Gannon's hard work is key as Carlow build on fine start to sink Wicklow
Carlow 1-17 Wicklow 1-12
A blistering start from Carlow footballers provided the foundation for a five-point win over neighbours Wicklow as Turlough O'Brien's side reached Round 2 of the All-Ireland SFC Qualifiers at Netwatch Cullen Park on Saturday.
In a local derby watched by around 2,000, the home county kept their opponents at arm's length after that flying start.
Home full-forward and captain Darragh Foley hit a succession of early pointed frees.
Sandwiched between Foley's white flags was a morale-boosting fifth-minute goal, the culmination of wonderful interchanges between midfield powerhouse Brendan Murphy and his midfield dynamo Sean Gannon, before the former crashed to the ball into the Wicklow net.
Wicklow were slow out of the blocks and struggled to cope with the Murphy/Gannon axis. Murphy hit 1-4 from play, but was edged out for man-of-the-match status by Gannon, who, despite his slight frame, fielded magnificently and ran himself into the ground.
Wicklow full-forward Paul Cunningham was their go-to man in attack and he had a fine game, hitting 1-6, but the Bray Emmets clubman lacked sufficient consistent support up front against a vigilant Carlow defence.
Cunningham scored a splendid 33rd-minute goal to leave his side 1-7 to 1-4 in arrears as Carlow went on to lead by four points at the break (1-9 to 1-5).
Wind advantage proved no great benefit to Wicklow in the second half as the Carlow defence held firm. But the home county was also in serious debt to goalie Robbie Molloy for two blinding saves - one in each half and both from Cunningham.
In the 21st minute, he turned Cunningham's rasping effort round the post for a '45 after the ball came back off the upright.
And on 51 minutes, the Wicklow No 14 was clean through, one-on-one with the Carlow netminder, who made a stupendous flying save to somehow tip the ball over the bar as Carlow led 1-13 to 1-9.
The Carlow manager, elated at the win, said: "We have one of the best midfield pairings and they showed it tonight." And he followed up by declaring "we don't mind who we draw" (in Round 2 of the Qualifiers).
A deflated Wicklow manager Johnny Magee admitted candidly: "Carlow were the better team on the night. We did not play well in the first half, except for maybe the last five minutes. At this level, you cannot get away with that."
The former Dublin player said Wicklow are a young team, adding: "We have to learn from today. It's a matter of playing consistently for the 70 minutes and we played for five or 10 minutes." He described it as being "a learning experience".
Carlow lost centre-forward Darragh O'Brien to a 15th-minute black card, while Brendan Murphy also saw black five minutes from full-time - but his work was done for the day.
This was the 24th SFC head-to-head between these counties, going back to 1918, with Carlow leading 16-6 with two draws.
Scorers - Carlow: D Foley 0-8 (6f), Brendan Murphy 1-4, D St Ledger 0-3 (3f), C Blake, G Power 0-1 each. Wicklow: P Cunningham 1-6 (4f), M Kenny, D Hayden 0-2 each, A Murphy, R Finn 0-1 each.
Carlow - R Molloy 8; B Kavanagh 8, D St Ledger 7, K Nolan 7; G Kelly 6, J Murphy 8, H Gahan 6; Brendan Murphy 9, S Gannon 9; A Kelly 7, D O'Brien, B J Molloy 6; D Smithers 5, D Foley 8, C Blake 5. Subs: G Power 6 for O'Brien (BC, 15), D Moran 6 for Kelly (53), Brian Murphy for J Murphy (59), J Murphy for Brendan Murphy (BC, 65), B Cawley for Gannon (70).
Wicklow - R Lambert 7; C Hyland 6, P McLoughlin 6, A Murphy 7; J Snell 6, D Healy 8, S Kelly 6; R Finn 7, A McLoughlin 7; M Kenny 6, N Gaffney 5, D Hayden 6; P Byrne 5, P Cunningham 8, M Lennon 5. Subs: S Thompson 5 for Lennon (h-t), D Woods 5 for Gaffney (43), R O'Brien 5 for McLoughlin (52), P O'Connor for Finn (58), M O'Connor for Byrne (69), J Crowe for Hayden (69).
Ref - P O'Sullivan (Kerry)