Louth too hot to handle for Wicklow
O'Byrne Cup: Louth 1-17 Wicklow 1-9
Wicklow fell to their second O'Byrne Cup defeat on the trot in Bray last Saturday afternoon as Louth easily brushed aside the challenge of John Evans' men despite being reduced to 14 players in the 12th minute.
The sending off of Andy McDonnell had the exact opposite effect that would have been expected and despite a reasonably positive opening half, Wicklow utterly collapsed in the second as Louth strode home at a canter to a fully deserved eight-point victory.
Wicklow manager John Evans wasn't overly worried about the result after the game given that he is using this tournament as a chance to have a look at some fringe and new players and it was heartening to see so many young players and new faces decorating the panel. However, the job of work facing the Wicklow boss and the players ahead of the start of Division 4 is significant to say the least.
There were positives to be taken from the encounter. The performances of Dean Healy, Rory Finn and Anthony McLoughlin were full of heart and effort. Patrick O'Connor started well and is showing superbly for ball but at times he was left terribly isolated in the first half. Padraig O'Toole looks full of running and endeavour and fired home a sweet score early score. Gearoid Murphy's goal was superb, and Karl Kirwan came more into the game as it went on.
Wicklow were without the services of Paul McLoughlin, Darren Hayden, Eoin Murtagh and Mark Kenny on the day but made 10 changes over the course of the 70 minutes with Mark Jackson, Cormac O'Shea, Conor Healy, Niall Meldon, Michael Mangan, Mark Fitzsimons, Ross Davis and Jamie Miley all getting runs.
A strong spine needs to be settled on. Newtown's Shane Mooney was named at corner-back but played at centre-half back. Tom Maher started in the corner with Fintan O'Shea starting at half-back.
Kiltegan's Padraig O'Toole was named at midfield, but he was pushed into a half-forward role with Dean Healy joining Conor McGraynor in the middle.
Mark Kenny, away travelling at the moment, was named at full-forward for some reason, but his place was taken by AGB's Chris O'Brien. Similarly, Darren Hayden, unavailable due to his impending wedding to Wicklow ladies stalwart Lorna Fusciardi, was named at half-forward.
A quick summary of how Wicklow lost this game might be that missed chances, unforced errors and playing a team of a higher standard combined to allow Louth depart Bray with that 1-17 to 1-9 winning margin.
The new three handpasses rule caught Wicklow out four times in this game. The effect this ridiculous rule has on a team who are caught out is very noticeable, especially if they are coming under pressure on the scoreboard. It can have a hugely negative effect. Players yell at the offending individual, the team must move from attack to defence instantaneously, and the opponents receive a significant boost.
There were also a number of bad decisions that went against Wicklow. One Louth point shouldn't have stood. The point came from an offensive mark, but that player received the ball from a free further out the field. In another incident, Anthony McLoughlin was blown for a pick up when it was blatantly clear that he hadn't handled the ball on the ground.
Needless to say, had those two decisions gone Wicklow's way the result would not have been altered. This defeat can only be traced back to the fact that Wicklow are not operating at the level of the likes of Louth at this moment in time and the burning question is how much improvement can this team realise before the start of Division 4?
At 1-8 to 1-6 down at the break and with an extra man on the field supporters would have rightly felt a subtle confidence that Wicklow might be able to follow up or even better their effort in Newtownforbes against Longford.
However, Louth were looking that bit superior all over the field. Besides Gearoid Murphy's wonderful goal after 28 minutes, Fergal Sheeky's goal was largely untroubled, and his full-back line were lords and masters over all they surveyed.
Wicklow are currently lacking a cutting edge up front. Chris O'Brien will give you a great physical presence but he didn't get much change from the Louth full-back line on Saturday.
Patrick O'Connor looks like he has all the ingredients of a classic corner-forward, but he has yet to cut loose and play with abandon.
Gearoid Murphy plays further out the field, but it would be interesting to see what damage he might cause if he were left inside.
Rathnew's Mark Doyle, a serious danger a club level in front of goal, didn't get a run on Saturday.
Conor McGraynor was shoved up top as Wicklow went in search of goals late on but the Avondale man did not have time to make a real impact.
Louth took the loss of McDonnell on the chin and drove on relentlessly.
They minded the house in numbers and could break at ease with Anthony Williams and John Clutterbuck tormenting Wicklow up the wings and Jim McEneaney covering every blade of grass in the opening half.
It was in the third quarter that things went south for John Evans' side. A marvelous Fintan O'Shea point left Wicklow trailing by three after 38 minutes. Louth were then awarded an offensive mark when Conor Earley picked out Tommy Durnin from a free. Durnin slotted the mark but the score should not have stood.
In the next 10 minutes Louth opened up a 1-12 to 1-7 lead while Wicklow recorded two wides from Mark Jackson frees and were blown for too many handpasses twice. What made the missed frees even more frustrating was the fact that bringing Jackson up from the goals did nothing except waste time when Wicklow were in a bad way for scores. Add to that the fact that the frees were on the wrong side for a right-footed kicker and it was puzzling that Rory Finn wasn't given the job.
Things had looked much brighter for Wicklow in the opening exchanges. A humdinger of a free from McGraynor was followed by a tasty Padraig O'Toole effort under pressure to open up a 0-2 to 0-0 lead after just two minutes.
