Wicklow suffer heavy defeat after late Kerry scoring burst
All-Ireland U20 'B' Hurling Championship: Kerry 3-21 Wicklow 0-11
Following their dramatic victory over Mayo the previous week manager Garry Laffan took his troops to Thurles on Saturday last for a quarter-final clash against Kerry in the under-20 championship Richie McElligot Cup which saw the game played in excellent conditions at sun-drenched Thurles.
Games between these two counties tend to produce hard-fought games but on this occasion Kerry proved to be much stronger as they gave and excellent all round team performance in this latest encounter as they produced a power-packed display which saw them advance to the semi-finals.
The Wicklow line-out showed five changes from the side that beat Mayo, which saw Bray Emmets trio Cian Lohan, Ronan McMahon and David Maloney come in, while Glenealy's Sam O'Dowd and Matthew Traynor were available and making a welcome return to the starting line up following holidays.
The game produced a entertaing affair with some fine hurling being played on both sides which saw both teams committed to the task that lay ahead and the difference between sides was the ability of Kerry to convert chances into much needed scorer which paved the way for victory.
It is no secret that Kerry had prepared well for this game, having played a number challenge games in various counties around Munster, while Wicklow's preparation was curtailed with local championships in full swing and a number of players not available for various reasons which included holidays.
However, Garry Laffan and his back room staff managed to pull a decent panel together in the last few weeks.
Also the clubs deserve mention as they played their part for the sake of Wicklow hurling by making their players available despite other commitments.
From a weaker county point of view it has to be a wonderfull experience for players to feature in Semple Stadium, birthplace of the association, and no doubt both Wicklow and Kerry squads will have fond memories of the occasion especially Kerry.
Once Dublin referee Tommy Gleeson, a familiar name regarding Wicklow hurling, threw in the ball it was all go, which saw two teams focused on the task that lay ahead
From early on it was evident that Kerry showed they were well up for the occasion as they took the game to Wicklow, which saw corner-forward Donal Hunt open the scoring with a point after two minutes.
From the puck-out the winners gained possession, with resulted in a free, which saw top scorer Michael Slattery point.
After both sides recorded a wide each, Kerry increased the lead with a point from Shane McEligott from play, which saw the men from the south leading 0-3 to 0-0 after four minutes.
Both sides were showing tremendous hunger and commitment which kept both managers on their toes, which saw the Garden men take the game to their opponents which resulted in a 65.
Wicklow's top scorer Gary Hughes showed his ability as a free-taker when he opened the Wicklow scoring with a point and following another attack dual player Padraig O'Toole won a free and once again Gary Hughes was on target as he landed his second point from the placed ball to reduce the deficit 0-3 to 0-2 after ten minutes.
The winners upped the tempo once more and went on to dominate as they landed three points in row.
The Wicklow defence were under pressure and were forced to concede frees, which proved costly as ace free-taker Michael Slattery landed threes frees in a row, while the margin could have bigger were it not for two excellent saves by goalkeeper Cian Staunton, which saw the winners leading 0-7 to 0-2 after 20 minutes.
Following another Kerry attack full-forward Michael Slattery, who was causing havoc in the Wicklow defence, won possession as he surged forward, which resulted in a penalty being awarded.
Following a rasping shot from Slattery, up stepped Cian Staunton once again to produce a super save, which brought a quick response from his team mates as Wicklow went in search of much-needed scores.
Following a move that was started in their own defence Wicklow worked the ball upfield which saw Jonathan O'Neill win possession and he was fouled as he headed towards goal, which gave his club mate Gary Hughes an easy chance to land a point after good work by wing-forward Shane Mellon, who gave perfect pass to Padraig O'Toole, who slotted over a point.
With play flowing from end to end and after both sides missed two scoring chances each, Gary Hughes and Michael Lenihan exchanged a point each which saw the score read 0-8 to 0-5.
The Kerry men continued to set the pace as they added a point each from Michael Slattery and Shane McElligott.
