Wednesday 21 February 2018

Wicklow lose out to quality

Wicklow’s Martin O’Brien and Eugene Dunne try to prevent Maynooth University's Brian Molloy from gaining possession
Wicklow’s Martin O’Brien and Eugene Dunne try to prevent Maynooth University's Brian Molloy from gaining possession

Craig Farrar at Pearses' Park, Arklow

Last Sunday night many enthusiastic American football fans stayed up until the early hours of the morning to watch two teams do battle in Super Bowl, one of the biggest sporting events in the world.

Wicklow 2-11 Maynooth University 1-23

For those of you who aren't quite as eager and enjoy your sleep, we bore witness to one team surge into a commanding lead before failing to close out the game in an efficient manner, leaving their opposition the chance to mount a sensational comeback and claim the spoils.

The Kehoe Cup final may not have had the glitz, the glamour, the sometimes frustrating breaks in play or indeed, Lady Gaga, but what it did have was two passionate teams fighting tooth and nail for every loose ball with bodies on the line.

And while the Atlanta Falcons may have failed to hold onto their lead, NUI Maynooth showed superb game management to seal a comprehensive victory after taking an early lead.

Maynooth started the brighter of the two sides but struggled to convert their quick start into scores in the opening minutes. An early attack from the throw-in was repelled by Wicklow full-back Martin O'Brien before Maynooth's Jim White hit two wides in quick succession.

The matchup between O'Brien and White was entertaining throughout, with the big centre-forward's physical style threatening at times to kick down the door to Wicklow's goal but O' Brien has no time for that and rose to the challenge.

The scoring was opened by Paul Winters with a well taken score from the left touchline. Wicklow soon levelled the scores through a fine Danny Staunton effort after the Glenealy man plucked the sliotar out of the sky from an Eoghan O'Mahony puck-out.

The Maynooth response was instantaneous. A puck-out broke nicely for Paddy Deegan and the Kilkenny man surged forward before splitting the posts.

This would become a recurring theme later on in the game, any time Wicklow made inroads into the deficit Maynooth would respond with scores of their own.

For the early stages, however, Wicklow did hold their own. A Christy Moorehouse free, won by Gerry Connors, levelled the game before two scores by Brian Molloy gave Maynooth the lead once more.

Moorehouse and Ronan Keddy saw points cancelled out by Maynooths attack before Niall Kenny charged in from the right and extended his sides lead, leaving team-mate David Burke furious that the sliotar had not been played across goal, with the Kilkenny man feeling a goal had been on the cards.

It wasn't long before Maynooth did raise a green flag. A monster puck out was aimed at Jim White deep into the Wicklow half. White knocked the sliotar down into the path of David Hennessey who took possession on the run and released a fine finish across goal from the left hand side of the square into the net.

There was little O' Mahony could have done to prevent the score. Maynooth continued to reap the rewards from their good attacking play before half-time and went in at the break ahead by a score of 1-11 to 0-07.

Maynooth began the second period in the same vein as they finished the first, two points from frees sandwiched by a Moorehouse point from play.

It was looking increasingly obvious that Wicklow needed a goal to have any chance of working their way back into the game but, aside from a Christy Moorehouse snapshot in the first half which flashed wide, the Maynooth full-back line had held firm.

Maynooth had dropped an extra man back to protect their goal and this was reaping dividends, snuffing out a number of Wicklow attacks.

Maynooth further extended their lead to a margin of 11 points, with points from Egerton and Molloy particularly impressive, and Wicklow looked down and out.

However, there was still fight left in the home side.

A high ball in dropped to a backpedaling Andy O'Brien on the edge of the small square and with one swoop of his hurl the ball was in the back of the net.

This gave Wicklow renewed impetus and there were several half-chances which came to nothing. Had one of these resulted in a goal, Wicklow may have been able to mount a comeback Maynooth got their tactics right and defended well in the closing stages on top of continuing to keep the scoreboard ticking over.

Wicklow did add a late second goal after a high ball in from Ronan Keddy aimed at Andy O'Brien dropped into the net but it was too little too late and Maynooth emerged victorious.

While there were several solid individual performances from both sides, the standout player was Maynooth's Brian Molloy. Wearing number 13 but playing out the field in a roaming role, Molloy was generally a step ahead of everyone else on the field.

