Tough week goes from bad to worse
Enniscrothy follow up AIL disappointment with cup final defeat to Wicklow
Wicklow blew away decades of pent-up frustration and ended their 53-year wait for a Provincial Towns Cup title as they completed a wretched week for fancied Enniscorthy in Ashbourne on Sunday.
Wicklow 28 Enniscrothy 21
The pitch was invaded by a good-natured wave of joy when referee Gary Conway brought a most absorbing contest to a close as the winning tribe rushed on to hail their men in black.
The defeated favourites were marooned forlornly amidst the happy tsunami as they were left to rue their double misfortune, losing out on All-Ireland rugby one weekend and then falling short of retaining the cup the next.
But they had no cause for complaint about their latest setback, beaten by a team that came to the Meath venue fired by the hunger of long-term under-achievement.
Wicklow drew on their desire for long-sought Provincial Towns glory, blown into a 15-point half-time lead by the brisk breeze which took some of the heat out of the early summer sunshine.
And then they tackled like demons in the second to deny their high pedigree opponents the try and conversion which would have propelled the match into extra-time.
In Niall Earls, they had a masterly out-half, who clocked up a try and as well as 13 points with the boot, a personal triumph for the former UCD star.
But it was fitting that the side's two other touchdowns came from the forwards, with hooker Eanna Killeen and second row Fergal Walsh claiming the glory for their hard-working pack.
Enniscorthy had their own maestro at 10 in the form of Ivan Poole, who pulled so many of the right strings but could not find the sought for chink in the armour of the men destined to be the victors.
Wicklow emerged at the start of play to a cacophony of raucous support, immediately recognised despite the change of strip forced by the similarity of their usual kit to Enniscorthy's hooped livery.
And the team in black did so well to keep the decibel levels up throughout the first 40 minutes, giving their fans the best of starts with an early try.
The pattern was quickly set, with full-back Stephen Duffy - veteran of the losing cup final appearance ten years previously - putting 'Scorthy quickly on the back foot with his probing left foot.
Secure line-out ball provided the platform for a monstrous driving maul which rolled all the way to the line, with hooker Eanna Killeen credited with the score.
Niall Earls squirted the conversion wide, offering a rare sign of mortality on the day, and his opposite number Ivan Poole soon took the opportunity to show how it should be done with a solidly-struck effort off the kicking tee.
Throughout the opening half, the Slaneysiders kept the ball in hand, repeatedly feeding Ivan Jacob on the right wing, but time and again they were sent into reverse by Earls or Duffy.
The canny out-half extended the advantage with a drop goal sent sailing over the bar on the breeze from close to 40 metres range, and he raised the flags once more with a penalty.
In truth, given the strength of the wind, an eleven-point advantage looked slim enough but there was more to come on the half hour in the form of a vital try.
The Wicklow backs showed that they too could handle the ball as they set flying winger Joe Langtry free along the left and, though he was held up short of the line, the pressure was on.
A heaving ruck seethed near the Enniscorthy posts at the clubhouse end of the ground and up popped Earls on the fringes to worm his way over for the five-pointer, with two easy additional points to follow.
An 18-point advantage appeared much more secure but the favourites put down a marker before the break to suggest that the contest was anything but over.
For once, Wicklow's otherwise powerful scrum was sent into reverse and Poole was given a chance to slot over the penalty goal which gave Enniscorthy the last word of the half as the score read 21-6 at the interval.
The cup holders were first back out of the changing rooms, eager to get down to business, but they had to work hard for the try which was the first step on the road to reeling in their rivals from Leinster's lower division.
Ivan Poole was blocked within inches of the line near the posts, then rangy full-back Ross Barbour was thwarted a little to the left as the Wicklow defence worked over-time.
But there was no holding Killian Lett as he went over in the corner, Poole making light of the awkward angle to slot home the conversion.
Enniscorthy were on the march as they switched the attack to the right, where Ivan Jacob completed a swift passing movement in which Hugh O'Neill displayed a pair of sure hands.
This time the flags of the linemen stayed down for the conversion and Wicklow retained a three-point advantage. With more than 25 minutes left to play, it was a perilously slim lead.
The underdogs needed some inspiration and it came in the form of a score which was a carbon copy of their opening effort at the start of the game, once more asserting forward domination in an unstoppable drive for the line off a line-out.
The try was credited to second row Fergal Walsh, reward for a towering personal performance on a day when the pack contained a full hand of aces.
They all showed their worth in the closing stages as Enniscorthy's slick passing backs and eager prop Angelo Todisco were held up again and again and again at the '22 line.
All the pressure in the closing stages yielded nothing more than Poole's fourth penalty and, though there were a few injury time collywobbles, the long Wicklow wait was over as the champagne corks popped as a symbol of long pent-up ambition.
Enniscorthy: Ross Barbour; Ivan Jacob, Killian Lett, Hugh O'Neill, David O'Dwyer; Ivan Poole, Alan Jacob; Angelo Todisco, David Murphy, Paddy Waters; Joe Bulmer, Thomas Stamp; Brian Bolger, Greg Jacob, Timmy Morrissey. Subs. used - Evan Lett, Jack Kelly, Peadar O'Mahoney, James Doyle, John Daly, Damien McCabe.
Wicklow: Stephen Duffy; Joe Langtry, Kieran Hurrell, Shane Farrar, Mark Higgins; Niall Earls, Dennis Higgins; Timmy O'Donovan, Eanna Killeen; Shane Byrne; John Jenkinson, Fergal Walsh; Andy Doyle, Wesley Wojnar, Liam Gaffney. Subs. used - Shaun O'Brien, Eddie Downes, Barry Hurley.
Referee: Gary Conway.