‘Any win for us is a good win’

ONE small step by most county’s standards but recent history suggests that Mick O’Dwyer’s first game in charge of Wicklow could be described as a giant leap forward.

The Garden County managed one solitary victory in 2006 — and that against the exiles of London.

After this three-point success, they now have 51 weeks to better that “success rate.” With O’Dwyer’s patented optimism and his bottomless bank of experience, that should be well within their capabilities.

The party line is that no one is getting carried away but, as the legend himself admitted soon after the final whistle, “any win for Wicklow is a good win.”

This was still the first time that Wicklow could toast a success over their near neighbours though O’Dwyer warned his players of the dangers of going down Alcohol Road in the dressing room afterwards.

It’s two years since Liam Hayes took over Carlow, predicting imminent Leinster Championship successes but O’Dwyer has refrained from any such outlandish statements in his few short months in charge.

His restraint is wise. On Saturday, Wicklow’s shortcomings were never far below the surface — the same could be said of Carlow — but they showed enough about them to suggest that a couple of league and championship wins should not be a bridge too far.

The compact little village of Aughrim fairly hummed with excitement long before kick-off and, by the time O’Dwyer was officially welcomed over the PA shortly before 2pm, over 4,000 people were squeezed into a ground more used to catering for numbers in the hundreds.

The acclaim for the Pied Piper that followed barely registered with the man himself who used those last few moments before throw-in to impart final, priceless nuggets of information to some of his new charges.

Some of them needed the advice more than most. Only five of the Wicklow starting 15 had played their last championship game last summer and many of the 45-man panel had to ask the way out of the dressing rooms after the game.

With both sides shy of players due to the usual raft of college commitments and two new managers patrolling the sidelines — Andy Shortall having assumed the reigns in Carlow — there was even more room for experimentation than usual.

Derek Hayden — one of seven Carlow debutantes — would have walked off with any man of the match award having poached 2-3 for himself but, just like he did with Kildare and Laois, O’Dwyer unearthed his own gems.

The most profitable was a young Paul Phibbs. The first man from the junior Lachan club to wear the county jersey, Phibbs was only on the field 15 minutes when he turned a Paul Earls free into the net for an injury-time winner.

“It was our first game, it was Carlow’s first game,” said O’Dwyer. “A lot of mistakes were made. Players were very edgy and all that type of stuff. There was a massive improvement in the second half.. There was some real good football. There were some great scores.”

Satisfying and all as Phibbs’ late contribution was, O’Dwyer had already seen enough to make his first day at the office a successful one. Off the pace for much of the opening period, the home side looked down and out twice after the interval when Carlow found the net.

Maybe last year they would have been but having the wily Waterville man on the line does strange things to a team and both times Wicklow responded with a string of points that turned the game on its head in a flash.

Such an attitude bodes well for a league campaign that starts with a division two clash against Antrim and a Leinster Championship campaign that will see them face Louth in the first round.

Summer is hard to picture in early January though, more so for the Wicklow players whose focus after this win didn’t stretch to next weekend’s game with Wexford but to yesterday’s 10am training session in Stratford.

“It’s only January and no one is going to go crazy,” said selector and Wicklow great Kevin O’Brien. “Both teams did well but I think we showed a bit of character to come back into the game.”

WICKLOW: J Bolger; C Hyland, J Cushe, A Byrne; L Glynn (0-2), D O hAnnaidh, S Cushe (0-1); J Stafford, B Sheehan; J Slattery (0-1), T Gill (0-5, 3f), JP Dalton; JP Kelly, P Earls (0-2f), J Daniels.

Subs: D Jackman (0-1) for Sheehan 30, C Davis for J Cushe 35, P Phibbs (1-0) for Davis 55.

CARLOW: J Clarke; J Ryan, B Leonard, M Nolan; P Cashin, B English, A Murphy; W Minchin, G Morrissey; D Hayden (2-3, 1f), P Hickey, JJ Smyth; N Barrett, M Carpenter (0-1), J Kavanagh (0-2f).

Subs: R McGrath for Munchin 46, S Mernagh for Barrett 55, B Kelly for Hickey 63, J Hickey for Kavanagh 63.

Referee: T Quigley (Wexford).

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