It was heart-break for the Wicklow minor footballers in Aughrim on Friday night as a second-half resurgence helped Kildare come from behind to win their Leinster minor football championship semi-final 2-12 to 1-13.
Wicklow were the dominant side for much of the first-half, going into half-time with a 1-7 to 1-6 lead.
However, a spirited Kildare comeback in the second-half – including a decisive goal – saw the visitors advance to the Leinster final despite a dogged fight-back from Wicklow late on.
The Garden players made two changes from the side that drew with Kildare in the 3-13 to 3-13 thriller last time out.
Cillian McDonald replaced Andy Foley at corner forward, while Jack Fleming Foran and Christopher Grimes came in for Alan Barrett and Gavin Fogarty respectively.
The changes did not deter the young men from Wicklow, as a hat trick of points from Matthew Ging and a goal from Eoin Darcy saw them surge into a 1-3 to 0-2 lead early on inside a jam-packed Joule Park.
Kildare would claw the deficit back to two, only for Wicklow to respond with Ging point and a John Keogh strike which was expertly saved by John Ball.
That scare seemed to wake the visitors up. Morrissey got Kildare’s first goal of the game to level the scores. Darcy and Ging did manage to restore Wicklow’s lead going into the break, only for Kennedy to point and give Kildare a sniff as the two sides went into half-time separated by just a point at 1-7 to 1-6.
If Wicklow were the dominant outfit for much of the first-half, the same could not be said for the second as Kildare came charging out of the blocks with a pair of points allowing the visitors to take the lead for the first time.
Ging managed to equalise for Wicklow, only for the Garden defence’s failure to deal with a high ball leading to Kildare scoring a heart-shattering second goal.
From that moment on Wicklow were desperately fighting their way back into the game. Points from the excellent Ging were answered by Kildare as the visitors kept Wicklow at arms length.
When Kevin O’Brien’s men did manage to manufacture a goalscoring opportunity through Shaun Cranley, they found Kildare shot-stopper John Ball in inspired form as he made a magnificent save to deny Wicklow a way back in.
A late couple of points extended Kildare’s lead to five as O’Brien’s brave team looked to have run out of energy to claw their way back.
They would score three more injury-time points but it wasn’t enough as Kildare saw the game out to advance to the Leinster final where they will meet Meath.
Wicklow, meanwhile, can look back with pride at a season which is sure to give hope to the future of Gaelic football in the county – all the while wondering what might have been.