Wicklow Blue 1-11
Wicklow Blue rounded off a very successful journey in this Celtic Challenge replay with a stirring victory over Laois in another pulsating game of hurling in Abbotstown, on Saturday last.
Ideal ground conditions again allowed for another powerful game, with a slight breeze favouring Laois in the first half.
The Celtic Challenge was established in 2016 and is the only competition in hurling that has teams from all 32 counties participating. Its ethos is player development, with most counties having at least two teams involved, and these are opportunities that players otherwise would not experience.
This section of the Celtic Challenge was for the Corn William Robinson, in memory of the 11-year-old boy who climbed a tree to watch Dublin play Tipperary in 1920 on Bloody Sunday and was sadly shot.
Much like the first game, another blockbuster was served up here with only a puck of a ball between the sides at the finish. There were two hugh turning points in the game which proved pivotal for the Garden County victory over the hour.
A healthy crowd had turned up to support both sides with Leinster GAA Chairman Pat Teehan also in attendance.
Wicklow started the game brightly but could not toconvert it on the scoreboard as they tallied a trio of wides in the opening minutes.
Half-forward, Oisin Smeaton got Laois on the board in the sixth minute with a fine strike and the O’Moore men looked in for a second score moments later, however centre-back Michael Óg O’Neill harvested a brilliant turn-over and sent a sublime pass up the field to Willie Cash where the lively St. Pat’s man split the uprights with his shot to get Wicklow up and running.
Cash soon doubled his tally from a placed ball after Alex Kavanagh was fouled in the next attack, to give Wicklow the lead in the ninth minute.
Will Duggan replied with a point for Laois as they began to find some momentum going into the final minutes of the opening quarter while Eli Quinn was on target from another placed ball to restore the lead for the midlanders as they upped the tempo.
Duggan added another point for Laois, before a Willie Cash free was dropped short into the Laois goalkeeper’s hand and cleared.
Again, Wicklow tallied a brace of wides before Sean Óg Byrne harvested Laois’ fifth point of the game in the 16th minute to stretch the lead out to three with Wicklow’s work rate being well below last week’s opening 30-odd minutes.
Full-back Sean Kenny took a heavy knock out on the sideline from Jordan Downey who floored the young Bray man and the Laois midfielder picked up a yellow card for his troubles.
Michael Óg O’Neill swept the resultant free up to Willie Cash who fed Johnno Moorehouse a sweet pass and Moorehouse drilled his shot low, but the Laois goalie reacted well and parried the sliotar out for a 65.
Michael Óg swept over the resultant 65 to reduce the deficit to two in the 18th minute as the Glenealy marksman was growing into the game by the minute.
Lorcan Dunne replied with a beast of a point to register Laois’s sixth of the afternoon.
Riain Waters gathered possession of the puck-out and played a sublime pass into Brandon Rossiter and the Carnew hurler went for goal instead of taking the easier option of raising a white flag, and, again, the Camross netminder cleared his lines.
Denis O’Brien and Andrew Lynch each cleared several Laois attacks before Micheal Óg landed another point from a placed ball after James Boland was fouled.
A powerful solo-run up the middle of the field from midfielder Jordan Downey harvested Laois’ seventh point before Dara Kissane’s troops replied with a point from the hurl of Johnno Moorehouse after a sweeping move up the field involving Zach Jordan and Cillian Ryder to keep Wicklow on Laois’ coattails.
Another master of a point followed from Downey as Laois upped the tempo another notch going into the closing stages of the half.
It could have been much worse for Wicklow moments later when Oisin Smeaton was through on goal and was just about to pull the trigger but a wonderful hook by the alert Denis O’Brien denied the Laois man a shot on goal.
Again, Wicklow wasted a number of routine scoring chances in the dying embers, as the half-time whistle sounded with the score reading 0-8 to 0-5 in favour of the midlanders at the interval.
A very scrappy opening period by both sides ensued as neither side could settle on the ball around the midfield sector, an Eli Quinn free was dropped.
Wicklow broke up the field and got away without being penalised for a throw-ball to James Boland who burst through and was fouled. Up stepped the Glenealy sharpshooter to reduce the deficit to a brace with seven minutes played in the second period roared on by the Wicklow faithful as some momentum began to flow.
Michael Óg further fuelled that momentum when picking the sliotar out of the sky from a long-range ball in from the Laois defence and he rounded two defenders and delivered a fine pass up the field to Johnno Moorehouse who was fouled. The Glenealy man cut the deficit to the minimum in the 44th minute.
