Wicklow remain optimistic about the summer following a long, cruel spring

Oisín McConville’s men pick themselves up after near-miss defeat to Kildare, as they prepare to face Fermanagh in Tailteann Cup

Kildare's Kevin Flynn is challenged by Matt Nolan, Jack Kirwan and Patrick O'Keane of Wicklow in the Leinster SFC quarter-final on April 14th. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

Mick Bohan tells a story at his coaching clinics about the time he was working with the Dublin footballers, a decade or so ago.

The current Dublin women’s manager was Jim Gavin’s skills coach, and he remembers Paul Flynn and one or two senior players collaring him after training.

They liked the challenges Bohan was setting them but wondered if they could do them at the end of the session, instead of the start, so that they’d be jaded and forced to perform under pressure.

Then they’d know if they’d really mastered the skills.


Across the border in Wicklow, team captain Patrick O’Keane says they have a similar mantra in training: “Do it when you’re tired.”

And it almost paid off for them in their recent Leinster championship quarter-final against Kildare.

Trailing by four points after 65 minutes, they pulled back 1-1 to draw level and then, deep into stoppage-time, turned the ball over around midfield and got Matt Nolan into a position to shoot at an empty goal from distance. His punt from 45 metres trickled wide, Kildare pumped in a Garryowen at the opposite end a few moments later and somehow engineered a fisted point to win it. Utter chaos.

“Matt is only a young guy and I support his decision to go for it,” said O’Keane of Nolan’s decision to strike for a goal, instead of perhaps working it in closer for a point. “That ball goes a metre to the left and it’s in the net, he would have been in the headlines in the newspaper.

Wicklow's Matt Nolan is consoled by team-mate Kevin Quinn after the game at O'Moore Park, Laois. Photograph: Tom Maher/Inpho

“It was probably the right decision and we can talk about it now but it’s kind of done with. Matt has learned from it as well, but ultimately I do still think it was probably the right decision.

“He’d also played 70 minutes of football when it happened but the opportunity arose and he took it. It was unfortunate that it didn’t go in.”

O’Keane is a qualified physio who started work last winter at Tallaght Hospital. He lives in Stillorgan, so much of his time is spent listening to Dublin supporters talking about how the championship kicks off for them with the All-Ireland series.

Back across the border in Wicklow, they’d kill for even a little bit of provincial progress.

“It would have been nice to play in Croke Park against Louth in a Leinster semi-final, if we’d beaten Kildare,” said the St Pat’s man. “I don’t know when Wicklow were last even in a semi-final so it was unfortunate. The point at the end was a bit of a killer but sure that’s the nature of the GAA.”

The Tailteann Cup at least offers an opportunity for teams like Wicklow to still make meaningful summer progress. They don’t have a particularly good record in the competition, winning just a game each season and failing to make it out of their group last season.

Wicklow let Kildare off the hook in madcap and frantic finaleOpens in new window ]

But with that near-miss against Kildare in mind and, perhaps more significantly, having beaten Westmeath, the 2022 Tailteann Cup winners, in this year’s Leinster opener, they have to be optimistic.

Oisín McConville’s crew will pitch up in Enniskillen on Saturday for their opener with Fermanagh. As McConville said after the win over Westmeath, Wicklow can be good, great or downright infuriating, so it remains to be seen which team turns up.

“We came out from seven games in the league and we only had one win, that was a tough situation, especially after being relegated,” said O’Keane of Wicklow’s difficult spring in Division Three. “But going into the Tailteann Cup, we’re definitely where we want to be and happy after the good displays that we’ve put in more recently.”