Wicklow’s steely finish enough to edge Laois

IT might only have been the second weekend in January but Tony Hannon’s clenched fist celebrations after scoring what turned out to be the winning point in a chilly Portlaoise yesterday suggested Wicklow are well up for a repeat of their O’Byrne Cup run to the semi-finals in 2007.

Back then, Mick O’Dwyer’s arrival was enough to inspire the Garden County to a semi-final and even if their manager’s attitude towards the pre-season competition ranges from indifferent to dismissive, this victory over his former charges from the jaws of defeat will have given him some glee.

Wicklow will travel to Louth for next week’s quarter-final warmed by their steely finish. However, with 20 minutes to go, they looked to be cruising having built up a seven-point lead when substitute Conor McGraynor followed up on Hannon’s penalty in the 48th minute.

Hannon’s rolled effort was coolness personified and a just reward for Darren Maher and Robert Kehoe’s double foul on Paul Earls in the square.

It was also a deserved score for the dominance Wicklow enjoyed in both the territory and possession stakes in the first half and early exchanges after the interval.

However, Wicklow then went asleep for 19 minutes after McGraynor’s score as Laois responded with a late 1-5 flurry - four points from frees courtesy of some tired Wicklow tackling.

Daithi Carroll’s 66th-minute goal levelled matters before Craig Rogers’ point brought the relatively decent-sized Portlaoise crowd to life as he put Laois ahead for only the second time in the game.

Up stepped Hannon though, splitting the posts first after running through the centre to equalise. He then drew a foul from Kehoe to curl over a winning free in the 70th minute.

O’Dwyer was more impressed with his team’s performance than the result.

“Tony scored a couple of vital points there in the end but overall fellas played well and most importantly the new ones we put in,” he said.

“It’s not about winning or losing at this time of the year; it’s about finding players for next May and that’s what it’s all about. We’ll be playing Kildare here in Portlaoise and that’s the big one.

“I didn’t fancy extra-time at all. We had had enough, but our two new midfielders - two young lads - and they performed.

“We put Conor McGraynor in there at full-forward in the second-half and he’s only 18 years of age. He’s captain of the vocational schools team, and we’re now having a look at all these players. I started here with Laois and it was just a nice, little thing to come away with a win. We’ll keep it going now. That’s important.”

O’Dwyer’s opposite number Justin McNulty was happy with how his team came back, referring to their “tremendous character”, but had to hand it to Wicklow.

“At one point we could have won the match if we showed some composure, but it would have been unjustified as on the basis of the whole 70 minutes Laois were the better side,” he said.

January’s no time for regrets but McNulty will surely have to work on his team’s discipline when the free count almost ran three to one against them in the first half. Dean Odlum and Dean Siney bagged five pointed frees between them before the interval and Laois trailed 0-6 to 0-4 at the break.

The O’Moore County’s second half was a marked improvement though, with Padraig Clancy showing up well. His 2003 Leinster winning team-mates Colm Parkinson and Gary Kavanagh, recently called out of inter-county retirement by McNulty, also demonstrated enough throughout to be considered for the National League panel.

This was Parkinson’s first inter-county game in almost three years. Not only that, it was against his old manager O’Dwyer, whom he referred to as “an absolute bluffer” on radio last year. It might only have been the second weekend in January, but the score-line suggested otherwise.

Scorers for Wicklow: T Hannon 1-2 (1-0 penalty, 1 free); D Odlum 0-4 (3 frees); D Siney 0-2 (2 frees); P Dalton, C McGraynor 0-1 each.

Scorers for Laois: D Carroll 1-1, M Finlay 0-3 (2 frees); C Parkinson, P Clancy, B Fitzgerald (1 free), R Munnelly (1 free), C Rogers 0-1 each.

WICKLOW: J Flynn; C Hyland, A Nolan, A Byrne; P Cunningham, S Kelly, A McLoughlin; R Finn, N Gaffney; D Hayden, T Hannon, P Dalton; D Odlum, D Siney, P Earls. Subs: C McGraynor for Kelly (h-t); M O’Loughlin for Begley and P Higgins for Byrne (both 61).

LAOIS: D Maher; S Julian, D Booth, R Kehoe; P Begley, D Strong, C Boyle; P Clancy, C Óg Greene; C Rogers, C Parkinson, G Kavanagh; M Finlay, D Carroll, J Enright. Subs: M Timmons for Greene (h-t); C Healy for Julian (52); R Munnelly for Kavanagh (58).Referee: J Curley (Meath).

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