Byrne's rescue act gives Wicklow platform to go extra mile
Wicklow 1-17 Waterford 0-15
aLL-iRELAND sFC QUALIFIER
Wicklow were pushed all the way in a hard-fought battle with Waterford at Aughrim on Saturday.
They had teetered on the brink of exiting the championship in normal time, and were saved only by a last-minute point by their corner-back Alan Byrne -- a magnificent effort from 50 metres.
Waterford, who had beaten Wicklow by four points in the league in Aughrim in March (4-7 to 1-12), were down to 14 men after 25 minutes, but they dominated play for long spells.
Gary Hurney was one of the players that Waterford were banking on to carve out another win over the Garden County, but he was red-carded 10 minutes before half-time for an off-the-ball incident with Wicklow's full-back Anthony McLoughlin.
With the wind behind them, the Deise raced into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead in the first 11 minutes as midfielder Patrick Hurney bagged a brace, and Gary Hurney and corner-forward Mark Ferncombe grabbed points.
Wicklow's wing-forward Dara O'Sullivan had a huge game. He mopped up ball all over the field, steadied his team and stemmed the Waterford surge considerably.
Yet the visitors went in at half-time leading 0-7 to 0-4. Wicklow, who lined out without Leighton Glynn and Ciaran Hyland, both recovering from ankle injuries, were visibly struggling.
Harry Murphy dipped into his bench and brought on Conor McGraynor and Joey Kelly for his two corner-forwards Austin O'Malley and Tony Hannon and it was his substitutes who proved the match-winners.
McGraynor and Kelly made an impact straight away. Kelly pumped over a point and McGraynor blasted to the net from a Seanie Furlong lay-off and inside four minutes Wicklow had turned a 0-7 to 0-4 half-time deficit into a 1-7 to 0-7 lead.
But still it was Waterford who were calling most of the shots and points by centre-forward Paul Whyte, centre-back Shane Briggs, JJ Hutchinson, and Mark Ferncombe saw them take a one-point lead, 0-12 to 1-8, into the final minute of normal time.
Wicklow's outlook was looking decidedly bleak at that stage as they looked set for elimination.
In one last throw of the dice Byrne linked up with his attackers, took a pass from McGraynor and kicked a brilliant point from 50 metres to send the match to extra-time.
And it was in the additional periods that Wicklow came up trumps. McGraynor, Kelly and Nicky Mernagh led the way as they forged ahead by 1-14 to 0-14 in the first half of extra-time.
Waterford tried to retrieve the situation, but Whyte ballooned two '45s' wide of the target. McGraynor and another substitute, Niall Gaffney, along with midfielder James Stafford, nailed down victory with another three points.
Waterford's sole response was a last-minute score from Mark Ferncombe.
Scorers -- Wicklow: C McGraynor 1-2, J McGrath, J Kelly 0-3 each,T Hannon, S Furlong 0-2 each, D Hayden, N Mernagh , N Gaffney, J Stafford, A Byrne 0-1 each. Waterford: P Hurney 0-5, P Whyte, M Ferncombe 0-3 each, G Hurney, S Briggs, JJ Hutchinson, T Grey 0-1 each.
Wicklow -- J Flynn 8; S Kelly 7, A McLoughlin 6, A Byrne 9; D Hayden 6, S Byrne 7, D Healy 6; J Stafford 7, P Burke 6; D O'Sullivan 8, J McGrath 8, R Finn 5; A O'Malley 5, S Furlong 6, T Hannon 5. Subs: C McGraynor 8 for O'Malley, J Kelly 8 for Hannon, N Mernagh 6 for P Burke, N Gaffney 6 for Hayden, P Dalton for Healy, D Woods for Stafford.
Waterford -- S Enright 7; M O'Gorman 7, T O'Gorman 8, K Connery 7; T Grey 7, S Briggs 8, W Hennessy 7; S Dempsey 7, P Hurney 8; L O Lionnain 6, P Whyte 7, A Doyle 6; M Ferncombe 7, G Hurney 6, JJ Hutchinson 6. Subs: C O'Keeffe 6 for Doyle, C McGrath 6 for O Lionnain, T O hUallachain 6 for Hutchinson, J Veale (e-t) for G Hurney (red card), E Walsh for Briggs, G Nugent for Whyte, A Brophy for P Hurney.
Ref -- P O'Sullivan (Kerry)