Wicklow claimed a rare but thoroughly deserved national title with a comprehensive victory over Fermanagh in Croke Park. Emmet Ryan examines how the Garden County’s half time adjustments enabled them to halt the momentum of Fermanagh’s comeback.
Fermanagh’s possession based game looked likely to cause Wicklow problems early. Two scores came early for Peter Canavan’s men as they looked to build from the half backs and advance. This tactic however aided them far more in attack than defence, as a glaring mis-match soon became apparent.
Between 9 and 16 minutes, Seanie Furlong scored 1-3 from six high balls that came his way and created two more chances with Leighton Glynn converting one for a point. The sole ball put to waste came from a Tony Hannon miss from short range. The highlight of this one-man barrage was Furlong’s goal on 9 minutes. James Stafford sent a ball in over the top for Furlong and he rifled home.
This was a massive miss-match and the damage was compounded as Ciaran Hyland found the net at the second effort as Wicklow moved into a 2-6 to 0-3 lead. Even when Wicklow found it harder to create scores later in the half, it was the direct approach that saw scores come from Glynn, off another ball won by Furlong, and Hannon.
A goal from Eoin Donnelly on 25 minutes changed the tone of the first half. Shane McCabe delivered a perfect pass over the top and Donnelly let it hop once before taking positioning and powering the ball past John Flynn. Up to this point Fermanagh’s efforts at a fightback looked rushed and far removed from the game they were looking to play. With less of a mountain to climb, the comeback switched to a calmer tempo.
Tomas Corrigan proved an effective scoring threat in this game. He scored three points in a row as Canavan’s charges re-grouped and worked on developing play up-field. This slower approach, focused heavily on finding the optimal scoring position, clawed the deficit back to one point late in the first half.
Wicklow drop back, work the middle
In order to quell Fermanagh’s possession game, Wicklow moved more men into defence. This made it harder for the patient game to lead to chances, with the addition of Furlong to the rearguard proving the most visible element of Wicklow’s disruptive play.
The continued dominance of Stafford and Rory Finn proved crucial in padding the lead. With Fermanagh no longer owning possession, Wicklow’s midfield supremacy soon resulted in chances up the middle for Harry Murphy’s men. Finn put two points on the board after the break while setting up Furlong for an additional two scores and Stafford, who proved an able creator in the opening period, set up Hannon for a point on 40 minutes.
The most impressive aspect of this play was the consistency with which Wicklow created space for scores. While their game switched from an out-and-out route one game, Wicklow remained committed to a direct game and this created opportunities to profit from favourable positions. Even when the game was stopped for 2 minutes early in the second half, they got back to business as usual upon the resumption.
Fermanagh prove most accommodating
With the margin widening but still manageable, Canavan’s charges made a bizarre, and frankly panicked, change to their attack. Seamus Quigley was meant to be the primary scoring threat in this game but his struggles in winning high balls in the first half had seen Fermanagh stop playing the long game early. It came as a surprise when the bombs started flying in after the break, to no avail whatsoever.
The only quality chance that really came from this approach actually saw a clever move by Quigley. With a high ball coming in he dropped back, away from the battle for possession. This forced Flynn to adjust his position and freed Corrigan to move in on goal when he took possession. An outside step from Corrigan however would prove the wrong move as his shot was stopped by Flynn.
A year ago this column criticised Wicklow’s lack of attacking nous. On Saturday they showed just how much things have changed. This Garden county team began the game by tossing Fermanagh around like a rag doll. When they stopped being effectively they successfully switched to a more mature game that saw their defence come to the fore. Impressive as the 18 score tally was, keeping Fermanagh scoreless for a decisive 23 minute stretch proved the winning of this game. Having exploited an opponent’s weakness, Murphy’s charges were able to adapt when their own deficiencies were targeted.
For Fermanagh this is a big step back after an impressive regular season. While promotion was guaranteed before this game, their inability to close the deal with a title on the line should concern Canavan. Momentum was on Fermanagh’s side going into the break, having all but erased Wicklow’s early lead. When Wicklow changed their game after the break, Fermanagh had no answer and proved unable to prevent Wicklow from creating chances. With an attack-minded opponent, Down, awaiting them in the Ulster championship there is a lot of work to do yet.
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