Kildare and Wicklow light up dull winter day

 

If there are better championship matches in the height of summer than this, then I want to be at them. Before a crowd estimated at 7,000 and on a bleak and dreary day, Kildare and Wicklow managed to revive the old faith in Gaelic football in a manner which did great credit to both sides. "Well you can't get much better than that," was the pithy comment from Mick O'Dwyer after the match and he surely knows something of these matters.

But this was a game which enlivened the entire concept of the game of Gaelic football. It was littered with skill, determination, passion and class to the extent that even the Wicklow people present applauded both teams off the pitch. It was a well-deserved recognition of a sporting and inspiring afternoon.

Heavy rain before the match left little impression on either the pitch or the players. Both sides moved the ball with accuracy and speed from hand to hand out of defence and several quite superb scores were taken from difficult angles. Chief among the takers of these gems was, not surprisingly, Kevin O'Brien of Wicklow. But then we have been watching this graceful and extraordinary player for so long that we take these things for granted. And he was not the only one in the Wicklow side who bewitched us in the first half of the match.

For reasons which do not appear obvious at the moment, there was a serious revamping of the Wicklow line-out before the start. Leaving that aside, it can be taken for granted that the introduction of Eamon White in the full back position and the advancement of Barry O'Donovan to centre back was a masterly stroke. O'Donovan presented enormous problems for Kildare all through the match. His fetching and carrying of the ball was of the highest quality and with Trojan support from his defensive colleagues, notably Breandan O Hannadh, Kildare were forced to struggle.

With wise old heads of the calibre of Mick O'Dwyer and Pat McCarthy on the sideline for Kildare, it came as no surprise that the influences of Seamus Miley and Darren Coffey were identified as problematic for Kildare at half-time.

Nor did it come as any surprise to find that Kildare decided to "crowd" the midfield area in the second half and, thereby, limit the Wicklow dominance in that area.

As things turned out, that is what swung the match in Kildare's favour and that fact that they had, in Declan Kerrigan, a man of the calibre of O'Brien helped enormously.

Wicklow had led by seven points to five at the break, mainly due to the fact that Kevin O'Brien had scored four points with. Kildare set about their task with some determination after the break and, as Wicklow came under pressure, Niall Buckley and Padraic Brennan brought them level after only five minutes.

Gradually Kildare, urged on with considerably passion by their supporters, sped into a three-point lead by the 20th minute, with Kerrigan and Glen Ryan playing significant parts in the revival.

Frees for Wicklow by David Gordon kept them in touch, however, but in a match which did great credit to both sides, Wicklow seemed to run out of their earlier steam and Kildare survived to win.

Kildare: C Byrne; K Doyle, R Quinn, B Fahy; A Rainbow, G Ryan, D Maher; N Buckley (0-2, frees), K Brennan; J Whelan, D Kerrigan (0-4), B French (0-2); P Brennan (0-4), N Donlan (0-1), A McAndrew. Subs: M Lynch for McAndrew (half-time), J Flynn for Whelan (25 mins).

Wicklow: T Murphy; J Mooney, E White, B O Hannadh; A Mooney, B O'Donovan, B Whelan; D Coffey (0-1, free); D Gordon (0-3, two frees); S Byrne, M Murtagh (0-2), D Coffey; C Daye, K O'Brien (0-4), J Behan. C Daye, Subs: K Shannon for Murtagh (50 mins), D Burke for Behan (54 mins).

Referee: S Prior (Leitrim).