Wicklow progress to second round of qualifiers

Wicklow 1-18 Sligo 0-16

Wicklow 1-18 Sligo 0-16

Sligo were knocked out of the All-Ireland Championship by a determined Wicklow side in Aughrim this evening.

Substitute Conor McGraynor scored a terrific individual goal, with eight minutes remaining, to send Wicklow into the second round of the qualifiers.

The hosts led 0-10 to 0-07 at half-time, courtesy of a late run of points sparked by Tony Hannon and Leighton Glynn.

David Kelly and Johnny Davey were introduced by Sligo in the second half, but not even Adrian Marren’s nine-point tally could topple Mick O’Dwyer’s men.

This was the first ever Championship meeting of these counties, with O’Dwyer and his opposite number Kevin Walsh looking to inspire their sides after disappointing provincial campaigns.

Marren got Sligo off the mark with a first minute free, to which Paul Earls and Rory Finn replied for the Garden County outfit.

The pattern continued with the teams level on six occasions inside the opening 25 minutes, before Wicklow finally broke free of the Yeats men’s grasp.

Marren, Stephen Coen and former All-Star Eamonn O’Hara had given the visitors a brief lead at 0-05 to 0-04, but that was their best period of the half.

Jacko Dalton got Wicklow back on terms at 0-06 apiece and a huge, raking effort from midfielder Stafford gave them the incentive to kick on.

They were much more accurate in the closing 10 minutes, having accumulated six wides to Sligo’s two before then. Free-taker Hannon, with his third point of the day, Finn and Glynn pushed Wicklow’s lead out to four.

Sligo would have been further behind but for goalkeeper Philip Greene’s excellent save from Nicky Mernagh, who was clean through on goal.

O’Hara provided the assist for a late point from the in-form Marren, who ended a 15-minute scoreless spell for Sligo and left the scoreboard for the interval at 0-10 to 0-07.

Walsh fired his troops up for the resumption and with the wind now behind them, they put on a spurt which yielded points from Brendan Egan, David Rooney and Marren, with Davey having an impact in open play.

A well-struck ‘45’ from Hannon was Wicklow’s sole response and Marren had Sligo back level at 0-11 each.

By the midpoint of the half, O’Dwyer’s charges had moved back in front thanks to scores from Mernagh and Seanie Furlong, while Sligo looked to Kelly, who has been struggling with an ankle injury, to provide something extra in attack.

It was nip and tuck as the finish line came into view, as Marren sandwiched a fine run and point from Stafford with two more of his own.

With Wicklow just 0-14 to 0-13 ahead, it took a moment of magic from substitute McGraynor, who has just finished his Leaving Cert exams, to break Sligo’s resistance.

The 18-year-old Avondale clubman took the ball on and strode away from the Sligo cover before finishing past Greene with great aplomb.

Wicklow stopper John Flynn was called into action moments later, keeping a Marren effort out at the expense of a point.

Sligo made it a three-point game again as three minutes of injury-time were signalled for, but Mernagh and McGraynor, enlivened by his goal, both pointed to put the seal on the home win.

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