gave a free away 21 yards out from his own goal and Marren did the damage as expected. Jason Bolger arrived in for Stephen Byrne and the Stratford-Grangecon club man pulled Sligo's Brian Curran back 21 yards out and Marren pointed the resulting free to leave it 1-122 to 0-11 points with only minutes remaining.

Darren Hayden did offer a high ball into the Sligo square late on but goalie Phillip Greene did brilliantly to emerge with the ball. A Sligo 45 taken by Marren went wide soon after and referee Barry Cassidy from Derry blew time on a terribly disappointing and largely awful Wicklow performance.

It's back to Division 4 for 2014 and you can curse lady luck all you want, you can crib about referees all you want, but the results don't lie.

Scorers for Sligo: A Marren (0-6, 3f), M Breheny (0-3, 2f), P Hughes (1-0), N Murphy (0-2), B Egan (0-1).

Scorers for Wicklow: J McGrath (0-5, 3f), A O'Malley (0-2), K Murphy (0-1), P McWalter (0-1), D Healy (0-1), P Earls (0-1).

Wicklow People