Campaign began on high note away to Down

Published 13/02/2016 | 00:00

THE WEXFORD ladies travelled to Down on Sunday week for the Lidl National League opener on the Abbey 3G pitch in Newry.

The Wexford team showed two changes in personnel in addition to five positional alterations from the one listed in the match programme and advertised on social media websites. Unfortunately, this takes away from the value of match programmes as well as causing confusion for those in attendance following the team.

It also affects the players when in contention for being selected for the team of the league. The Down team showed two changes in personnel.

This was a highly-competitive and entertaining game right from the off with both teams playing good quality, intelligent football. The home side settled quicker and set the pace but the Wexford defence coped well with the quick inter-passing movement of the Down forwards, aided by the channelling back of half-forwards Clara Donnelly and Róisín Murphy as well as midfielders Kellie Kearney and Niamh Moore who worked tirelessly throughout.

Down captain Gráinne McClean had two points on the board by the fifth minute before Catríona Murray opened Wexford's account from a free following a foul on Murphy. Rachel Bridges was denied what looked a certain goal by excellent defending with a last-ditch tackle by Down corner-back Aimee Greene after ten minutes.

Wexford 'keeper Natasha Walsh, who was making her inter-county debut, pulled off a fine save when deflecting a Jess Foy rasper over the bar.

The speedy Foy quickly added another point followed by a brace from Natasha Ferris and Laoise Duffy to open up a 0-6 to 0-1 lead by the 15th minute.

The introduction of Fiona Bennett and Aleisha Cullen added additional threat and movement to the Wexford attack, and they came much more into the game in the next quarter.

Cullen had the ball in the Down net after 21 minutes but was penalised for over-carrying.

Walsh's lengthy kick-outs which regularly landed in the half-forward line relieved pressure on the defence and were of immense benefit.

She could also be an invaluable asset for Wexford in free-taking duties anywhere inside the opposition half.

Marica Cullen kept a tight rein on Down's full-forward and 2014 All Star, Aileen Pyers, and indeed held her scoreless. Brídín Doyle and Georgina Hearn were also impressive in the corner-back positions.

Róisín Murphy, Clara Donnelly, Fiona Rochford and Catríona Murray in particular were having an increasing influence, and Rochford pointed after 22 minutes. She then flashed a low shot just wide after good build-up play by Kellie Kearney and Fiona Bennett before scoring a fine point on 26 minutes.

The Down 'keeper, Christine McCarthy, pulled off a great save from Fiona Bennett after being put through by Clara Donnelly. Foy had Down's first score in 14 minutes just before the interval to give the home side a 0-7 to 0-3 lead at the break.

The Wexford mentors made a number of astute positional changes at half-time, especially with the switching of the wing-backs and the placing of Marguerite Doyle onto the dangerous Foy as she completely blotted the heretofore dangerous forward out of the game.

Niamh Cloke-Rochford also came much more into the game while Maria Byrne went to midfield and Róisín Murphy to centre-back, with Murray and Rochford switching positions in attack.

These moves paid rich dividends in the opening 12 seconds when Byrne won the ball from the throw-in, raced forward and linked up with Murray before Fiona Rochford showed her pace to outstrip the Down defence and finish to the net.

Murray equalised with a point in the 36th minute before she converted a free following a foul on Bennett to give Wexford the lead for the first time.

Both teams were guilty of some chances that went wide before Gráinne McClean tied up the scores after 45 minutes.

Substitute Lauren Cunningham restored Down's lead a minute later before the home side lost their midfielder, Adair Trainor, to the sin-bin for persistent fouling.

Wexford whilst dominating play found scores hard to come by due to an excellent Down defence. Play swung from end to end before Clara Donnelly pointed after 51 minutes to tie up the scores once again.

Murray restored Wexford's lead with a pointed free on 53 minutes following a foul on the impressive Byrne which proved to be the winning score. Down made a concerted effort to get back into the game but could find no way through.

Wexford: Natasha Walsh; Georgina Hearn, Marica Cullen, Brídín Doyle; Niamh Cloke-Rochford, Maria Byrne, Marguerite Doyle; Kellie Kearney, Niamh Moore; Clara Donnelly (0-1), Róisín Murphy (capt.), Fiona Rochford (1-2); Caoimhe Roche, Catríona Murray (0-4, 3 frees), Rachel Bridges. Subs. - Fiona Bennett for Roche, Aleisha Cullen for Bridges, Marcella Cullen for Bennett, inj., also Aoife McAuliffe, Maeve Quill, Beth Cardiff, Caoimhe Denton, Fiona Rowe, Niamh Mernagh, Ellen O'Brien.

Down: Christine McCarthy; Aimee Greene, Ciara Kearns, Hannah Murray; Laura Mason, Amanda Woods, Chara Laverty; Adair Trainor, Erin McGinn; Clare Byrne, Gráinne McClean (0-3), Jess Foy (0-3); Laoise Duffy (0-2), Aileen Pyers, Natasha Ferris (0-1).

Referee: Kieran McKeever (Derry).

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