At this stage Garry Laffan's troops set about reducing the deficit as they went in search of much-needed scores and they hit a golden spell, which saw the Wicklow men outscore their opponents four points to two.
Wicklow's best spell came in last seven minutes of the opening half as they scored four points in row from their best outfield player Gary Hughes.
The first saw Hughes split the defence to land a point from play, and following good work by Dara Maloney and Shane Mellon he added another.
Kerry went in search of scores, which resulted in two points from play being scored, but it was Wicklow who finished the stronger with more points from Gary Hughes from frees, which left Kerry leading 0-12 to 0-9 at the break.
Wicklow needed a good start to the second-half to keep in touch but it was not the case.
Both sides missed scoring chances early in the second-half, before the winners pushed on with a point each from Michael Slattery and Gearoid Fennessy.
During the next few minutes excellent free-takers Gary Hughes (two) and Michael Slattery exchanged points from frees which left the winners leading 0-15 to 0-11.
The same pattern in the game continued, which saw both goalkeepers make excellent saves.
Then came a focal point in the game when, following a Kerry attack, second-half substitute Michael Kelliher split the Wicklow defence to score the opening goal which gave the winners a commanding lead.
To their credit Garry Laffan's side staged a rally but were guilty of two bad wides.
Also they were unable to break down a solid Kerry defence for much-needed scores.
From there on it was Kerry that pushed on and in doing so they took complete control for the remainder of the game.
Stunned Wicklow side were left chasing the game from here on which saw the winners up the tempo once more and they went on to add 2-6 and in doing so held their opponents scoreless for the remainder of the game.
After the Wicklow defence soaked up lots of pressure during the opening 50 minutes it was only a matter of time before the floodgates would open, which saw the winners finish with a late flourish with goal from Gavin Dooley and it was only fitting that man of the match Michael Slattery should close the scoring with well-taken goal to finish a five-star performance from the full forward.
The final score line does not do justice to Wicklow as they were well in the game, only trailing by four points at the end of the third quarter.
A feature of the contest was the excellent free-taking by Michael Slattery and Gary Hughes, who accounted for eight points each from frees.
Both teams deserve credit for the sportsmanship they displayed, which left referee Tommy Gleeson with an easy task.
The overall strength of the winners proved too much for Wicklow to handle in an good all round team performance and no doubt they will pose a major threat to all other championship contenders in the weeks ahead.
Scorers - Kerry: Michael Slattery (1-9, eight frees), Gavin Dooley (1-2), Michael Kelliher (1-0), Shane McEillgott (0-3), Michael Lenihan (0-2), Gearoid Fennessy (0-1), Donal Hunt (0-1), Brendan Walsh (0-1). Wicklow: Gary Hughes (0-10, eight frees), Padraig O'Toole (0-1).
Kerry: Adam O'Suillvan; Liam Twomey, Tadgh Brick, Eamon Shanahan; Brian McAuliffe, Evan Murphy, Shane McElligott; Gavin Dooley, Sean Sheehan; Michael Lenihan, Dan Goggin, Gearoid Fennessy; Donal Hunt, Michael Slattery, Nathan Guerin. Subs used: Brendan Walsh for Shane McEIligott, Michael Kelliher for Nathan Guerin.
Wicklow: Cian Stantion (Glenealy); Daragh Owens (Aughrim), Brian Kearney (Kiltegan), MJ Moran (Dunlavin); Sam O'Dowd (Glenealy), Eoin Byrne (Tinahely), Cian Lohan (Bray Emmets); Padraig O'Toole (Kiltegan), Joe Phelan (Bray Emmets); Gary Hughes (Glenealy), Ronan McMahon (Bray Emmets), Shane Mellon (Arklow Rocks); Jonathan O'Neill (Gleanealy), Matthew Traynor (Glenealy), David Maloney (Bray Emmets). Subs used: Ciaran McKay (Bray Emmets) for Cian Lohan, Ian Clancy (Aughrim) for Daragh Owens, Rory Lambe for Ronan McMahon.
Referee: Tommy Gleeson (Dublin).