John Evans brings the wow factor as Wicklow finally end the drought

Wicklow 1-20 Offaly 1-15 (after extra time)
Leighton Glynn admits it is very unlikely Wicklow will beat Dublin, but nothing that happens against “one of the best teams in history” will detract from the joy the former long-serving player and now coach felt as the Garden County registered a first championship victory in four years in dramatic fashion.

Goalkeeper Mark Jackson was the hero, diving low to his left to save a 58th minute penalty from Nigel Dunne and scoring seven points from placed balls, all bar one of which were kicked from around the 45m line or further out.

Crucially three of those came late on in regulation time, all pressure attempts from distance to restore parity. Without Jackson, Wicklow would not be celebrating.

He wasn’t their only hero of course, veterans Seánie Furlong, John McGrath, Ciarán Hyland and Dean Healy providing real leadership, while Mark Kenny was a constant threat.

Their manager, John Evans, has enjoyed numerous days overcoming odds and yet seems to find it difficult to garner credit.

This win had to rank high in his personal highlight reel, given that few gave his crew even the hint of a chance. Indeed Offaly were so gutted at the result that they had no-one willing to speak to the media afterwards.

Unsurprisingly though, Evans was in rare form: “The one thing I have learned since I have come to Wicklow is that they have been down” said the Kerry native.

“A lot of apathy, a lot of no hope given to them. But these bunch of lads have come in and a lot of them are quite young. They have put in their shift and they are beginning to believe. That is the big thing I was emphasising today as to throw off the shackles.

“Their first half was very nervous, very tentative. Tentative from both sides really, both teams had seven or eight wides. Those were poor misses. But as the game went on we were the team that was growing. We were the team that were getting confidence. You have to play games to gain confidence. There was only one team in it in extra time.”

That analysis was on the button. The first half was dreadful - Bernard Allen’s three points and Anton Sullivan’s goal the best of it.

Offaly were worth their 1-5 to 0-5 lead but as the second half wore on, Wicklow sensed that their opponents didn’t have what it took to put them away.

Remarkably, Wicklow never hit the front until Kenny pointed at the beginning of extra time and there was only one winner from that juncture, with Wicklow looking full of beans.

Shane Tierney did make a big impact off the bench for Offaly in the second half, contributing two points, while Alan Mulhall converted two 45s, including one from Jackson’s penalty stop that Evans admitted saved his team’s bacon. A goal would have seen them fall three points in arrears, having put so much into getting back level.

“The big thing for me was that we kicked 1-20 today. Everybody had been talking that we weren’t capable of scoring more than 14 or 15 points whereas today we showed we can and we put together 1-20.

“Defensively we were really solid, but I think the big thing was that you may talk about Mark Jackson’s kicking, but his penalty save was what kept us in the game. It was a hugely important stage in the match and it gave us renewed energy as well. We had that defiant energy and I think that was important.”

It was 0-14 to 1-11 at the end of normal time. With Furlong and Jackson continuing to deliver from frees, that had progressed to 0-19 to 1-13 with just the last 10 minutes of extra time to go.

When Darragh Fitzgerald coolly netted in the 82nd minute, Wicklow were there.

“If Dublin want to beat us by 10, 20, 30 or 40 points they can do that, but we’ll play our football and we’ll develop our football over the next three years and that’s what I’m looking at, not only one game.”

It is a game they should relish though, according to Glynn.

“We’re going into a task like no other facing probably one of the best teams in history but we’ll go out and we’ll give it a lash and we’ll gain experience from it and then go at the Qualifiers if you’re beaten” said Glynn.

“Chances are you will be beaten being honest but you go out and those lads will be hopping mad to play Dublin and that’s great, whatever the result is they have a bit of belief going into it.

“It’s the biggest game of their lives probably in front of the biggest crowd they’ve ever played in front of and sure isn’t that what football is all about?.”

Scorers for Wicklow: M Jackson (0-7, 5fs, 2 45s); S Furlong (0-5, frees), D Fitzgerald (1-0); J McGrath, M Kenny (0-2 each); J Crowe, D Hayden (f), D Healy, C Magee (0-1 each).

Scorers for Offaly: A Sullivan (1-2, 1f); B Allen (0-3); S Tierney, N Darby (fs), A Mulhall (45s) 0-2 each; C Donohue, N Dunne (f), J Hayes, G Spollen 0-1 each

WICKLOW: M Jackson, C Hyland J Snell P Merrigan, S Kearon, D Healy, J Crowe R Finn, J Stafford, K Murphy, D Hayden, T Smyth, S Furlong, J McGrath, M Kenny. Subs: C Magee for Furlong blood (11-12), R O’Brien for Snell (28), E Murtagh for Hyland blood (43-44), C Healy for Crowe (48), C Magee for Stafford (54), D Fitzgerald for McGrath (67), Murtagh for Merrigan inj (70+2), D Boothman for Finn (72), Finn for Smyth (84), Crowe for Hayden (90+1)

OFFALY:  A Mulhall, N Darby, D Hogan, P McConway, D Dempsey, S Pender, C Donohue, C Carroll, C Dunne, M Brazil, C McNamee, R McNamee, B Allen, N Dunne, A Sullivan.

Subs: S Tierney for Dunne (28), G Spollen for Pender (40), Dunne forCarroll (54), J Hayes for R McNamee (54), J Lalor for Brazil (56), A Cunningham for Donohue (80), Brazil for C McNamee (ht et), S Doyle for Tierney (ht et)

Referee: J Henry (Mayo)

IT MATTERED 

Mark Jackson’s brilliant penalty save from Nigel Dunne in the 58th minute. It kept the dream alive.

CAN’T IGNORE 

The Kerry impact on Wicklow. First Mick O’Dwyer, now John Evans.

“There is a lot of mountains in Kerry, the same as in Wicklow.

We have a common denominator there. We know how to handle mountainy men.” 

GOOD DAY 

It hasn’t been easy being a Wicklow GAA supporter in the last few years. This was priceless.

BAD DAY 

Another Kerryman Stephen Wallace was unable to be on the line with the Offaly team he manages due to suspension. He faces a near impossible task to galvanise his troops after this.

SIDELINE SMARTS 

Wicklow’s running game began to pay dividends as the game wore on. Offaly got four points from their subs but it was Wicklow that looked to have more gas in the tank at the end.

PHYSIO ROOM 

Wicklow lost Jamie Snell to injury in the first half and fellow defender Paul Merrigan also hobbled off. Seanie Furlong and Ciaran Hyland both departed temporarily but returned to play a full part in proceedings.

BEST ON SHOW 

The seven points, the context in which many of them were scored, the penalty save. Mark Jackson was one of the easier picks.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE 

Jerome Henry didn’t have to flash a card until extra time. He did okay.

WHERE NEXT 

Wicklow have the dubious reward of playing Dublin on May 26/27.

Offaly have the first round of the qualifier series on June 9.



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