Westmeath put Wicklow to the sword
Westmeath 0-19 Wicklow 0-14
Wicklow's dismal Division 4 campaign continued in TEG Cusack Park in Mullingar on Sunday afternoon when Johnny Magee's charges slumped to a 0-19 to 0-14 defeat to Westmeath.
The defeat condemns the Garden county to second from bottom in the basement division and with very tricky ties against Carlow and Limerick to come it seems unlikely that that position will change other than in the downward direction unless this team can find something special in the coming weeks.
There was no real surprise in the defeat to Tom Cribbin's side, who are pretty much nailed on to rise back up to Division 3 along with the already promoted Wexford, but there may have been eyebrows shifted at the closeness of the final score and it's here that the Wicklow players deserve credit because they battled from start to finish in this clash and, but for a spilled ball from Seanie Furlong to Stephen Kelly in the second half, they might well have found themselves within touching distance at the end.
The summing up of the game would point to midfield dominance for Westmeath, with Ger Egan and Alan Stone bossing the central area while also contributing six outstanding points between them to the final tally. A busy Westmeath attack put pressure on Robert Lambert's kick-outs, forcing the Aughrim man to go long for the most part where the home team were the dominant force.
At the other end of the field, the sharp-shooting John Heslin couldn't be contained despite the gallant efforts of Ross O'Brien and he drifted over six frees and four points from play with his lovely, nonchalant kicking style that suggests he cares for the football and wants to see it make it's jouney over the crossbar in the least stressful manner possible.
Heslin had a nemesis on the day though and that man was Seanie Furlong. A fine collection of eight points for the Kiltegan man after a superb showing which was produced in the company of usually two if not three Westmeath defenders and there were numerous occasions on which referee Sean Laverty might have considered giving Furlong frees as the Wicklow full-forward appeared to be manhandled on umpteen occasions with very few cards being flashed at any of the Westmeath defenders.
There has been mention of improvement within this Wicklow team and there can be no argument against that, they have improved massively since the Leitrim game but much of that improvement has to be down to the very organic reason of playing more football and of becoming more familiar with the system they are trying to play. The frustrating thing is why it takes so long for that pitch the players have now reached to be arrived at because there will never be an exit of Division 4 if the calamitous start to this campaign is repeated.
With only pride left to play for in this league campaign, Wicklow supporters will hope that the improvement being touted will give the county team a fighting chance against high-flying Louth in the championship because they are a team who have always seemed capable of turning the Garden county over.
Just how many Wicklow supporters will hope for such a thing is unknown and this is the really serious issue that the Wicklow County Board need to look at over the coming weeks and months.
Interest in this county team seems to be at an all-time low. After the earlier defeats the Wicklow People Facebook page was peppered with comments from people around the county; some shooting from the hip, others making intelligent and well thought out arguments, some venting frustration. But the last two games have seen a deathly online silence when it comes to the football.
And it's not just in the ether that this desertion is being felt, it's on the ground as well. It would surprise this writer if the Wicklow attendance in TEG Cusack Park last Sunday, apart from County Board officials, numbered above 20.
The Wexford game in Arklow drew a decent crowd but the close border with the Model county would have much to do with that.
The London game was shocking in terms of support with sources in the County Board reporting that when all factors were considered after the game, the shared gate between the county boards amounted to under €40 per county.
One of the few spectators in TEG Cusack Park reflected on the day Wicklow played Westmeath up there when the famous row took place in the tunnel.
He recalled that there was a "massive" crowd there that day with Wicklow supporters outnumbering Westmeath fans. Times have changed, obviously, but not to the extent of the reality that is facing Wicklow GAA at this moment in time.
On the drive home from Mullingar, RTE Radio 1's sports show 'Sunday Sport' broadcast a recorded piece concerning the woes of Offaly GAA who are struggling in Division 3 and looking very likely to join Wicklow in Division 4 for 2018. Given its lack of success in the last 20 years, a listener could be forgiven for wondering why Offaly GAA gets a thoughtful probe into its difficulties by the national broadcaster but nobody ever tries to shine a light into the barren lands of poor old Wicklow.
Add to the difficulties an ever-changing panel of footballers and it's not hard to see why people are choosing to spend their Sunday afternoons pursuing alternative interests.
