Wicklow keeper Mark Jackson starred at wintry Chadwicks Wexford Park as the Garden County came up smelling of roses to clinch promotion from Allianz NFL Division 4 at the expense of neighbours Wexford.
Wexford started the second half brightly after trailing by 0-06 to 0-04 at the break. But the home side faded as Wicklow stretched comfortably clear before withstanding considerable late Wexford pressure, with custodian Jackson effecting a couple of particularly outstanding interventions to add his three pointed frees.
Wexford, with Shane Roche at the helm following the shock departure of Paul Galvin, will be eyeing revenge when these sides renew rivalries next Sunday at the same venue in the opening round of the Leinster Championship.
This high stakes, winner-takes-all league duel couldn't be described as a ‘dry run’ for that championship clash, as wind and rain gripped the venue.
Wicklow were first to benefit from the elements to lead 0-03 to 0-01 midway through the first half when eclipsing a Ben Brosnan opener for the home side with scores from Conor Byrne, David Devereux and Seánie Furlong.
The sides were level twice between the 19th and 27th minutes as Mark Rossiter, Brosnan and Alan Tobin brought Wexford on terms at 0-04 apiece.
Wicklow keeper Jackson posted two frees from distance at this stage, the second of which regained the initiative before Andy Maher boomed a lead enhancer in the 34th minute.
Brosnan was strangely off-cue with a scorable free in the dying moments of the half as the visitors maintained a narrow advantage at the interval.
Wexford were full of menace on the restart as a delivery from Glen Malone was met inside by Rossiter, whose powerful connection crashed off the crossbar and over for a point, much to Wicklow’s relief.
Brosnan tagged on another free to tie matters on 0-06 apiece after 38 minutes.
But the home side failed to score for another 21 minutes while Wicklow harvested points through a Jackson free, two Seánie Furlong frees, Pádraig O’Toole and Rory Finn, to extend clear by 0-11 to 0-06 after 59 minutes.
While Brosnan ended Wexford’s drought from a free on 61 minutes, Wicklow continued to respond as Dean Healy and Rory Finn shot them clear by 0-13 to 0-07 on 65 minutes.
It was backs-to-the-wall stuff for Wicklow thereafter as Wexford determinedly sought to salvage their promotion hopes.
But the Wicklow netminder got a strong hand to a drive from Wexford defender Martin O’Connor, while he also thwarted substitute Nick Doyle, as Wicklow deservedly embraced the rise to Division 3 under new boss Davy Burke, who recently guided his native Kildare to All-Ireland Under-20 glory.
Wicklow: Mark Jackson (0-03 frees); Paddy O’Keane, Jamie Snell, Eoin Murtagh; Andy Maher (0-01), Niall Donnelly, Rory Finn (0-02); Pádraig O’Toole (0-01), Dean Healy (0-01); David Devereux (0-01), Mark Kenny, Darren Hayden; Eoin Darcy, Seánie Furlong (0-03 frees), Conor Byrne (0-01).
Subs: Gearóid Murphy for Darcy (55); Chris O’Brien for Byrne (59); Ross O’Brien for Murtagh (67); James Sheeran for Furlong (67); Oisín Manning for Andy Maher.
Wexford: Pa Doyle; Martin O’Connor, Gavin Sheehan, Eoin Porter; Glen Malone, Brian Malone, Seán Ryan; Niall Hughes, Daithí Waters; Alan Tobin (0-01), Donal Shanley, Mark Rossiter (0-02); Kevin O’Grady (0-01), John Tubritt, Ben Brosnan (0-06, five frees).
Subs: Eoghan Nolan for Tobin, inj. (38); Nick Doyle for Waters (43); Conor Carty for Ryan (45); Jonathan Bealin for Tubritt (53); Paídí Hughes for Rossiter (59).
Referee: David Hickey (Carlow).