Classy Curran crushes Clare
Wexford 6-9 Clare 2-5
A driven Wexford, spurred on by a masterclass of goalscoring from Anais Curran, got the result they needed to qualify for the All-Ireland Under-16 camogie championship semi-finals at Bellefield on Sunday.
The equation for the Slaneysiders was simple: win by four or more points to leapfrog opponents Clare, take second spot in the group and book a semi-final date with Dublin on Saturday. They did it with plenty to spare.
There's something different about this Wexford team. Some of the under-age sides of the past few years shied away from the physical side of things a little too easily. There was a timid naivety to them, but not this group.
From the first minute of this game they knuckled down to the task. They went in with force and strength but did it fairly. Their tackling was superb, and where Clare looked to illegally grab hurls, Wexford got the hooks and blocks in and it paid dividends.
While the unstoppable five-goal Curran gets the plaudits as the match-winner again, if her team-mates play with fear or trepidation she has no chance to shine. Yet, it could be argued that the Oulart-The Ballagh starlet wasn't even Wexford's best player.
That accolade could just as easily go to Ciara O'Connor. The St. Martin's youngster played the centre-back/sweeper role like an old veteran. The skill and the vision she plays with is impressive for someone so young, and she is absolutely crucial to Wexford's hopes of success in the coming weeks.
The hosts played against the strong breeze in the opening half and, by and large, did a superb job of limiting Clare's scoring opportunities. The visitors did get off to the fast start that they craved when Becky Foley drilled high to the Wexford net inside two minutes.
Ciara Walsh responded with a point after her side went 1-1 to nil down. When Ciara O'Connor's free dropped in the goalmouth, Curran collected and swept home her first major to tie the game after seven minutes.
Wexford had other half chances as they battened down the hatches against the elements. They took one in the 15th minute when Amy O'Leary's ball into the goalmouth fell to Curran and she whipped on it to the bottom corner of Rachel Daly's net.
Aoife Mahon made a stunning save from the dangerous Lorna McNamara a couple of minutes later, and when O'Leary tapped over from the left of goal Wexford were suddenly a goal up.
However, there was nothing the Wexford 'keeper Mahon could do to deny Aoibhinn Ryan when she batted in from close range in the 25th minute. Again Wexford refused to go away and Curran's point on the stroke of half-time left the sides deadlocked (2-3 each).
An even first-half on the field and the scoreboard was not replicated after the break; instead Wexford bossed every area of the park. They took a while to get the scoreboard moving but when Curran completed her hat-trick after a great build-up involving Walsh, Katie Smyth and Aisling Alouf, there was no looking back.
Curran turned provider for Megan Cullen in the 42nd minute and the Castletown clubwoman rattled the net from outside the '20 with a low rocket. Walsh and Smyth added points before Curran netted a fourth with 13 minutes left.
A rare Becky Foley point from Clare left nine between the sides (5-5 to 2-5), but Wexford added further points through Curran, Alouf and Cullen before Curran capped a stunning performance in added time with a powerfully pulled fifth major from the edge of the '20.
Wexford will go into the semi-final as underdogs, having lost in the Leinster championship to Dublin. However, this is a side playing at a completely different level now and they have every chance to turn that spring form on its head on Saturday (venue and time TBA).
Wexford: Aoife Mahon; Laura Doran, Amy Cahill, Tara Doyle; Róisín Parker, Ciara O'Connor, Lorna Fortune; Ciara Walsh (0-2), Kate Kirwan; Megan Cullen (1-1), Katie Smyth (0-2), Amy O'Leary (0-1); Eimear Byrne, Anais Curran (5-2, 0-1 '45), Emma Dempsey. Subs. - Shauna O'Leary for Parker (24), Aisling Alouf (0-1) for Byrne (31), Eimear O'Connor for Dempsey (47), Doireann Cullen for Fortune (58), Molly Somers for Cullen (60+3), also Sophie Roche, Aoife Dempsey, Siobhán Sinnott, Lauren Murphy, Leanne Rowe, Amy Cousins, Kate Foley, Elena Kenny.
Clare: Rachel Daly; Sinéad Ryan, Róisín Minogue, Caoimhe Kelly; Ella McNamara (capt.), Susan Daly, Ciara Halpin; Emily Cahill, Síofra Ní Chonaill; Finia O'Brien (0-1), Lynda Daly, Siobhán Lenihan; Lorna McNamara (0-2), Becky Foley (1-2, 0-1 free), Aoibhinn Ryan (1-0). Subs. - Gretta Hickey for Ní Chonaill (30+1), Aoife Corey for O'Brien (42), Aisling Hannon for Halpin (48).
Referee: Ray Kelly (Kildare).