independent

Saturday 20 July 2019

O'Brien looking at positives after loss

Brendan Lawrence

Despite the defeat to Kildare in their opening Electirc Ireland Leinster Minor Football Championship game, Wicklow manager Kevin O'Brien said there were major positives to take from the encounter that bode well for the remaining two games in the group stages against Kilkenny and Louth.

With the top two teams qualifying for the knock-out stages of the provincial championship the Garden County side will need to secure victories over the Cats and the Wee County side to be certain of passage.

O'Brien said that he was impressed with most aspects of the performance of his charges but that missed opportunities were the rock they perished on.

'It was disappointing in the end. We prepared really, really well. We've three matches in this, and that was match number one. Our objective is to have a team going out to be really competitive no matter who they play. It's much the same as last year, the guys have really been committed.

'Kildare looked at us, we looked at them, we studied this and studied that. We do think we got a lot of things right in the game plan. We were very unfortunate with a few things they missed. I watched the video of the game the next morning at 7am and three times since then but we are certainly proud of every single player that went out there. They were super competitive. I'd be a strong man for winning but, in fairness, it was one their best performances this year but it's only one match of three. Kildare are a tidy outfit. We had chances. We had opportunities. We're not making excuses. We had chances and we didn't take them,' he said.

Wicklow's wastefulness in front of the goals was one aspect that helped Kildare to their victory but an incident in the first half that had the visiting crowd calling for a penalty was another major talking point.

'I've looked at it since and definitely from the referee's angle you've seen them given before. That's not an excuse. We had chances that were within our control and we didn't take them. But, in fairness to the players, they were in those positions to create those chances. At that intensity and at that level every free, every chance, everything is vital. These lads, some of them are only 15, maybe 16 so we can't be too hard (on them).

'A lot of them (Kildare) would be six months or a year older than some of our lads. That's not another excuse, that's life. The Kildare footballers, the standard would be somewhat higher over in Kildare. But, look, we knew a good bit about them going into the game. We tried to get our match up s right. A lot of players that played well for them in challenge games, we sort of tagged and we looked after them, and we got most things right, not saying we got everything right. There are times in any games where teams are going to have their spells. Their free-taking was exceptional. I don't think they created any goal chance other than the one that they got. But we still lost though,' he said.

The result of the game is most certainly down to missed chances but the real hammer blow to Wicklow's hopes was the Kildare goal late in the second half. It came about due to Wicklow full-back Sam Kearney being down injured at the sideline on the stand side.

'In the last few minutes our full-back went down injured, a player who to me had a colossal game, Sam Kearney, who had showed the form he had last year. He carried an injury into the game. He went down with a few minutes to go and we were left with a two on one. Maybe we should have noticed it a little bit more, maybe we were a little bit naïve that way, but I think that when that goal went in, we would have struggled. That was the last straw and they kicked another point shortly after that.' said Kevin O'Brien.

Kildare's scores seemed to arrive just that little bit more easily than Wicklow's at times, but Wicklow always kept with the Lilywhites and should have been well ahead by the time that goal went in.

'We kept at them, we got back to 10-all (after half-time), we had a couple of goal chances, nine times out of ten we would have got them, but we didn't and that's the way it goes.

'Hugely impressed with them all, and not just the players that came on or played but the whole panel. It's not an easy job telling guys you're not starting. We have 34 players on the panel, and they are there on merit. Some lads have worked really hard, even as much as last night (last Thursday, first night back training after the Kildare game), you'd be expecting a fall out (after the defeat) and it was a really positive session. I think lads are itching to move on because they enjoyed the other night. I know they didn't get the result but there's something there and they now realise and can believe that there is something there; and that's a hard thing to convince young players of, that you are good enough. We had a real happy camp last night, really positive. We have good people around us. We have challenged players to step up to the mark.

'I'm seriously impressed with the work rate (against Kildare). They left it out there. That's the whole objective, to be the best they can be,' he added.

It's Kilkenny next for Kevin O'Brien's men. The game is fixed for Tuesday night next in Nowlan Park. DJ Carey's side troubled Louth for much of their game but the Wee County ran out comfortable winners in the end while conceding 3-8 at the same time it should be noted. Wicklow's defence were sharp enough in Newbridge save for the concession of the goal but they will need to be wary of the goal threat posed by the Cats. Kevin O'Brien says he will not be taking the Kilkenny challenge lightly.

'No way. I've been involved in a lot of teams that have played Kilkenny over the years and at times it was scary. Anyone who has a team with a manager like DJ Carey over them, and also a lot of the players on the team go to Good Counsel in Wexford. We played them a couple of years ago with this team at under-15 and it was quite worrying at times. They were a fine big side. We eventually got on top of them. Look, it's match two for us and it will be taken very seriously, that's for certain. I was just pleased last night at training and that intensity needs to be brought to the match against Kilkenny because it's down then to the match with Louth in Aughrim.

'The beautiful thing about it is that our match is on the Tuesday night (against Kilkenny) and we can have a look at Kildare v Louth the next night in Drogheda and you normally wouldn't get that advantage.

'I said to the players, 'I know we can get you up for Kildare, the question is, can we get you up for Kilkenny, or can you get up for Kilkenny. I think we can. I think they will. They have a good attitude, a good mindset.

'Hopefully we'll pack Aughrim out the following week if we can beat Kilkenny. The winners of that match, if Kildare beat Louth, it will be really shaken up if Louth beat Kildare. It could come down to aggregate then and it will come down to what you can get out of the Kilkenny game.

'As I said to the lads, Kilkenny are ruthless in hurling, and we want to win the match and if we have to be ruthless, we need to be ruthless. Simple as that. Above all the priority is we have to win the game,' he said.

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