Wicklow 3-11 Kildare 2-11
Wicklow will contest their first ever Christy Ring Cup final at Croke Park on Saturday, June 4.
Second half substitute Leighton Glynn scored a point and set up his brother Enan for Wicklow’s all-important third goal as Casey O’Brien’s charges triumphed in Aughrim.
Playing into a strong breeze, Kildare were only 2-07 to 1-05 behind at half-time. David Harney netted for them, with Jeffrey Bermingham and Don Hyland scoring Wicklow’s goal.
Although Billy White added a second goal for Kildare from a 20-metre free, they were left to rue 11 second half wides as they suffered semi-final heartache for the second successive year.
Wicklow just about deserved their victory, corner backs Jim Connors and Willie Collins doing well when Kildare put the pressure on and captain and free-taker Jonathan ‘Bosco’ O’Neill led by example once again.
Leighton Glynn, who is due to line out for the Wicklow footballers tomorrow in Portlaoise, saw action in the second half, while fellow dual player Stephen Kelly featured in midfield.
Kildare ventured to O’Byrne Park on the back of a 4-18 to 1-13 quarter-final win over Derry a fortnight ago and were determined to progress to the final, having lost to eventual champions Westmeath at this stage twelve months ago.
Wicklow, the recently crowned Allianz Hurling League Division 3A champions, had the wind behind them in the opening period, playing towards the town end of the ground.
Helped by the elements they carved out a 0-05 to 0-01 lead by the 17th minute, with White’s opening free followed by successive scores from Ronan Keddy, O’Neill (0-03) and Enan Glynn.
O’Neill delighted the home crowd with three finely-struck points in the space of seven minutes, with his 11th-minute effort from distance proving hugely inspirational.
But White and Kildare captain Tony Murphy cut the gap back to 0-05 to 0-04, and Wicklow’s Andy O’Brien was kept out after managing to block goalkeeper Robbie Connolly’s attempted clearance.
However, the home side managed to extend their lead when a long range crack from wing back Bermingham found its way into the Lilywhites’ net.
Just moments later, the influential Hyland outfielded John Doran and blasted into the bottom corner.
2007 finalists Kildare were stung into action, Murphy doing well to claim White’s sideline cut and pass for full-forward Harney to finish off a neatly-crafted goal.
O’Neill and White traded late points, leaving the Garden County outfit with a five-point advantage at the break.
Turning around with the wind in their favour, Willie Sunderland’s charges struck five of the first six points after the restart to turn the heat on Wicklow again.
Leo Quinn, Murphy, Kieran Divilly and the assured White, who hit over two more placed balls, all scored as Wicklow’s lead was cut to 2-08 to 1-10.
O’Neill was responsible for the hosts’ eighth point of the afternoon, converting a ‘65’ after Connolly had reacted well to save a goal-bound shot from Andy O’Brien.
White then pointed from play to level the sides at 2-08 to 1-11, before a sidelined cut from O’Neill and a point from play from Leighton Glynn, who profited from a Divilly mistake, put Wicklow back in front.
It was another defensive error which allowed the hosts to give themselves some breathing space. Kildare corner back Doran gave the ball straight to Leighton Glynn who slipped it across for Enan to beat Connolly with a powerful shot.
Kildare manufactured a number of late scoring chances and White’s goal from a close range free made it a three-point game with little over five minutes left.
The Lilywhites pressed for another goal when settling for points might have been the better option. Harney watched his shot slide away to the left of the posts and a couple of further wides followed.
Wicklow hung on to set up a trip to GAA headquarters in two weeks’ time, with last year’s beaten finalists Kerry providing the opposition.