Extra-time agony as Cork finish on a high
Wexford's quest for first final place since 2012 ends in bitter disappointment
A monumental Wexford effort just wasn't enough on Saturday in Thurles as battle-hardened Cork advanced to the Liberty Insurance All-Ireland Senior camogie championship final after extra-time.
Cork 0-19 Wexford 0-15
When Kate Kelly put Wexford ahead for just the third time at 0-15 to 0-14 in the second half of added time, in a contest that had been level on nine occasions, it looked like the Slaneysiders might just pull off the improbable.
However, it took all Wexford had, over the energy-sapping previous 71 minutes, to get into that position. Any relief of getting ahead, at an important juncture, soon turned to anguish as Cork accelerated away with the last five points in a row.
There's no easy way to lose a semi-final, particularly after extra-time, but maybe the wrecked Wexford ladies can take solace in not having it snatched away from them at the death, like twelve months earlier.
It would be foolish to argue that Cork weren't the better side, as over the course of the whole game they were. Their scores came easier and their forwards worked space and inter-changed far more consistently than Wexford.
That said, the Leinster champions will look back on the second-half, when they had so much possession in the middle third, but couldn't find the scores, as the stage of the match that they would like to repeat.
When Wexford were winning ball at that stage, they continuously looked to the corners, a fair tactic if you have nippy corner-forwards, but at some stage there must have been a realisation that it wasn't really working.
Una Leacy ran her legs off chasing into the corners when someone of her talents would have surely prospered with a few more balls played down on top of her, especially when she was isolated one-on-one inside.
Despite the need to play to the Oulart-The Ballagh clubwoman's strengths, it was finding Kate Kelly continuously, and her running at the Cork rearguard, that eventually paid dividends and forced extra-time.
St. Ibar's/Shelmalier oldie Kelly has defied her 36 years this season and has been magnificent. One might wonder where Wexford would be without her quality because she can't go on forever. The answer to that question might prove too scary to contemplate.
Yes, youngsters have stepped up. It's been a super year for Emma Walsh, who will only grow from the experiences of this summer. Sarah O'Connor will be the bedrock of the Wexford defence for years to come, as a time without Mary Leacy also approaches.
Whether Wexford will come as close to the title decider in the years to come will only be known when those seasons pan out. But it's certainly not getting any easier, and the prospect of further retirements only makes it all the more improbable.
The first-half was hardly how Wexford would have drawn it up. Conceding eight points against the breeze was probably double par. They fell behind to an Ashling Thompson minor in the opening minute but soon responded when Una Sinnott pointed from Linda Bolger's feed.
Katriona Mackey made it 0-2 to 0-1 in the sixth minute before Hannah Looney notched the first of her four. When Kate Kelly pointed at the end of the first quarter, three players were already in the book and all of those yellows were soft (Kelly, Walsh, Thompson).
Emma Walsh sent over a booming effort from Karen Atkinson's handpass but Briege Corkery quickly replied at the other end. Kelly converted a free after she was fouled, and then registered a '45 to give her side their first lead (0-5 to 0-4).
Corkery again hit the target and Looney popped one over seconds later as the Rebelettes rebounded. The best ball Una Leacy got all day, a sharp line-drive from right to left by Kelly, was tapped over by the Oulart-The Ballagh attacker.
The score energised Wexford and points from Katrina Parrock, after Deirdre Codd did superbly to win possession back, and then Linda Bolger gave Wexford their only two-point advantage of the match (0-8 to 0-6).
Yet Cork scored two important points before the break. Thompson added her second and then, in the last action of the period, Eimear O'Sullivan hit the target to leave the sides deadlocked at the change of ends.
When Pamela Mackey's long-range effort slipped out of Mags D'Arcy's hand, Orla Cotter converted the '45. Wexford again responded when Leacy was found by Walsh, and fouled, with Kelly popping over her fourth.
After eight points from play in the opening half, Cork were living off scraps in the second. Cotter's free after Amy O'Connor was impeded made it 10-9. The next 13 minutes went by scoreless, with Wexford doing most of the pressing.
Yet it was Cotter again who registered with four minutes left, a score that seemed to doom Wexford. Kate Kelly wasn't letting this chance slip away without a fight though; she combined with Linda Bolger, a free was given, and the veteran forward hit the target.
More pressure followed and finally, with the three additional minutes just up, Kelly's long-range dead-ball bounced out to Katrina Parrock right of goal and she fired over going away from the posts to sensationally send the game to extra-time.
As many points were scored in the first ten minutes of extra-time as there were in the whole of the second-half, a sure sign that legs were tiring.
Cotter registered ten seconds into overtime but Mary Leacy, operating in midfield, replied with a booming effort.
Cork then went two up again, with Looney and Pamela Mackey on target, but the sides were level for the ninth time at the end of the first period of extra-time after two Kelly frees in two minutes.
More than the scores, it was what happened just before the break that will be talked about for some time. While taking off Una Sinnott didn't work, there was a precedent against Tipperary for that change actually helping Wexford.
Taking someone like Deirdre Codd off, unless she has to be physically carried off, in extra-time of an All-Ireland semi-final will never be the right call. The damn might have been fit to burst but that change dragged it down from inside.
Mary Leacy was hit in the head in the 71st minute, and Kelly pointed the free from halfway. Then Cork scored five in a row to end the contest. Chloe Foxe had a late shot saved but it was desperation stuff at that stage and the Leesiders were never going to throw it away.
The girls of Wexford will now head back to their clubs for the next few months. Then, as the seasons turn from autumn to winter, several of the experienced players might feel the same way about their inter-county careers. The end of an era is fast approaching.
Wexford: Mags D'Arcy; Ciara Storey, Síona Nolan (capt.), Karen Atkinson; Sarah O'Connor, Mary Leacy (0-1), Deirdre Codd; Emma Walsh (0-1), Shelley Kehoe; Una Sinnott (0-1), Katrina Parrock (0-2), Stacey Kehoe; Kate Kelly (0-8, 7 frees, 1 '45), Una Leacy (0-1), Linda Bolger (0-1). Subs. - Chloe Foxe for Sinnott (48), Louise O'Leary for Codd (70+1), Sinnott for Bolger (78), also Laura Brennan, Jackie Quigley, Ciara Donohoe, Joanne Dillon, Amy Cardiff, Margaret Byrne, Louise Sinnott, Marie Morrissey, Leah Walsh, Michelle Martin, Shauna Kelly, Shauna Sinnott, Doireann Kavanagh.
Cork: Aoife Murray; Pamela Mackey (0-1), Laura Treacy, Leanne O'Sullivan; Méabh Cahalane, Gemma O'Connor, Rena Buckley; Orla Cotter (0-5, 3 frees, 1 '45), Ashling Thompson (capt., 0-2); Eimear O'Sullivan (0-1), Hannah Looney (0-4), Katriona Mackey (0-3); Amy O'Connor, Orla Cronin, Breige Corkery (0-3). Sub. - Jennifer Hosford for Cronin (69).
Referee: Owen Elliott (Antrim).