TWO hard defeats in the space of six days is sure to have curbed the enthusiasm of the Mayo senior hurlers but they showed further evidence last Saturday that they are more than capable of mixing it with their peers at this level.
There was very little between the sides throughout but, in hindsight, the loss of Keith Higgins to a recurrence of his hamstring injury after only ten minutes proved a telling blow.
Against a side who had claimed the Division 3A league title a week earlier (ironically on the same day Mayo were turned over in the 3B final), Higgins’ absence was always likely to be decisive.
Plus, Wicklow’s captain and free-taker, Jonathan O’Neill, was in inspired form. The centre-forward nailed ten points, all but one from the placed ball, and punished each and every Mayo indiscretion.
However, after 25 minutes it didn’t seem like Higgins’ departure or O’Neill’s accuracy from frees were going to be major issues.
Mayo full-forward Ronan Cullinane had just smashed in the first goal of the game, after clever approach work from the excellent Eoghan Madigan, and the homeside led by 1-7 to 0-5.
Stephen Broderick had landed four points (one from play), Madigan and Niall Murphy had also hit the target, and Mayo seemed to be enjoying themselves in the glorious sunshine.
Unfortunately, things had changed quite dramatically by the time the half-time whistle sounded twelve minutes later.
Wicklow outscored their hosts by 1-6 to 0-2 during the closing stages of the half as Jonathan O’Neill pointed frees for fun, and corner-forward Enan Glynn hit a purple patch.
First, he plucked a ball from the air and drilled over a superb point before hammering in a brilliant goal on 34 minutes after using his pace to prise open Mayo’s defence.
Glynn’s smart finish nudged Wicklow ahead for the first time and was the climax of a scoring burst that saw Mayo concede 1-4 without reply in the space of four minutes.
Cathal Freeman did stop the rot with a point on 36 minutes but this score was cancelled out by Stephen Kelly on the stroke of half-time and Wicklow jogged in with a spring in their step, leading by 1-11 to 1-9.
Two points remained the margin fifteen minutes into the second half as nobody seemed prepared to blink. Scores from Mayo substitute Declan Gallagher (who was booked less than a minute after coming on), Stephen Broderick (free) and Eoghan Madigan were answered by a couple of Jonathan O’Neill frees and a long-range missile from Stephen Kelly.
Wicklow were doing just enough to keep Mayo at bay and, crucially, were also able to manufacture scores a little easier than Murt Connolly’s outfit.
Three points in seven minutes from O’Neill, Don Hyland and Andy O’Brien left Mayo trailing by 1-12 to 1-17 on 57 minutes. The game seemed up.
A string of wides did little for Mayo’s cause either but they kept plugging away and managed to find their groove eventually.
Greg Henry got the run going with a huge point from distance and scores from Stephen Broderick (2) and Niall Murphy (an outrageous angled score) meant Wicklow nerves were jangling in the final minutes.
A final free from the nerveless Jonathan O’Neill left three points between the sides as the clock ticked down but another Niall Murphy ‘special’ kept the game alive.
The fact that the match ended with Mayo goalkeeper Donal O’Brien coming up to have a ‘pop’ at a 20m free says everything about his team’s efforts.
His shot may have been deflected clear but Wicklow knew they had been in a game.
Hopefully, Mayo will get what they deserve sooner rather than later.
D O’Brien; B Higgins, A Connolly, G Henry (0-1); S Morley, D McConn, M Morley; C Freeman (0-1), E Madigan (0-2); N Murphy (0-3), D McDonnell, K Higgins (0-1, ‘65); K Feeney (0-1), R Cullinane (1-0), S Broderick (0-7, 5fs).
Subs used: P O’Grady for K Higgins (inj); D Gallagher (0-1) for O’Grady; S Connell for Feeney.
W O’Gorman; J Connors, G Keogh, W Collins; G Bermingham, L Kennedy, B Cuddihy; E Kearns (0-1), S Kelly (0-2); R Keddy (0-1), J O’Neill (0-10, 9fs), L Glynn; E Glynn (1-2), D Hyland (0-2), A O’Brien (0-1).
Subs used: T Doyle for Kearns; J Quirke for Hyland; E O’Neill for Collins.
Referee: C Browne (Galway)
THE red carpet will be rolled out for Kildare next Saturday with the Round 2B game set for Castlebar.