Monday 20 November 2017

Micko's retirement on hold after epic

ARMAGH 0-19 , WICKLOW 2-13


OH Micko, oh Micko, oh Micko -- how could we ever doubt you? Prior to this match, Gaels north, south, east and west were primed to wish you well in your retire-ment which was surely inevitable when Wicklow made their widely anticipated championship exit up in Armagh on Saturday night.

Sure, at 75, hadn't you earned your rest after decades travelling the highways and byways of Ireland from your beloved Waterville?

And who could blame you for finishing up now, giving it a rattle in the refurbished Morgan Athletic Grounds before bowing out gracefully.

The only question would be whether Wicklow gave you a send-off that could enable you go out with your head held high.

Well, cancel the retirement party. Tell the caterers to box up the cake. Pack away the bunting. Wicklow football is alive and well, and the amazing Mick O'Dwyer still thrives on the drama. He couldn't have been happier as he said afterwards: "When the heart can stand up to that, that heart of mine must be pretty good, even though I've had stents and all fitted.

"But stents don't matter when it comes to that stuff. Sure, I loved that. I enjoyed that, every moment of it. It was a terrific game of football, and the ref let the game flow, and that made the game.

"That is the best display by a Wicklow team since I came to Wicklow, there is no doubt in the world about that."

Yes, Micko to an extent was the story pre- and post-game -- but don't anyone dare to overlook the raw courage, the passion, and indeed, the quality of football that his players brought to this epic round two qualifier.

In fact, from goalkeeper John Flynn, who made a number of crucial blocks from point-blank shots, through to corner-forward Leighton Glynn and the subs who O'Dwyer threw into action, Wicklow had a squad of stars.

Big James Stafford lorded it at midfield, ably assisted by Rory Finn. Tony Hannon fielded some great balls too, as well as contributing four points to Wicklow's total.

The defence, marshalled excellently by full-back Alan Byrne and centre-back Brian McGrath, often left the Armagh glamour boys frustrated and confused as attacks fell apart and foundered on the disciplined and determined Wicklow tackling, particularly in the first half.

Up front, and working off scraps for most of the second half, full-forward-turned saviour Seanie Furlong plundered two late miracle goals, one near the end of the second half in normal time, and one close to the final whistle in extra-time.

Wicklow could have won the game, both in normal time and extra-time, had they kept cool and taken a couple of good point-scoring chances. For Armagh, a proud team filled with quality players, this was almost a disaster.

They took 26 minutes to score two points, by which time Wicklow had six on the scoreboard.

They were five down -- 0-4 to 0-9 -- at half-time in normal time and they only got level for the first time in the 59th minute. On top of this they had to save their skins with a late, late equalising point at the end of extra-time.

Not a great day's work for Paddy O'Rourke's team -- but the fact is, for most of the game, they couldn't either play or bully their way out of the clutches of Wicklow.

What saved the Orchard County men was the ingrained depth of guts that players such as Aaron Kernan, Ciaran McKeever, Charlie Vernon, Malachy Mackin, Stevie McDonnell and Jamie Clarke have mined to great effect over the years.

Yes, at times it wasn't pretty from the 2002 All-Ireland champions, and nor was their machine running smoothly, but cometh the crisis, cometh the man.

In Armagh's case it was Kernan, who capped a hard-working display by storming through to score three vital points in the last six minutes of the second period of extra-time and ensure a draw. Referee Pat Fox played his part in making this a game to remember.

He won't be popular in Armagh for allowing Seanie Furlong way too many steps before scoring his first goal, and for blowing the final whistle just when most people thought there was a minute or two left in the extra-time.

However, after all the talk of fussy refereeing and yellow card-mania, Fox let it flow and delayed issuing yellows until he felt they were fully deserved. A draw was a fair result in the end.


Goal hero Furlong spoke of his two crucial scores, the first in the 68th minute which made the score 1-10 to 0-12 in favour of Wicklow, and the second in the 86th minute for 2-13 to 0-18.

"I think the first one was a bit doubtful all right, but a defender was dragging out of me, so I think the referee could have blown for a penalty," said Furlong.

"The second one, a big high ball came in, James (Stafford) jumped up, grabbed it, and as he came down, an Armagh player got it off him, but he (Stafford) got it back, and all of a sudden I was in. Staff fisted to me and I hit it low and that was it," added the front man.

Scorers -- Armagh: J Clarke 0-5, S McDonnell 0-4 (1f, 1 '45), M Mackin 0-3; A Kernan 0-3; M O'Rourke, G McParland, J Hanratty, C Vernon 0-1 each. Wicklow: S Furlong 2-4 (1f); L Glynn 0-4; T Hannon 0-3 (1f, 1 '45); N Mernagh; J Stafford 0-1 each

Armagh -- P Hearty 6; A Mallon 6, B Donaghy 6, P Duffy 6; A Kernan 8, C McKeever 7, F Moriarty 6; J Lavery 6, C Vernon 7; K Dyas 6, B Mallon 6, M Mackin 7; M O'Rourke 6, S McDonnell 6, J Clarke 7. Subs: D McKenna 6 for P Duffy (36); J Hanratty 6 for K Dyas (41); T Kernan 7 for B Mallon (44); J Murtagh 6 for M O'Rourke (53); G McParland 6 for J Murtagh (71). Extra time: P Duffy 6 for C McKeever (84), K Dyas for F Moriarty (90)

Wicklow -- J Flynn 8; C Hyland 8, A Byrne 8, S Kelly 8; A McLoughlin 8, B McGrath 8, D Hayden 8; J Stafford 9, R Finn 8; JP Dalton 7, T Hannon 8, N Mernagh 7; P Earls 8, S Furlong 9, L Glynn 8. Subs: C McGraynor 7 for N Mernagh (45); A O'Malley 7 for JP Dalton (52); D Siney 7 for T Hannon (65). Extra time: P Dalton 6 for C Hyland (70); JP Dalton for P Earls (80); P Higgins for B McGrath (88)

Ref -- P Fox (Westmeath)

Irish Independent

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