When other players, from both sides, were solely focused on the ball, Molloy was finding pockets of space from where he could dictate the game.

On several occasions, Molloy showed great patience and composure to time his run off the shoulder of team-mates to perfection to set him up with the sliotar and space to charge into from where he could go for his own score or lay off to a better positioned team-mate.

This sense of when to make a run forward and when to sit off and take a pass backwards caused problems for Wicklow throughout the game, and the failure to nullify this threat certainly contributed to the margin of victory in what was a disappointing day out for Wicklow but all is not lost.

Speaking after the match, Wicklow manager Seamus Murphy acknowledged the quality of the opposition on the day.

"They're a quality team. A top class Fitzgibbon Cup outfit. Maynooth have made huge improvements in recent years, we always knew it was going to be a tough task taking on such a well-prepared side that has been together for the last three or four months," he said.

"It's a big advantage compared to us, we're just trying to assemble a panel and we've been working hard together but it's the days like these when you find out the most about who's going to make the cut for us," he added.

Murphy was also happy with how preparations have gone prior to this game, praising the players commitment while also lamenting the difficult conditions.

"The players are fully committed, they've been training well in poor conditions. Obviously the conditions in Ballinakill are terrible at the moment, it doesn't help the hurling but that's where we are at the moment. We're doing the best we can under the conditions.

"But looking forward we're going to have games every week now, we're trying to build a panel here and we'll be aiming to be competitive in the league.

"We were in the relegation final last year so if we can avoid that and be competitive in the division. A few more games like today will stand to us.

"We'll be looked on as one of the weaker sides in the group but I don't believe that, these lads are starting to look like a good squad of players and I think as the weeks go by we can get better and better if we have a bit of luck with injuries".

Wicklow face Roscommon next and a disappointed captain Christy Moorehouse was already planning ahead for the next game.

"Maynooth are a different outfit to what we have played so far, they deserved the win. Personally I had a few wides they don't help either but Maynooth were the better team. There's probably a few lads to come back into the team so we have to regroup and focus on the first match in the league against Roscommon."

Wicklow travel to face Roscommon next weekend and both captain and manager have their sights set on this fixture and no further ahead.

On a lighter note, Tom Brady, the New England Patriots quarterback who won a record fifth Super Bowl ring on Sunday, was quite possibly not the only man to make a bit of history last weekend. Bob FitzGerald, a proud Wicklow man but also a student at NUI Maynooth, is surely the first man to ever both win and come runner-up in the Kehoe Cup. Bob was listed as number 16 for both sides on Sunday's match programme.

Scorers - Wicklow: Andy O' Brien 1-01, Christy Moorehouse 0-04, Ronan Keddy 1-02, Padraig Doyle, Anto Byrne, George O' Brien, Danny Staunton 0-01.

Maynooth: Brian Molloy 0-13, David Hennessey 1-02, Niall Kenny 0-02, David Burke 0-03, Paul Winters 0-02, Paddy Deegan 0-01.

Wicklow: Eoghan O' Mahony, Eugene Dunne, Martin O' Brien, Warren Kavanagh, Garry Byrne, Eamonn Kearns, Ronan Keddy, John Henderson, Christy Moorehouse, Padraig Doyle, Andy O' Brien, Aaron Nugent, George O' Brien, Danny Staunton, Gerry Connors. Subs: Robert Fitzgerald, Oisin Furlong, Anto Byrne, Luke Maloney, Wayne Kinsella, John Connors, Billy Cuddihy, Eoin McCormack, Jamie Byrne, James Cranley, Peter Keane.

Maynooth: Brian Hogan, Emmet Moloney, Michael Campion, Eoin McLoughlin, Padraig Walsh, Paddy Deegan, Ross Donohue, Ciaran Breen, Kevin Sheridan, Daragh Egerton, Niall Kenny, Eoin Kenny, Brian Molloy, David Burke, Shane O' Brien. Subs: Robert Fitzgerald, Thomas O' Neil, Frank Bass, Fergal Murray, Gearoid Egan, MJ Lalor, Dean Lawless, Ethan Lawless, Patrick Leahy, Mark Coady, Paul Kinsella, Morgan Ryan, Phillip Smith, Ronan Smith, David Sweeney.

Referee: Michael O'Sullivan (Kilkenny)

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