Fresh legs were introduced by both sides and, again, Wicklow were off target with a brace of chances to level matters. However, the gamechanger and the move of the match was soon to follow.
Liam Murphy fed the sliotar across to Michael Óg O’Neill who played a surreal pass up along the sideline to Riain Waters who delivered an inch perfect cross-field pass onto the edge of the ‘D’ to the onrunning Brandon Rossiter who brilliantly flicked the ball one handed along the ground to one side of the oncoming Laois goalie whose intention was to take man and ball, all in the one go.
The brilliant foresight by the young Carnew hurler saw him round the keeper and rifle the sliotar to the back of the net with a sweet kick cool as you like. The stand lifted with the roar as Wicklow now led for the first time in the game,1-7 to 0-8, going into the final quarter.
Laois replied with a point from Eli Quinn to reduce the gap to one. Zach Jordan and Sean Byrne linked up well to break down some good work by Laois soon after and the hits were coming in hard and fast, and, unlike the first day, frees were very hard-earned last weekend.
With ten minutes to go another gamechanger followed. Laois were driving forward, a probing run by Jordan Downey, found himself one on one with the Wicklow goalie 25 out and he unleashed a rocket that looked destined for the bottom right-hand corner of the net but somehow Tristan Doherty produced the save of the season, a diving save from the Bray man, whose hurl reached across to the butt of his left-hand side upright at full stretch to brilliantly turn the sliotar out for a 65.
This was a huge game saver going into the closing minutes.
Again, Laois roared back with another point by Eli Quinn to level matters.
Riain Waters replied with another white flag before Eli Quinn restored parity in a blistering finish to this finally balanced contest.
Michael Óg O’Neill was a rock at the heart of the Wicklow defence, gathering possession and delivering a fine pass up to Brandon Rossiter who pointed from an acute angle to restore the lead.
Rory Corrigan intercepted another Laois attack and set up Willie Cash to add to his tally with a point for a two-point cushion going into the dying embers of the game.
Brandon Rossiter closed out the scoring with a mighty point before the final whistle sounded.
The whole panel worked hard for each other to grind out this great victory.
It’s hard to believe they’ll be taking lumps out of each other next time they meet, in the Wicklow Minor hurling championship.
Manager Dara Kissane and his fellow coaches Matt Byrne, Karl Cooke and Colm Ffrench were ecstatic with their team’s performance’s through-out this very memorable journey in the Celtic Challenge.
Leinster Chairman Pat Teehan congratulated both sides on a fantastic game, before presenting Michael Óg O’Neill with a fully deserved man of the match award.
Pat Teehan then presented the Corn William Robinson trophy to the winning captain, Riain Waters, to spark wild celebrations for the Garden County.
Wicklow: Tristan Doherty (Bray Emmets); Liam Murphy (ARP), Seán Kenny (Bray Emmets), Andrew Lynch (Glenealy); Zach Jordan (Carnew Emmets), Michael Óg O’Neill (0-4, 3f, 1 65) (Glenealy), Denis O’Brien (St. Pats); Seán Byrne (Kilcoole), Ríain Waters (0-1) (Michael Dwyers); James Boland (Michael Dwyers), Cillian Ryder (Bray Emmets), Willie Cash (0-3, 1f) (Kilcoole); Alex Kavanagh (Aughrim), Brandon Rossiter (1-2) (Carnew Emmets), Johnno Moorehouse (0-1) (St. Pats). Subs: Rory Corrigan (Western Gaels), Mikey O’Brien Hatton (Éire Óg Greystones), Lorcan Byrne (Glenealy), Luke Byrne (Western Gaels), Sam Smyth (Glenealy), Adam O’Farrell (ARP), Ciarán Kelly (Bray Emmets), Craig Byrne (Éire Óg Greystones), Jack O’Toole (Michael Dwyers), Michael Kinsella (ARP), Darragh Shannon (Kilcoole).
Laois: Rick Bannon; Paddy O’Callaghan, Dion Cuddy, Ray Goode; Evan Cassin, Ryan Peters, Tom O’Keeffe; Cian Hill, Jordan Downey (0-2); Oisín Smeaton (0-1), Enda Shorthall, William Duggan (0-2); Eli Quinn (0-4, 1f, 1 65), Eoin Shortall, Seán Óg Byrne (0-1). Subs: Finn Lyons, Jimmy Norton, Charlie Hand, Charlie Hanrahan, Paddy Fitzpatrick, Darragh Ryan, Lorcan Dunne (0-1) , Jack Delaney, Corey Doheny.
Referee: Antoin Keating (Dublin)