Fermanagh 1-11 Wicklow 2-16
A two-goal burst in the first half was enough to give Wicklow the momentum they needed here to seal the National League Division Four final against Fermanagh at Croke Park.
The first goal was a swivel and finish from the deadly Seanie Furlong, the second a fist to the net by Ciaran Hyland after Ronan Gallagher kept out his initial drive.
After clawing themselves back from being eight points down after 18 minutes on Saturday, Fermanagh came within a point of their opponents and seemed to be in a very good position at half time.
But a meek second half performance rendered their impressive work in the second quarter irrelevant.
Fermanagh manager Peter Canavan emerged from the dressing room to convey the emotions inside.
“They’re very disappointed in there because they have worked very hard throughout the National League and they were hoping to seal the deal, to wrap it up with a good performance,” Canavan said.
“But it was a good performance in spells, in other spells we gave them too much space. We knew before we came down here that this was a very good Wicklow team,” he continued.
“They’ve won big games here in Croke Park before, they have some excellent footballers and Harry Murphy has gelled them into a very effective team, so we can have no complaints. The better team won on the day.”
With Brian Cox keeping his full-back role in place of former All-Star full-back Barry Owens, Wicklow used the strong wind to their advantage as they played towards the Canal End.
James Stafford and Rory Finn were controlling midfield and Leighton Glynn produced a lot of graft from deep, playing high ball into the heart of the Fermanagh defence where Furlong ran riot, helping himself to his own scores and panicking the northerners into needless fouling.
Their approach was acknowledged by Canavan.
“Obviously they were kicking a lot of high ball in and feeding off the break,” he added.
“We were on the back foot right from the off.
“I thought our boys showed great heart and spirit.
“And going into half-time only two points down, we were still in a good position.
“We just didn’t get our noses in front.
“We needed to get a good start to the second half, to put them on the back foot, but that never happened, meaning they were able to counter-attack, something they did very well,” Canavan added.
The most damning statistic from the day will be a familiar one to Fermanagh observers.
After getting themselves back into the race with a flurry of points from the likes of Tomas Corrigan and a goal from Eoin Donnelly, the attack floundered in the second half.
Indeed, it took Fermanagh 25 minutes to obtain their first point, a free-kick from Paul Ward.
Canavan explained how management tried to find a remedy to the misfiring attack.
“We tried different things,” he added.
“We tried Seamie (Quigley) and Ryan (Jones), the two big men up front to see how that fared,” Canavan explained.
“It didn’t really work, so we decided to run the ball at them more. It looked a few times that we could have had free kicks, but we weren’t efficient enough with the ball, we gave it away too many times and left ourselves open for the counter-attack and that’s what really hurt us,” said the Ernesiders boss.
This will go down as a lethargic performance, perhaps worryingly in the lead in to the Ulster Championship.
But Canavan vowed to learn from it.
“I will take a lot of positives,” Canavan commented.
“We will go and look and reflect and have a good look at it again,” he stated.
“There were various things that worked for us, things that I am pleased about, and there are other aspects we need to brush up on,” Canavan said.
“It was played at a good pace, a good intensity.
“I think it was a very worthwhile experience and again it was good preparation for us looking forward to the Championship,” Canavan said.
Fermanagh open their Ulster Championship bid against Down in Brewster Park, Enniskillen on June 3.
Fermanagh: R Gallagher; N Bogue, B Cox, N McGovern (Owens, 35); C Quigley (0-1), R McCluskey (capt), B Mulrone (0-1) (McGrath, 53); S Lyons, E Donnelly (1-0); D Keenan (0-1), S McCabe, R Jones (Kille, 48); E Maguire (0-1) (Ward, 53), S Quigley (0-2, 2f), T Corrigan (0-3). Yellow cards: S Quigley (42).
Wicklow: J Flynn; C Hyland (1-0), A McLoughlin, A Byrne; D Healy, M McLoughlin, S Kelly; J Stafford (0-2), R Finn (0-3); L Glynn (0-2), D O’Sullivan (Burke, 48), D Hayden; T Hannon (0-4, 1f), S Furlong (1-4, 2f), J McGrath (0-1, f) (Earls, 63). Yellow cards: Healy (3).
Referee: Fergal Kelly (Longford).