Five minutes later Louth were up by three at 1-2 to 0-2, their goal coming from a sweeping move that ended with John Clutterbuck slipping the ball underneath Robert Lambert.
Andy McDonnell was dismissed after 12 minutes for striking Jamie Snell, but the numerical advantage would yield absolutely nothing for Wicklow and Louth would take that two-point advantage into the break with Gearoid Murphy's goal being the highlight of that first half for the decent crowd of supporters.
Wicklow made numerous changes over the course of the second half.
Mark Jackson and Conor Healy entered the fray at half-time and Fintan O'Shea replied to an Anthony Williams point after three minutes of the second half but that was as good as things got for the home side.
Louth eased out to a 1-15 to 1-7 lead with Wicklow not scoring for most of the second half. Rory Finn stopped the rot with a good score late on while Newtown's Ross Davis completed Wicklow's tally.
It was a forgettable day for John Evans' side who welcome Laois to the same venue this Saturday evening at 6pm for what will be another very difficult test for a young squad.
Scorers - Louth: Sam Mulroy 0-4 (1f), Ryan Burns 0-4 (3f), John Clutterbuck 1-0, Declan Byrne 0-2, Ciaran Downey 0-2, Conor Earley 0-1, Tommy Durnin 0-1 (f), Anthony Willaims 0-1, James Craven 0-1, Jim McEneaney 0-1. Wicklow: Rory Finn 0-4 (3f), Gearoid Murphy 1-0, Conor McGraynor 0-1, Anto McLoughlin 0-1, Fintan O'Shea 0-1, Ross Davis 0-1, Padraig O'Toole 0-1.
Louth: Fergal Sheeky; Hugh Osborne, Dan Corcoran, James Craven; Anthony Willaims, Bevan Duffy, John Clutterbuck; Tommy Durnin, Conor Earley; Conall McKeever, Andy McDonnell, Ruairi Moore; Ryan Burns, Sam Mulroy, Jim McEneaney. Subs: Declan Byrne for R Moore (HT), Ciarán Downey for J McEneaney (HT), Ronan Holcroft for C McKeever (42), Niall Conlon for R Burns (52), Fergal Donohoe for J Craven (52), Darren Marks for J Clutterbuck (57), Tadhg McEnaney for S Mulroy (62).
Wicklow: Robert Lambert; Jamie Snell, Ross O'Brien, Tom Maher; Darragh Fitzgerald, Shane Mooney, Fintan O'Shea; Dean Healy, Conor McGraynor; Padraig O'Toole, Anthony McLoughlin, Rory Finn; Gearóid Murphy, Chris O'Brien, Patrick O'Connor. Subs: Karl Kirwan for J Snell (inj, 14), Jamie Snell for T Maher (20), Mark Jackson for R Lambert (HT), Conor Healy for D Fitzgerald (HT), Mark Fitzsimons for S Mooney (44), Niall Meldon for C O'Brien (48), Michael Mangan for G Murphy (57), Ross Davis for P O'Connor (57), Jamie Miley for F O'Shea (60), Cormac O'Shea for A McLoughlin (64), Shane Mooney for D Healy (67).
Referee: Patrick Maguire (Longford).
Reaction: Missed chances prove costly
John Evans didn't seem too concerned at the defeat to Louth last Saturday. It's still December when all is said and done, and the O'Byrne Cup is primarily for experimentation and trying new things and faces and seeing what talent exists around the county.
Weddings, holidays and injuries robbed Wicklow of some household names for this clash but Evans was looking at the positives after the game.
'(We're) trying to give guys game time that haven't had game time before. It's difficult trying to build when you're doing that, plus you've a lot of guys away at the moment between guys getting married and holidays and injuries as well.
'Look, it was good to see a few fellas that are back from injuries, the likes of 'Whacker' (Patrick O'Connor), Chris O'Brien and Dean Healy, they came back in and they got 40 minutes which is what we wanted,' he said.
An extensive tour of the county has been undertaken to swell this Wicklow panel. Players from Newtown, AGB, Stratford-Grangecon, Valleymount and Kilmacanogue are supplying some of the new faces this season.
'Newtown, Kilmac, AGB have a few, we went down to Junior and Intermediate as well, we have Mickey Mangan in there, Conor McGraynor, lads like that,' said John Evans. Newtown's Ross Davis was introduced as well while Éire Óg's Fintan O'Shea looked useful in the first half.
Missed chances were key to the defeat according to the Wicklow boss.
'I just think we missed a few very easy chances in the first half that we should have taken and if that had happened it would have kept the momentum going,' he said.
The new rules are not too popular in the Evans household. There were instances of errors from the officials as well as Wicklow falling foul to the handpass rule over the course of the 70 minutes.
'The referee got confused as well. And then we had about four instances on the trot when we were in a good position where we played the extra pass and got penalised. These are instances that will go against you,' said John Evans, who admitted that Louth are that bit 'slicker' at the moment.
'They were a Division 2 team that have just came down to Division 3 so they would be slicker than we are, at the moment anyway,' he added.
'There is progress. I'm happy enough that we did kick some good scores. I'm just annoyed that we left some easy chances that we should have taken.
'Gearoid Murphy gave a ball to Podge when he should have put it over the bar, 'Whacker' putting the ball out to Chris when he should have put it over, that kind of thing,' he concluded.