Wednesday 22 November 2017

Micko refuses to rule out return

ARMAGH 2-9, WICKLOW 0-10, Cian Murphy, All-Ireland SFC QUALIFIER

THE Garden party is over. But Mick O'Dwyer is refusing to rule out a return to football in the future.

The iconic 75-year-old manager watched Wicklow crash out of the championship on Saturday night as Armagh claimed this second-round replay -- through well-taken Jamie Clarke goals in either half -- to book a third-round qualifier date with Tyrone next Saturday.

For all the pre-match talk and roadside banners on the winding road into the pretty village proclaiming that another 'Battle of Aughrim' was on the cards, it was Armagh who had the greater firepower.

Wicklow's defeat brings an end to Micko's five-year reign -- as he confirmed afterwards -- but he refused to rule out the chance to continue being involved in football.

"It's been enjoyable and great fun. They played their hearts out and no more than that we can ask. What now? God only knows. I said it would be the last year. I made up my mind I was finished with Wicklow," he said.

"It would be pretty hard to leave football, no doubt. I'm going to take a good rest and think about it and I'll let ye know then. I've plenty of time and I can watch games now.

"Of course, you have to be a bit mad to be involved, and I am a bit mad and that's the reason why I am in it and as long as the legs and the body will work for me, I'll keep going -- you never know."

After performing extra-time heroics against Armagh last week, Micko knew that the chance of his injury-ravaged Division 4 side continuing to thwart a Division 1 team was difficult.

But, that said, he leaves knowing that with more composure on the field and more strength in depth on the line, Wicklow could have sealed another famous win.

"We needed everything to go for us. You need a big panel of players for the championship and we just haven't got that and when we lose a few players, we're in trouble," said O'Dwyer. "We fought to the very end. We got five frees in the finish and we missed the five of them. Then we went for two goals when points could have been taken as well.

"Basically that was the only difference between the teams. They were a little bit sharper than we were. But overall if we had taken out chances... you cannot afford to miss five frees and win a game."

Well-finished goals from Clarke in the 19th and 45th minutes enabled Armagh to cripple Wicklow, but Orchard boss Paddy O'Rourke remained composed afterwards.


"Last week we conceded two goals that we felt we shouldn't have conceded, this week we scored two and last week we missed a couple. If you score two goals and don't concede any you will normally win the game and that's what happened," he said.

Wicklow's pre-match focus was on the fitness of midfield general James Stafford, who was passed fit to start but played with a heavily strapped left ankle. He fought bravely but was unable to match his previous inspirational exploits.

Armagh rejigged their team and had Stevie McDonnell as a playmaker at centre-forward and Malachy Mackin on the edge of the square with Clarke.

In front of a capacity 6,000 crowd, the Orchard were out to stop the confidence in the Garden from blooming and exploded out of the blocks with two points inside a minute from Michael O'Rourke and Clarke.

But Micko's men helped the home fans find their voice with a flurry of good scores from Paul Earls and two exquisite dead-ball strikes from Tony Hannon.

But just as Wicklow were starting to make full use of the wind, Clarke struck. A Wicklow attack was spilled, the counter was quick and a ball inside was broken by Mackin and while goalkeeper and defenders hesitated, Clarke slipped the ball home.

Armagh went in at half-time 1-5 to 0-6 up and knowing that Brendan Donaghy was having a brilliant game thwarting Seanie Furlong and Leighton Glynn.

Micko rallied the troops and Wicklow were level inside five minutes as half-backs Brian McGrath and Darren Hayden urged them forward. But Armagh kept their composure, defended in numbers and denied the hosts goalscoring chances.

The killer blow came in the 45th minute when again Wicklow paid a high price for an attack breaking down and O'Rourke aimed a ball towards the goal that Mackin broke for Clarke to steer home.

But Armagh were far from flawless. A tally of 16 wides prevented them from putting the game to bed and with Wicklow looking for a response, there were nervous moments for the visitors.

But a lack of composure unhinged Wicklow -- Hannon, Glynn and Furlong all missed scoreable frees inside the last 10 minutes, with Ciaran Hyland and Hannon also having goal drives easily stopped.

"We have a decent team but we have an awful step up next week because we are playing against Tyrone, who have been one of the best in the country the last 10 years so. But that is the challenge that awaits us and we'll look forward to it during the week," said O'Rourke.

SCORERS -- Armagh: J Clarke 2-2, M O'Rourke, S McDonnell (1f) 0-2 each, A Kernan (f), P Duffy, G McParland 0-1 each.Wicklow: T Hannon 0-4 (3f, 1 '45'), P Earls, L Glynn 0-2 each, A O'Malley, S Furlong 0-1 each.

ARMAGH -- P Hearty 7; A Kernan 7, B Donaghy 8, A Mallon 7; F Moriarty 7, K Dyas 7, P Duffy 7; J Hanratty 6, J Lavery 7; C Vernan 7, S McDonnell 7, T Kernan 7, J Clarke 9, M Mackin 8, M O'Rourke 8. Subs: BJ Padden 6 for Hanratty 51, G McParland 7 for T Kernan 57, D McKenna 6 for Duffy 57, V Martin 6 for Moriarty 62, C Waters for M O'Rourke 70.

WICKLOW -- J Flynn 6; C Hyland 7, A Byrne 6, S Kelly 6; A McLoughlin 5, B McGrath 7, D Hayden 8; J Stafford 7, R Finn 6; A O'Malley 5, T Hannon 7, N Mernagh 5; P Earls 6, S Furlong 6, L Glynn 6. Subs: C McGraynor 7 for Mernagh 20, P Dalton 6 for A McLoughlin 53.

ref -- R Hickey (Clare).

Irish Independent

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