Late Hannon brace gives last word to wily Micko
O'Byrne Cup SF
NEW Laois boss Justin McNulty wasn't even born when Mick O'Dwyer set out on his managerial adventures back in late 1974, so it was very much a case of the eager young cub plotting against the wily old fox in Portlaoise yesterday.
Both were playing experimental hands and, in the end, it was advantage Micko, after two late Tony Hannon points secured a Wicklow victory that had looked an absolute certainty 20 minutes earlier.
Wicklow had been far more cohesive and ambitious for the first 50 minutes, sprinting into a seven-point lead (1-8 to 0-4) before Laois, who failed to score between the 21st and 52nd minutes, gradually found a rhythm which wrecked their opponents' momentum.
Laois scored an unanswered 1-5 in 14 minutes to lead by a point as the game neared its conclusion.
It looked very much as if they would complete the task but Wicklow responded positively and Hannon struck twice for crucial points.
He had earlier despatched a penalty kick to the net with impressive ease in the 43rd minute.
Dean Siney and Paul Earls had also shown prominently in the Wicklow attack while new midfielder Rory Finn also made a significant impact, as did sub Conor McGraynor.
Alan Nolan, Alan Byrne, Paul Cunningham and Ciaran Hyland also did well for Wicklow on a day when their more driven approach ultimately harvested the rewards.
"We might have got through in the end if we'd shown a bit more composure but, in fairness to Wicklow, you'd have to say they were that bit better over the 70 minutes," said McNulty.
"Still, games like this are all about trying out new players and trying lads in different positions and in that respect we'd be happy with what we learned."
The brave recovery, albeit one which didn't get them over the line, will have pleased McNulty, but questions remain as to how and why they fell so far behind in the first place.
Granted, Wicklow were a slicker outfit, but with so many Laois players effectively on trial, it was somewhat surprising that they allowed the tempo of their game to sag after a lively opening.
A Padraic Clancy point in the 21st minute put Laois ahead (0-4 to 0-3) but Wicklow took over from there on.
They led 0-6 to 0-4 at half-time and added 1-2 in the opening 13 minutes of the second half before Laois finally injected some urgency into their game.
The introduction of subs Barry Fitzgerald, Cahir Healy and Ross Munnelly was central to the Laois revival: they drove Wicklow deep into defence before picking off a series of fine scores.
Craig Rogers' 67th-minute point put them ahead but having put so much into the game, Wicklow weren't going to be denied.
The manner in which they went about their business in the closing minutes was most impressive, leaving O'Dwyer in contented mood as he reflected on the first game of what is his 34th season in charge of a senior inter-county team.
"We nearly blew it after playing well and running in some good scores but the lads dug in again when they had to in the last few minutes," he said. "After being so long without a game, it's always good to get back in action.
"Both sides will be the better for that. I'd be happy enough with the overall display, even if lads are a bit rusty after being off for so long.
"These games are all about giving new players a chance to show what they can do and for others to show what sort of shape they're in.
"You wouldn't want to read too much into results in January, but sure it's always good to win. We'll be coming back to Portlaoise for the Leinster championship match with Kildare in May so it's nice to get a win here."
Wicklow take on Louth in the next round of the O'Byrne Cup next Sunday, while Laois head for the Shield competition with McNulty promising further experiments.
"We'll use as many players as possible and see how things shape up after that. It's all about learning from each game at this stage," said McNulty, who revealed that he currently has 36 players on the panel.
They include the recalled Colm Parkinson, who made a low-key return yesterday. He found it difficult to make much progress against a tigerish Wicklow defence, although he did show some trademark touches, which reminded the Laois faithful of days when his exciting talents provided many electrifying moments.
Some of them came during O'Dwyer's spell as Laois manager, which began back in 2003 at a time when McNulty was still a key figure in the Armagh defence.
Now, McNulty is charged with re-building a Laois empire that has lost much of its power in recent seasons.
Nevertheless, they have produced lots of excellent young talent which could yet develop into a powerful senior unit.
As for Wicklow, they have some decent young talent too and with Micko still sprinkling his magic, hopes are high for 2011.
Scorers -- Wicklow: T Hannon 1-2 (1-0p, 0-1f), D Odlum 0-4 (0-3f), D Siney 0-2 (0-2f), P Dalton, C McGraynor 0-1 each. Laois: D Carroll 1-1, M Finlay 0-3 (0-1f), C Parkinson, P Clancy, B Fitzgerald (0-1f), R Munnelly (0-1f), C Rogers 0-1 each.
Wicklow -- J Flynn; C Hyland, A Nolan, A Byrne; P Cunningham, S Kelly, A McLoughlin; R Finn, N Gaffney; D Hayden, T Hannon, P Dalton; D Odlum, P Earls, D Siney. Subs: C McGraynor for McLoughlin (h-t), P Higgins for Byrne (61), M O'Loughlin for Cunningham (61).
Laois -- D Maher; S Julian, D Booth, R Kehoe; P Begley, D Strong, C Boyle; P Clancy, C Og Greene; C Rogers, C Parkinson, G Kavanagh; M Finlay, D Carroll, J Enright. Subs: B Fitzgerald for Enright (48), M Timmons for Greene (48), C Healy for Julian (52), R Munnelly for Kavanagh (57).
Ref -- J Curley (Meath).
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