Sunday 25 February 2018

Wicklow show steel to prolong Micko's reign

SEAN RYAN, in Aughrim

SLIGO'S hopes of repeating their qualifier heroics of the early Noughties were dashed by Wicklow in Aughrim yesterday before a crowd of over 4,000, when Mick O'Dwyer's men prevailed after a gripping contest.

Contest is the key word describing this first-round qualifier, as you would expect from teams managed by O'Dwyer and former Galway All Star Kevin Walsh. The football might have left something to be desired, but from first whistle to last no quarter was asked or given as both sets of players fought to prolong their Championship campaign.

The decisive score came from young Wicklow substitute Conor McGraynor in the 62nd minute. James Stafford made a good run through the middle and when he passed to McGraynor, the 18-year-old had only one thing on his mind, and he shot past Sligo goalkeeper Philip Greene.

A good save by Wicklow goalkeeper John Flynn from Adrian Marren was equally vital as Sligo came right down the pitch seeking an equaliser.

Subsequently, points by Sean Furlong, Nicky Mernagh and McGraynor ensured that O'Dwyer's reign in the Garden County continues for another while. O'Dwyer made four changes from the team which lost comprehensively to Kildare, with Jack Flynn, Anthony McLoughlin, Nicky Mernagh and JP Dalton coming in for Mervyn Travers, Michael McLoughlin, Paddy Dalton and Dean Siney.

Sligo also had four changes from the team that started against Leitrim. Noel McGuire, Brian Kennedy, Brendan Egan and Mark Breheny came in for Brian Curran and Alan Costello (both suspended), Ken Sweeney, who has emigrated, and Francis Quinn. Sligo switched full-back McGuire to centre-back, giving Kennedy the task of marking Furlong.

It was score for score for the first 25 minutes, but then Sligo's failure to secure possession from their own kick-outs cost them dearly. Greene mis-hit one kick to Wicklow dangerman Furlong, and he promptly placed it over the bar.

This initiated a Wicklow surge, which saw them move into into a four-point lead, 0-10 to 0-6, with two of those points coming from winning the midfield battle for the Sligo kick-out.

Just before the break, Marren notched his fourth point for Sligo to reduce the gap to three points, but he picked up a yellow card , as did Wicklow ace Leighton Glynn.

Straight from the resumption, Sligo closed the gap with a point from Brendan Egan. However, Tony Hannon, with his second point from a '45' restored Wicklow's advantage before Tony Taylor gave Sligo renewed hope and Marren closed the gap to a single point, then equalised with another fine effort. The flow of play began to favour Sligo, and there was a huge roar from their supporters when David Kelly came on in the 46th minute.

However, Wicklow refused to lie down and points from Nicky Mernagh and Furlong -- a great left-footed free from wide on the right -- put them two points clear. Kelly then made his first intervention with a fine pass to Marren who hit his seventh point, but Stafford responded. It was a case of who would make fewest mistakes at this point, and Sligo weren't helping their cause by surrendering possession in scoring positions.

When Marren pointed and Hannon missed a '45' it seemed the momentum was switching to Sligo but then McGraynor, who had just been introduced, received from Stafford and shot past Greene to open a three-point gap, which Furlong added to shortly after, as Wicklow took over at midfield. Sligo fought valiantly to the end, but this was Wicklow's day.

There was a minute's silence before the beginning of the game for Liam Odlum, the father of former Wicklow county player Dean Odlum.

Scorers -- Wicklow: T Hannon 0-4 (2 '45', 1f), C McGraynor 1-1, S Furlong (1f) and L Glynn (1f) 0-3 each, N Mernagh 0-2, D Hayden, J Stafford, R Finn, P Earls 0-1 each. Sligo: A Marren 0-9 (2f), A Taylor 0-3, E O'Hara, M Breheny, S Coen, B Egan 0-1 each.

Wicklow: J Flynn; C Hyland, A Byrne, S Kelly; A McLoughlin, B McGrath, D Hayden; J Stafford, R Finn; T Hannon, N Mernagh, P Earls; JP Dalton, S Furlong, L Glynn. Subs: P Higgins for Hyland, C McGraynor for Dalton, P Dalton for Hannon.

Sligo: P Greene; C Harrison, N McGuire, R Donovan; P McGovern, B Kennedy, N Ewing; E O'Hara, S Gilmartin; B Egan, M Breheny, D Rooney; S Coen, A Taylor, A Marren. Subs: J Davey for Rooney, D Kelly for Coen, F Quinn for McGuire, M Hughes for Gilmartin, E Mullen for Breheny.

Referee: E Kinsella (Laois).

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