carlow out of luck as wicklow win 'lottery'
Dempsey sees red at 16 yellows and dismissals
THROUGH their much heralded and breakthrough voyage into unchartered waters of the last 12 of the All-Ireland series last year, Wicklow provided plenty of theatre and joy for their long suffering supporters and yesterday in Portlaoise, they signalled their intentions to take up exactly where they left off at the same venue last July.
A 3-12 to 0-12 defeat of local rivals and perennial strugglers Carlow suggests a routine and predictable victory for the Garden County but up until the last 15 minutes or so of a bizzarely fractious encounter, it was anything but. The two sets of players and the referee Gearóid Ó Connámha had, it seemed, entirely conflicting standards on matters of discipline.
As championship openers go, this one had plenty of bark but hardly sufficient bite to reconcile against the 16 yellows cards and three reds which were thrown out like confetti by Ó Conámha.
Wicklow manager Mick O'Dwyer went so far as to describe it as "an exceptionally clean game of football", which in fairness, wasn't too far removed from the truth.
His sideline opponent Luke Dempsey was clearly bewildered and, understandably, more riled by it all afterwards, stating with both frustration and confidence that Ó Connámha's interpretation of the rules had completely favoured Wicklow.
"It was a lottery," Dempsey surmised. "You wouldn't know when the ball was going to be thrown up, when there was going to be a free for one of these underhand fist passes.
"The first Wicklow goal was clearly a throw and an overcarry. The referee was very frustrating. You couldn't get a run at it.
"Wicklow's incessant fouling... maybe that's where we have to improve during the summer -- to be more 'professional' in terms of knowing what referees are going to be doing.
"But he really suited their style of play. It was non-stop fouling and very little punishment for it."
Whatever about the new handpass rule, the tally of cards was certainly puzzling.
Wicklow lost a man -- Nicky Mernagh -- before half-time while Carlow's most productive area -- midfield -- was wiped out completely by sendings off to both Thomas Walsh and Brendan Murphy before the end.
In fairness, Dempsey stopped short of blaming anything other than Carlow themselves for the result and he was right.
"The longer the game had have gone on for, the more Wicklow would have won by," he recognised.
A competent, battling first half display -- albeit one blighted by a spate of nightmare wides -- left Dempsey's side just three points down at the break.
But it was hard to ascertain which side had garnered the momentum given that Wicklow had just had Mernagh sent off for a second yellow card just before the end of the half.
Paul Earls had netted Wicklow's first goal on 33 minutes, bustling his way through three defenders before squeezing a shot past James Clarke, but much of the sting was taken off the concession of that score when Johnny Kavanagh and Simon Rea briefly calibrated their free-taking sights with converted placed-balls to close the gap to three.
Carlow corner-back Pá draig Murphy was the spare man thereafter, though he neither shielded his colleagues from the threat of the new two-man Wicklow inside forward line nor did he make any effective surges into attack and it was O'Dwyer's forwards who stole the show from there on.
Leighton Glynn embellished a spectacular display with a haul of 1-4 while Tony Hannon's three points from play, accurate free-taking and general creativity represented a touch of class completely lacking from an injury-plagued Carlow attacking unit.
Their most dangerous player was Brendan Murphy, the former Sydney Swans recruit, who won't forget his senior championship debut for some time to come for a myriad of different reasons.
Along with fellow prodigal son, Thomas Walsh, Murphy lorded the aerial exchanges in the first half, kicked three excellent points, had Carlow's best goal chance saved in the 48th minute, but always pressed down hard on what was obviously very thin disciplinary ice.
Having been booked for dissent in the 50th minute, Murphy was sent off for what was generally believed to be a straight red for a similar offence in the aftermath of Glynn's brilliant, match-settling goal 10 minutes later.
"Again, we had two sent off today which is totally unacceptable and very very frustrating, albeit there was a lot of yellows cards," fumed Dempsey.
"There's something wrong there because it wasn't a dirty game."
JP Dalton netted the goal which decorated the margin of victory in the 68th minute, just as Carlow had fallen asunder.
O'Dwyer, who now takes his team into a Leinster semi-final against Westmeath where Wicklow will again be favourites, was understandably less irked than Dempsey and proclaimed it a job well done.
"I thought that Carlow would put it up to us to be very honest," he said. "We played well, the fitness was good.
"We played a good combining game, especially when it was 14 against 15 for quite a long while.
"We held the ball well and we moved the ball pretty well.
"Overall, yes, it was a very good display but it was only a game won in the Championship. There's a long way to go," O'Dwyer added, "but it's good to get over the first round."