Wednesday 23 May 2018

'It's what football is all about' - Wicklow looking forward to Dubs showdown after stunning Offaly

Wicklow 1-20 Offaly 1-15 (After extra time)

Wicklow manager John Evans congratulates top-scoring goalkeeper Mark Jackson after their victory over Offaly in Leinster SFC at O’Moore Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Wicklow manager John Evans congratulates top-scoring goalkeeper Mark Jackson after their victory over Offaly in Leinster SFC at O’Moore Park. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

Michael Verney

John Evans greets the media with a wry smile knowing that when the formalities of their thrilling extra-time victory are eventually digested, the mountainous task of their Leinster quarter-final meeting with Dublin looms large.

The reigning All-Ireland champions are a daunting prospect, especially given that the Garden men were bottom of Division 4 this year - ranked lowest of all 32 competing counties, while the Dubs scorched to Division 1 glory - but developing his charges for the future is all that's on his mind for now.

Having watched his side upset the odds and capitalise on an out-of-sorts Offaly side, he's more confident than ever that he has the raw materials to make his regular trips from Kerry worthwhile. The next result will not bog him down, regardless of what the scoreline may be.

"I've only one thing to say - if Dublin want to beat us by 10, 20, 30 or 40 points they can do that, but we'll play our football and we'll develop our football over the next three years and that's what I'm looking at. Not only one game," a delighted Evans said.

Groundwork

A goal from substitute Daragh Fitzgerald at the start of the second period of extra-time sealed it as they notched a first championship victory in four years - also against Offaly in the 2014 qualifiers - but the groundwork had been laid long before then.

Wicklow's Jamie Snell stops Conor Carroll in his tracks. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Wicklow's Jamie Snell stops Conor Carroll in his tracks. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

The game began in an eerie silence and was lacking championship bite for long stages, but once the Garden support found their voice they helped lift their side to a draw in normal time, having relied on the expert free-taking of goalkeeper Mark Jackson.

Jackson was the hero of the day as he nonchalantly fired over their last three points - seven in total - to snatch a 1-11 to 0-14 draw after 70 minutes.

They had earlier trailed by four points when Faithful skipper Anton Sullivan - who took the fight to them throughout - fired a brilliant solo goal to the Wicklow net in the 30th minute before going in 1-5 to 0-5 down at the break.

There was no panic, however, and they grew in confidence as the game developed, smelling blood against a listless Offaly side as the full-time whistle approached.

Wicklow's Mark Kenny has a shot on goal. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile
Wicklow's Mark Kenny has a shot on goal. Photo: Harry Murphy/Sportsfile

Veteran forward Seanie Furlong and lively attackers Mark Kenny and John McGrath were all playing their part, but were it not for Jackson - who also saved a second-half Nigel Dunne penalty - their goose was cooked.

Surprisingly, they were the fitter side as they game wore on and Jackson's two frees in the first period of extra-time helped them into 0-19 to 1-13 lead that they didn't look like losing.

Fitzgerald's goal put paid to Stephen Wallace's disappointing Offaly side, who must overcome an all-time low and rumours of unrest in the camp - both Dunne and Sean Pender didn't hide their frustration at being substituted - if they are to give a decent account in the qualifiers.

Confined to the stands as he serves an eight-week ban for an unsavoury sideline incident in a Kerry club game, Wallace faces an uphill climb to lift spirits with a side which looked devoid of confidence throughout.

Wicklow, on the other hand, are rewarded with a date against the Dubs, but selector and former player Leighton Glynn can see no drawbacks from pitting their talents against the best.

James Stafford breaks through a tackle from Offaly's Craig Dunne. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
James Stafford breaks through a tackle from Offaly's Craig Dunne. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"We're going into a task like no other, facing probably one of the best teams in history, but we'll go out and we'll give it a lash and we'll gain experience from it and then go at the qualifiers if you're beaten," Glynn said.

"Chances are you will be beaten being honest, but you go out and those lads will be hopping mad to play Dublin and that's great. Whatever the result is they have a bit of belief going into it.

"It's the biggest game of their lives probably, in front of the biggest crowd they've ever played in front of, and sure isn't that what football is all about, it's great."

Following in the footsteps of Kerry legend Mick O'Dwyer, who enjoyed great success with the Garden County, Evans had an interesting take on why Kingdom managers have enjoyed success in the south east.

Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall takes a free. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile
Offaly goalkeeper Alan Mulhall takes a free. Photo: Piaras Ó Mídheach/Sportsfile

"We are lucky. There is a lot of mountains in Kerry, the same as in Wicklow. We have a common denominator there. We know how to handle mountainy men," he said with a smile.

Scorers - Wicklow: M Jackson 0-7 (5f, 2 '45s), S Furlong 0-5f, D Fitzgerald 1-0, J McGrath and M Kenny 0-2 each, D Hayden (f), J Crowe, D Healy, C Magee 0-1 each.

Offaly: A Sullivan 1-2 (0-1f), B Allen 0-3, A Mulhall (2f), S Tierney and N Darby (2f) 0-2 each, N Dunne, C Donohue, J Hayes, G Spollen 0-1 each.

Wicklow - M Jackson 9, C Hyland 6, J Snell 6, P Merrigan 7; J Crowe 6, D Healy 7, S Kearon 7; R Finn 7, J Stafford 7; K Murphy 6, D Hayden 7, T Smyth 7; S Furlong 7, J McGrath 7, M Kenny 8. Subs: C Magee for Furlong (blood 11), Furlong for Magee (12), R O'Brien 8 for Snell inj (27), E Murtagh for Hyland (blood 43), Hyland for Murtagh (44) C Healy 6 for Crowe (48), Magee 7 for Stafford (54), D Fitzgerald 7 for McGrath (67), Murtagh 7 for P Merrigan inj (72), D Boothman 6 for Finn (72 extra time), Finn for Smyth inj (84), Crowe for Hayden (91).

Offaly - A Mulhall 7; N Darby 6, D Hogan 6, P McConway 7; D Dempsey 6, S Pender 6, C Donohue 7; C Dunne 6, C Carroll 6; M Brazil 6, C McNamee 6, R McNamee 6; B Allen 7, N Dunne 5, A Sullivan 8. Subs: S Tierney 7 for N Dunne (28), G Spollen 7 for Pender (40), Dunne for Carroll (53), J Hayes 6 for R McNamee (54), J Lalor 6 for Brazil (56), A Cunningham 6 for Donoghue (79 extra time), Brazil for C McNamee and S Doyle 6 for Tierney (both half-time extra time).

Ref - J Henry (Mayo).

Irish Independent

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