Meath prove a bridge too far for Wicklow hurlers in league opener

Meath 2-24

icklow 2-14

The hopes that the Wicklow hurlers have closed the gap between themselves and the likes of Meath seemed somewhat optimistic on Saturday afternoon when the Royals finished strongly to win by 2-24 to 2-14 in Navan in the opening Division 2B league clash of 2023.

However, all is certainly not lost for Casey O’Brien’s men who should be there or thereabouts when it comes to the league final where they will most likely get another shot at Seoirse Bulfin’s side should the Garden County qualify.

Standing in Wicklow’s way will be the four other teams in the Division 2B league including their opponents this weekend, Tyrone, who dispatched London by a healthy 1-26 to 3-18 last weekend, and Donegal and Sligo, with Donegal beating the Yeats County by 1-16 to 0-15 in their tussle in Letterkenny.

Wicklow weren’t helped by a slow start in Navan. Following an early Gavin Weir free they fell 0-5 to 0-1 behind as the home side bossed proceedings. Weir added two more points from placed balls, and it would be Danny Staunton who would grab the first from play for Casey O’Brien’s men, that coming in the 18th minute to leave it 0-6 to 0-4.

Bray’s Diarmuid Masterson brought the Garden County to within a point of the Meath men, but the Royals enjoyed another spurt to open up a four-point gap at 0-9 to 0-5.

At 0-11 to 0-6 with 27 gone things were looking worrying but a red card for Meath’s Damien Healy following a high challenge on Luke Maloney and a sweet goal from Seanie Germaine sent the visitors in trailing by three but up a man at 0-12 to 1-6.

Seoirse Bulfin’s charges would hit the ground running after the break, lashing over five points and bagging a goal before Wicklow could reply with a major from the hurl of half-time substitute Andy O’Brien who would finish his 30-minute spell with 1-5 (four frees).

Wicklow steadied somewhat at this stage and added points from O’Brien, Danny Staunton, Gavin Weir and Davy Maloney but try as they might they weren’t going to catch the Meath men who could chip over the odd score every now and again when required.

Lacking fizz in their loss to Kildare the previous week, Meath certainly showed plenty of energy and conviction in this game; the victory constructed around some superb displays particularly from James Toher at center-half-back and Eamon O Donnchadha who ended up with a modest three points but got in a great deal of good work.

Whereas Wicklow had proven quite competent in attack against Down, they could only register 2-6 from play from six players in Navan against a miserly Meath defence. The fact that 11 of the home side’s players got on the scoresheet indicates the threat they posed with Podge O’Hanrahan showing the way with 11 scores. His points came from seven frees, a couple of 65s and, most memorably, a sweetly struck sideline cut.

Kyle Donnelly hit a fine score from distance lofting over from well inside his own half, while James Kelly, Pa Ryan, Nicky Potterton, Healy, the impressive Patrick Barnwell and Jack Regan also lofted over.

Meath were particularly adept at playing the ball into the space where forwards could run into with Sean Quigley another player who benefited from this approach. He finished up with 1-3, his goal arriving on 41 minutes. The move involved Stephen Morris and O’Hanrahan who worked the ball to O Donnchadha. The Clann na nGael man off-loaded a clever pass to Quigley who surged towards goals. He managed to escape the clutches of his marker and fired past Cian Staunton in the Wicklow goal.

The goal was the highpoint of a blistering, full-on start to the second half from the home side that ensured they surged into a 1-17 to 1-6 advantage with those 41 minutes played. Wicklow too had their spell of dominance in the second half but Meath, helped by some tenacious defending, were able to protect their lead.

The Garden County pruned Meath’s lead to five points at one stage in the second half but never looked like building up enough momentum to overtake the Royals who finished with a flourish with their second goal.

Again, it was the product of a sweeping move that carried all the threat of a rapier thrust. Jack Regan fed the ball to O Donnchadha who once more skillfully off-loaded to Mikey Cole who raced on before arrowing the ball to the net.

Wicklow will no doubt take heart from the manner in which their two goals were scored from the hurls of Seanie Germaine and Andy O’Brien.

Germaine’s goal especially was the end product of a piercing move that exploited a gap in the home battlements.

It arrived on 36 minutes. O’Brien came off the bench to get a second on 43 minutes. It looked like it could be the start of a sustained Wicklow revival.

It didn’t turn out like that as the home team, without Healy, dug in and got the win their sweat, enterprise and effort deserved.

Wicklow welcome Tyrone to Echelon Park Aughrim this weekend and will be hoping to get their first win of the campaign and set sail for the business end of this league.

Meath: Charlie Ennis; Stephen Morris, Sean Geraghty, Brendan McKeon; Kyle Donnelly (0-1), James Toher, James Kelly; Pa Ryan (0-1), Nicky Potterton (0-1); Simon Ennis, Damien Healy (0-1), Niall McLarnon; Sean Quigley (1-2), Eamon O Donnchadha (0-3), Podge O’Hanrahan (0-11, 7f, 3 65s, 1 SL). Subs: Jack Regan (0-1) for P Ryan (49), Patrick Barnwell (0-2) for N McLarnon (55), Shane Brennan for S Geraghty (56), Mikey Cole (1-0) for S Quigley (61), Daire Shine for P O’Hanrahan (71).

Wicklow: Cian Staunton; Ben Kearney, Peter Keane, Tommy Collins; Andrew Kavanagh, Padraig Doyle, John Henderson; Luke Maloney, Pádraig Doran; Danny Staunton (0-2), Seanie Germaine (1-0), Diarmuid Masterson (0-1); Mikey Lee, Davy Maloney (0-1), Gavin Weir (0-4, 4f). Subs: Andy O’Brien (1-5, 4f) for M Lee (40), Eoghan Byrne for P Keane (41), Luke Evans (0-1) for S Germaine (50) Martin O’Brien for T Collins (52), Torna Mulconry for G Weir (58).

Referee: Conor Doyle (Tipperary)


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