Wicklow 3-12 Offaly 0-17
Two second-half goals proved to be the difference at Aughrim on Saturday evening, as Wicklow overcame the Niall McNamee-inspired Offaly to book their place in the second round of the All-Ireland Football Qualifiers.
With a passionate home support behind them, Wicklow raced into an early three-point following scores from the adventurous defensive duo of Aaron Murphy and Dean Healy, along with one from influential attacker Leighton Glynn.
Much like the county’s hurling side, Offaly have struggled for form throughout 2014, but a well-worked McNamee point finally got their account up and running nine minutes in. Midfielder James Stafford replied for the Garden County, but thanks to a brace of scores from the ever-reliable McNamee, the visitors were keeping in touch.
The tireless Glynn was starting to take the game by the scruff of the neck, however, and after his thundering 14th minute effort on the run cannoned off the woodwork, Seanie Furlong was on hand to flick the ball home for the opening major of the contest.
With James Stafford, Anthony McLoughlin and Paul Earls all making an impact in the middle sector of the field, this goal looked like being a catalyst for the hosts. Yet, despite adding further points through the marauding Murphy, Glynn (0-2) and Furlong, three points apiece from the brilliant McNamee (who finished with an impressive 0-10 personal tally) and inside partner Joe Maher ensured that Emmet McDonnell’s charges were just two points in arrears during the interval (1-8 to 0-9).
The black-card issued to Healy four minutes before the break did weaken Wicklow’s previously dominant half-back line, but Offaly were also restricted by the early withdrawals of Daithi Brady and Graham Guilfoyle.
After Anthony McLoughlin had opened the second period scoring, McNamee’s seventh was much welcomed by the travelling Midland supporters, before Wicklow’s second goal of the tie on the stroke of 40 minutes provided daylight between the teams.
On this occasion, Offaly netminder Alan Mulhall failed to deal with a long delivery by Anthony McLaughlin, and the alert Darren Hayden was in the right place to make sure that the ball crossed the line.
This meant that the visitors were chasing the game inside the closing half-hour of play, but after outscoring their opponents 0-5 to 0-2 in a 21 minute spell, their deficit was a mere three points moving into the dying embers.
However, Hayden’s superb 67th minute three-pointer finally placed the outcome beyond reach, and although they added late points by Niall Smith and Anton Sullivan, Offaly found themselves exiting the qualifiers at the first round stage for a third consecutive campaign.
OFFALY: A Mulhall; J O’Connor, D Brady, N Darby; B Darby, R Allen, M Brazil; J Moloney (0-1), N Smith (0-1); E Carroll, G Guilfoyle, P Cunningham (0-1); J Maher (0-3, 2f), N McNamee (0-10, 5f), A Sullivan (0-1).
Subs: D Corbett for D Brady (26), P McPadden for Guilfoyle (34), P McConway for Allen (42), S Sullivan for O’Connor (58), P Sullivan for Maher (59), C Kiely for McPadden (67).
WICKLOW: R Lambert; P McLoughlin, A Byrne, A Murphy (0-2); D Healy (0-1), P McWalter, C Hyland; J Stafford (0-1), A McLoughlin (0-1); R Finn, P Earls, D Hayden (2-0); L Glynn (0-4, 1f), S Furlong (1-2, 1f), P Furlong.
Subs: C Murray for Healy (31, BC), P Cunningham for McWalter (47), J McGrath (0-1) for Earls (49), N Gaffney for Stafford (61), D O’Sullivan for Finn (66).
Referee: C Lane (Cork).