It was revealed last week that the O'Connor brothers, from Blessington, Mikey and Patrick, have both stepped away from the panel. Marc Lennon, Frank Clune, and Paul Cunningham (St Judes) are also no longer involved.
And it's a shame there weren't more people in Mullingar on Sunday because there were some fine passages of play from this Wicklow team.
Westmeath opened strongly and led by 0-03 o 0-01 after 12 minutes with two wides to their name as well. Wicklow's opening point came from a dinky Darren Hayden effort from a tight angle after Seanie Furlong had showed well to win the ball and lay it off to the Greystones man.
Anthony McLoughlin bombed over the first of his two mighty scores to reduce the lead to a single point before Wicklow received what looked to be an unfortunate boost with Denis Glennon having to leave the field following a collision with John McGrath.
However, Glennon's departure did not blunt the Westmeath attack in any way.
Tom Cribbin's men were moving well and seeking to punish Wicklow at every opportunity with Paul Sharry particularly energetic early on and after a few false starts the centre-half forward lofted over a gorgeous 45 to add to an earlier Heslin pointed free and suddenly it was 0-05 to 0-02 with 18 gone.
Paddy Byrne slipped over a silky little score after good work by Anthony McLoughlin to disrupt a Westmeath move through to middle and the ball was fed to John Crowe who picked out the Ballymanus man and he dropped it over with the left.
Furlong and Heslin exchanged points before Alan Stone got in on the act and three points from Heslin, two from frees, sent Westmeath in leading by 0-10 to 0-04 th Furlong tacking on the last point for Wicklow from a free after Paddy Byrne had been fouled by James Dolan.
Westmeath started the second half like a train and had two wides and two points on the board before Wickllow gathered their thoughts on got two back through Seanie from a free and Tommy Kelly from play to make it 0-12 to 0-07 after 12 minutes of the second.
Heslin and Furlong traded points before Johnny Magee sent in Mark Kenny and Gary Allen for John McGrath and Paddy Byrne.
Ger Egan screwed over one of his seuperb scores with 17 on the clock before Westmeath substitute Tommy McDaniel and that man Heslin, from a free, made it 0-16 to 0-08 with nothing but a Westmeath victory on the horizon.
Stone made it 0-17 to 0-08 beor Wicklow started to really take the game to the home side with points from Furlong (four), a bomb from Anthony McLoughlin and a wicked score from full-back Ross O'Brientaking the bad look off the scoreboard at 0-19 to 0-14 in favour of Tom Cribbin's men.
Wicklow face Carlow this weekend and Turlough O'Brien's side will enjoy nothing better than getting one over the neighbours to maintain their reasonable form in Division 4 so far.
Best for Wicklow in Mullingar were Eoin Murtagh, Darren Hayden, John Crowe, Paddy Byrne and Seanie Furlong.
Scorers - Westmeath: John Heslin 0-10 (6f), Ger Egan 0-4, Alan Stone 0-2, Paul Sharry ('45'), David Lynch, Tommy McDaniel 0-1 each.
Wicklow: Seanie Furlong 0-8 (6f), Anto McLoughlin 0-2, Ross O'Brien, Darren Hayden, Paddy Byrne, Tommy Kelly 0-1 each.
Wicklow: Robert Lambert; Eoin Murtagh, Ross O'Brien, Jamie Snell; Darren Hayden, Dean Healy, John Crowe; Rory Finn, Anto McLoughlin; Conor Ffrench, Stephen Kelly, John McGrath; Paddy Byrne, Seanie Furlong, Tommy Kelly. Subs: Gary Allen for Byrne (51), Mark Kenny for McGrath (51), David Boothman for Murtagh (66), Padraig Byrne for Ffrench (66), Ciaran Hyland for Finn (66), Caolon O'Gorman for Crowe (70).
Westmeath: Darren Quinn; Mark McCallon, Kevin Maguire, John Egan; James Dolan, Jamie Gonoud, Noel Mulligan; Alan Stone, Ger Egan; Kelvin Reilly, Paul Sharry, Denis Glennon; Kieran Martin, John Heslin, David Lynch. Subs: Alan Gaughan for Glennon (inj., 15), Shane Corcoran for Mulligan (45), Tommy McDaniel for Martin (51), Callum McCormack for Reilly (62), Shane Dempsey for Sharry (64), Killian Daly for Lynch (69).
Referee: Sean Laverty (Antrim)