Maguire the Louth hero
O'Byrne Cup (SF)
Mick O'Dwyer doesn't place much stock on how his teams perform in the league so an O'Byrne Cup reversal in Drogheda against Louth was hardly going to knock him out of his stride yesterday.
For Micko, there is only one environment in Gaelic football where anyone should feel the heat and that has long been his mantra.
"There's only one competition that matters and I don't have to tell you what it is," he smiled. "It's the championship and if you don't perform in the championship what difference does it make if you are first, second, third or fourth in the division? How you perform in the championship is how you are judged."
Still there was much to be taken from this entertaining spin against last year's Leinster finalists.
Wicklow trailed at half-time, 2-6 to 0-6, to two Derek Maguire goals and were fortunate not to find themselves behind by at least two more goals as a very fluent Louth attack tore them to shreds.
The portents appeared worse for the second half. Wicklow had played with a strong breeze and given its strength, you couldn't have imagined them putting up much resistance against it. But resist they did and when the audit for the second half was complete they had actually won that stretch by 1-6 to 0-7.
The introduction of Leighton Glynn and Seanie Furlong helped, with Glynn providing a perfect target and Furlong firing home a spectacular goal on 59 minutes after confusion in the Louth defence. But Louth always had them at arm's length, courtesy of that first-half show when they looked a really decent side capable of passing the ball around confidently. Much has been made about the departure to Australia of three of their Leinster final team -- John O'Brien, Mick Fanning and Brian Whyte -- but on this evidence replacements are on hand.
Ronan Carroll was consistent beside Paddy Keenan at midfield, Ger Hoey showed plenty of pace in the first half and Brian Donnelly, himself home from Australia after a stint with Adelaide in the AFL, looked like he too could make an impact. Donnelly was at his best in the first half, scoring two points and setting up another for Derek Crilly, who caught the eye on the other wing at times.
Donnelly was also fouled for the penalty in the 16th minute which John Flynn saved from Shane Lennon, one of a number of crucial stops the Wicklow goalkeeper made in that period. He was well beaten for Louth's first goal from Maguire as Lennon and Paraic Smyth combined after only three minutes.
But for the second goal he was most unfortunate having blocked two initial efforts from Maguire, who had been put in by yet more incisive passing from Keenan and Lennon. He was third time unlucky, however, as Maguire, a late replacement for Colin Judge, fly-kicked home from close range.
Louth were almost untouchable against the wind and were well in control at the other end where only Darren Hayden -- "the best player on the field" in O'Dwyer's estimation -- and Tony Hannon landed any blows. However, a six-point lead seemed scant reward for the work and enterprise they got through.
The restart saw Wicklow invigorated, with 18-year-old county Vocational Schools captain Conor McGraynor making an immediate impact. They reeled off three unanswered points to give the home side food for thought before Adrian Reid, just on for the injured Andy McDonnell, struck to arrest the slide.
Keenan grew stronger as the game progressed and made one memorable goal-line catch a la Darragh O Se against Limerick a few years ago. The closest Wicklow came was to within two points after Furlong's 59th-minute goal when the deficit tumbled to 2-10 to 1-11.
But the wind was always likely to keep Louth comfortable and they bagged some good late points, including a fine Donnelly effort from a free to ease home.
O'Dwyer professed himself happy with the second half and noted the contributions of McGraynor and Hayden.
"They're only learning to play inter-county football. All those lads, the two lads in the middle of the field too, are young fellas and they are learning all the time," he said. "They played very well in the second half. I'm quite happy with what happened today. The O'Byrne Cup is about trying out players and seeing are they good enough and I think we might have found a few players here."
Louth manager Peter Fitzpatrick also extracted plenty of positives. "The most important thing was to get a good physical game of football and at this time of the year that's all you can ask for. You can train all week but you can't beat competitive games."
Scorers -- Louth: D Maguire 2-1, B Donnelly 0-3 (1f), A Reid, S Lennon (1f), D Crilly 0-2 each, R Carroll, R Finnegan, JP Rooney 0-1 each. Wicklow: T Hannon 0-4 (1f), S Furlong 1-0, C McGraynor, N Gaffney 0-2 each, R Finn, D Hayden, L Glynn, P Earls 0-1 each.
Louth -- N Gallagher; G Hoey, A Hoey, R Greene; R Finnegan, D Finnegan, S Fitzpatrick; P Keenan, R Carroll; D Crilly, A McDonnell, B Donnelly; D Maguire, S Lennon, P Smyth. Subs: A Reid for McDonnell (44), D Byrne for A Hoey (45), JP Rooney for Smyth (58), A Kirk for Maguire (69).
Wicklow -- J Flynn; C Hyland, A Nolan, A Byrne; P Cunningham, S Kelly, A McLoughlin; R Finn, N Gaffney; D Hayden, P Earls, P Dalton; D Odlum, T Hannon, D Siney. Subs: L Glynn for Odlum (28), C McGraynor for Siney (ht), S Furlong for McLoughlin (ht), S Canavan for Cunningham (55).
Ref -- D Coldrick (Meath).