A remarkable and historic win for Wicklow this afternoon ensured that for one of the two teams that were relegated from Division 3 of the Allianz Football League, the 2022 season suddenly became a much more memorable one for all the right reasons.
The home side's final tally of 5-15 (30 points) is the most the county has ever scored in a senior championship fixture, eclipsing the 2-22 they scored against London at the same venue 20 years ago.
A strong wind blew through the picturesque West Wicklow venue for the game, but not even the most optimistic of home supporters could have imagined the gargantuan lead that their charges would accumulate during the first half.
Just three minutes had elapsed when Eoin Darcy registered their first goal, and while Laois responded in kind straight away through Gary Walsh, barely a couple of minutes later Wicklow raised another green flag of their own, midfielder Padraig O’Toole finishing to the corner after a great run from Andy Maher coming from the half-back line initiated the move.
The points started to flow for the home side, both from frees from the boots of Eoin Darcy and goalkeeper Mark Jackson, but mainly from Mark Kenny, who hit five from play in the opening half and was simply unplayable from a Laois perspective all afternoon.
Gary Walsh was the only Laois forward who made anything close to a comparable impact for Billy Sheehan’s troops, and he did well to play in Seán O’Flynn for a Laois goal in response to keep the visitors in the game.
The run into the half-time whistle proved crucial however, as Wicklow filled their boots to move into a double-figure lead. Five successive points were followed by a Kevin Quinn goal, and though Mark Barry replied with a free for Laois, Jackson and Dean Healy pointed before the break to move the lead out to 3-11 to 2-3.
At half-time, Wicklow dared to dream – but shortly after the restart, they were in dreamland. Brian Byrne got the opening score for the midlanders but two more Quinn goals in the space of a minute sent the crowd into raptures.
The 16-point lead wasn’t long lived, as wing forward Paddy O’Sullivan fired to the net off the crossbar, but there was never a spell when the visitors were able to moujnt a sustained spell of pressure, and a black card for talented full forward Evan O’Carroll didn’t help.
Gary Walsh added a second goal just moments before getting a straight red card and late points from Paul Kingston and O’Carroll cut the gap back to six, but Wicklow’s win was never in doubt and they now advance to a Leinster quarter-final against Meath, with the action throwing in at Navan at 2pm next Sunday.
SCORERS – Wicklow: Kevin Quinn 3-0, Mark Kenny 0-5, Eoin Darcy 1-2 (one free), Padraig O’Toole 1-1, Mark Jackson 0-3 (all frees), Dean Healy 0-2, Andy Maher and Darragh Fitzgerald 0-1 each Laois: Gary Walsh 2-2 (two frees), Paddy O’Sullivan 1-1, Mark Barry (all frees) and Paul Kingston (two frees and one mark) 0-3 each, Sean O’Flynn 1-0, Evan O’Carroll 0-2, Brian Byrne 0-1
WICKLOW: Mark Jackson (0-03 frees); Malachy Stone, Patrick O’Keane, Tom Moran; Nicky Devereaux, Andy Maher (0-01), Zach Cullen; Padraig O’Toole (1-01), JP Hurley; Rory Stokes, Dean Healy (0-02), Darragh Fitzgerald (0-01); Mark Kenny (0-05), Kevin Quinn (3-00), Eoin Darcy (1-02, 0-01 free).
Subs: Oisin Cullen for Fitzgerald (50), Oisin McGraynor for Darcy (64), Matthew Traynor for Kenny (67).
LAOIS: Matthew Byron; Trevor Collins, Mark Timmons, Alex Mohan; Dylan Kavanagh, John O’Loughlin, Brian Byrne (0-01); Kieran Lillis, Sean O’Flynn (1-00); Danny O’Reilly, Eoin Lowry, Paddy O’Sullivan (1-01); Mark Barry (0-03 frees), Evan O’Carroll (0-02), Gary Walsh (2-00, 0-02 frees).
Subs: Alan Farrell for Kavangh (half-time), Paul Kingston (0-03, 0-02 frees, 0-01 mark) for Lillis (41), Sean Moore for Lowry (55), Cathal Doyle for O’Loughlin (61), Sean Greene for Mohan (74)
REFEREE: Fergal Kelly (Longford)