Late goal dashes Derry promotion dream as Wicklow weather storms
Derry 0-08 Wicklow 1-09
With the clock running down in a Baltic Inniskeen, it looked as if Derry hurlers might pull off a most improbable win in the National Hurling League Division 2B final, until Wicklow substitute Michael Boland pounced upon the one genuine goal chance all game to seal Wicklow's second win in a week over the Oak Leaf hurlers, and the silverware.
It brought an end to this mini-rivalry between these two counties, who will meet again in the Christy Ring Cup in the summer. Following last week's meeting in Ballinascreen in the final regulation league game, there were allegations that Derry players were subject to some sledging of a sectarian nature from their opponents.
Taunts of which Wicklow manager Eamon Scallon maintained he was completely unaware of.
"Nobody mentioned that to me. I haven't a clue," he said afterwards.
"I am not getting involved in this, but I would say, there is no place for that."
His opposite number, Derry boss John McGurk, also refused to be drawn on what is a growing issue in the GAA.
"We have no comment to make on that. We respect every team we meet and I know Derry is a very, very proud county so we don't get involved in that," said McEvoy.
It cannot be downplayed just how cold this venue was on Sunday. Just prior to throw-in a snow shower hit and a few more came along, while a gale blew the length of the field. After ten minutes during a break in play, Derry midfielder Thomas Brady began clapping his hands furiously in an effort to get some blood pumping.
With the benefit of the wind in the first half, Derry got themselves into an early lead. Derry's Liam Óg Hinphey was enjoying a midfield battle against John Henderson - son of John senior who won three All-Ireland titles with Kilkenny - but with heavy conditions, the score was only 0-5 to 0-3 in Derry's favour at the break.
Wicklow tried to use the wind to their favour in the second half but could not judge it. Placing dual star Brendan Rogers at full-forward following his introduction for the injured Brian Óg McGilligan gave Derry a focal point and he added two points as it looked like they might tough it out.
However, an Enda Donohue free in wasn't cleared well enough by the Derry defence and Wicklow sub Michael Boland managed to get a clean strike at the second attempt to get the all-important goal that leap-frogged them into the lead with just six minutes remaining, and they added two more points for emphasis.
It made for a bitter pill for Derry to swallow, only the winners of the league final gaining promotion next season. But it must be recognised as a fine achievement for Wicklow who operate from eight hurling clubs.
"Ultimately, the goal was the difference between the two teams I'd say to be fair to Derry, because were on top in that match for a long, long time," said Scallon.
"And the goal came and ultimately that was it. It wasn't that we outhurled Derry or anything like that."
Of what it means for Wicklow hurling, he was certain.
"These young lads on Development Squads of 13, 14, at least now they have a team that they can look at that has won something. You are looking for players of 16, 17 to come through, and looking at that match today, it gives you an aspiration for young players to say: 'yeah, I want to be involved in that.'"
McEvoy felt the wintry conditions made a lottery of the game.
"When you are on top and we were on top for 30, 35 minutes, I thought it would come against us (with the wind). I wouldn't fault the players as such, the conditions today were quite difficult to adjust to, even when we had the wind the conditions were hard to adjust to," said the Laois man.
"Wicklow did it better than we did. They got a break, they took the break and we didn't. We could have no complaints."
And with that, he looked ahead to the Christy Ring Cup campaign.
"Wicklow is there, Down is there, Kildare, Meath so we know there is a huge task ahead of us. I think it is going to be a really good Championship. The Wicklow team we played there today, Kildare, there is only a puck of a ball in it."
There's always the next day.