Wicklow have been brought crashing back to Earth following a bruising defeat to a Daithí Sands-inspired Down side in Division 2B of the National Hurling League on Sunday afternoon.
Eamonn Scallan’s men went into the game in Aughrim in a confident mood, having dispatched Warwickshire in Birmingham last time out.
However, the Garden found themselves stunned by a clinical Ulster outfit, who raced into a 0-13 to 0-04 half-time lead by virtue of imposing performances from Daithí Sands and Paul Sheehan.
Wicklow came racing out of the blocks at the start of the second period, with Christy Moorehouse notching four points to reduce the gap to just four points.
However, it was Down who finished the game stronger, as Sheehan put on a free-taking masterclass to put the game beyond Scallan’s men, before Daithí Sands capped off an industrious performance with a goal to condemn Wicklow to a damaging defeat.
The Northern men started the game brightly as Wicklow came out sluggish. Paul Sheehan, Daithí Sands (2), Conor O’Prey and Oisin MacManus gave the visitors a five-point lead before Wicklow could manage to register through Enda Donohoe.
Eamonn Scallan’s men did manage to claw Down’s lead back to five through Michael Boland after 17 minutes, but that was only momentary restbite as Down took firther command.
Sheehan popped over his second of six frees to kick-off a dominant spell for Down as the first-half came to a close. Another Sheehan free, followed by an Eoghan Sands point, pushed them eight points in front before Christy Moorehouse got his first score on 32 minutes.
That would prove to be Wicklow’s final score of the half, as yet another Sheehan set-piece, followed by a crisp Daithí Sands strike from wide on the left-hand side, sent Down into half-time with a comfortable 0-13 to 0-04 lead.
The second-half saw a far more spirited display from the hosts, although the damage had already been done. Danny Staunton got the first score of the half 60 seconds in after Eamonn Kearns had done well to claim a Down puck-out.
The increasingly influental Christy Moorehouse struck the ball wide, before Eamonn Kearns split the posts with a slobber-knocker from inside his own half to keep Wicklow’s faint hopes of a comeback alive.
Moorehouse reduced the gap to seven points with 42 minutes on the clock. Down and Wicklow traded points before Moorehouse popped three more shots over the bar to put Scallan’s men to within just four points of Ronan Sheehan’s men from the North.
The two sides continued to trade points before Down got back into their groove in the final 10 minutes to see them through to another two points.
Daithí Sands shrugged off the challenge of substitute Emmet Byrne to split the posts with a well-struck effort on the left-hand side. That was followed by a pair of frees from Paul Sheehan to extend the lead to an insurmountable eight points with just four minutes to go.
Christy Moorehouse and Paul Sheehan swapped points before a moment of miscommunication at the back gave Daithí Sands — who had proved to be a nightmare for the Wicklow back-line all afternoon — the simple task of putting the ball into an empty net as Down finished the game in style to pull away from an outfought and outclassed Garden outfit.
Wicklow will have two weeks to shrug off Sunday’s loss, with their next league game coming away from home in Donegal on Sunday, 17th of February. Meanwhile, Down next travel to Warwickshire on the same day.
WicklowNews Player of the Match: Daithí Sands.
Wicklow: R. Fitzgerald; B. Kearney, B. Cuddihy, M. O’Brien; G. Byrne, R. Keddy, W. Kavanagh; J. Henderson, P. Keane; E. Kearns, P. Doyle, D. Staunton; C. Moorehouse, E. Donohoe, M. Boland.
Replacements: J. Doyle (for E. Donohoe), G. Hughes (for P. Keane), J. Doyle (for E. Donohoe), E. McCormack (for P. Doyle), E. Byrne (for R. Keddy).
Scorers: C. Moorehouse (0-06; 0-02f), D. Staunton (0-03), E. Kearns (0-02), M. Boland (0-02), E. Donohoe (0-01f), P. Doyle (0-01)
Down: S. Keith; M. Patterson, C. Taggart, C. Cassidy; M. Fisher, M. Conlon, L. Savage; R. McCrickard, T. Murray; P. Sheehan, C. O’Prey, O. MacManus; C. Coulter, E. Sands, D. Sands
Replacements: T. Prenter (for C. Coulter), C. Coulter (for M. Patterson), P. Davidson (for C. O’Prey), R. Costello (for O. MacManus), P. Savage (for R. McCrickard).
Scorers: P. Sheehan (0-09; 0-06f), D. Sands (1-04), C. O’Prey (0-03; 0-01f), T. Murray (0-02; 0-01f), O. McManus (0-02), E. Sands (0-01), R. McCrickard (0-01), T. Prenter (0-01).