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Friday 20 October 2017

Four minutes altered game

Wexford 4-12 Offaly 1-13

Dean Goodison

Four crazy minutes at the start of the second-half put Wexford on the road to a TG4 All-Ireland ladies' Intermediate football championship quarter-final meeting with Tipperary in Clane on Sunday, but it could have been so, so different.

The Faithful girls started the second-half in lively fashion with Róisín Egan kicking them level (1-7 to 2-4). Then, in the 35th minute, things started to happen. Mairéad Daly took Ellee McEvoy's pass on the left, beat the Wexford defence and shot across goal.

For all the world it looked destined for the far corner as Mary Rose Kelly watched it going past her. With the Offaly contingent already cheering, the ball rebounded off the foot of the post, bounded across the face of goal and Wexford moved forward.

Chantelle Martin pointed in that attack. Fiona Rochford won the ball from the Offaly kick-out, and fed Aoife Sheil who played a one-two with Aisling Murphy and added another point.

Moments later both Murphy and Sheil were involved again as Rachel Bennett cut inside and fired over Lauren Dunne to the net.

Tails up, Wexford's Caitríona Murray picked off a nice score after great work by Róisín Murphy. With Offaly struggling to get out, Murray got in again. She initially fumbled possession but got it back to Chantelle Martin, and the Adamstown clubwoman fired across goal with her left boot to the bottom corner.

Four minutes, that's all it was. Wexford went from staring down the barrel at one end to nine points up in the blink of an eye (4-7 to 1-7). Almost like a calm evening after an earlier thunderstorm, there was a serenity about the winners, and the game was over as a contest.

Apart from those four minutes, Wexford were mediocre. There definitely seemed to be a hangover from the Leinster final as Anthony Masterson's side made some poor errors of judgment in the first-half.

They restricted Offaly reasonably well at the back, although without Sarah Harding-Kenny, only Marica Cullen consistently got out in front of her player to win possession. The loss of Kellie Kearney and Clara Donnelly had a detrimental effect on how Wexford moved the ball in the middle third but they still had plenty of possession.

They didn't always use it well once past midfield. Being direct is great when it's accurate, and had the delivery been consistently better it would have paid dividends as Offaly chose to go two-on-two inside on the lively pairing of Caitríona Murray and Rachel Bennett.

After Daly kicked Offaly ahead in the third minute, Bennett cut in on Fiona Rochford's pass and, one-on-one with 'keeper Dunne, fired across goal and wide. The Offaly number 1 was called into action moments later to keep out Bernie Breen's dipping effort but she was lucky to get a free after fumbling with Bennett lurking.

Chantelle Martin kicked Wexford level in the fifth minute and was involved again when Caitríona Murray opened her account to make it 0-2 to 0-1. Maybe a little shot-shy after the first miss, Bennett tried the punch-point when in again in the ninth minute but it drifted wide left.

However, the St. Anne's youngster wasn't going to let that happen again. When Breen sent her into the clear in the eleventh minute she thumped a shot that Dunne tipped onto the crossbar. In the scramble that followed both Bennett and Murray had a chance to net before the latter eventually fired past a crowded goal-line.

Ellee McEvoy pulled a point back for the Faithful girls but Rochford responded. After Daly raised a while flag, McEvoy almost got in for a goal in the 23rd minute but she dropped the ball at the critical moment.

Warnings weren't heeded however as lax defending in the corner allowed McEvoy win possession. She cut inside, fed Daly and the Offaly star crashed a shot past Mary Rose Kelly to the net.

Róisín Egan levelled the game before Emer Nally gave the underdogs their only lead of the afternoon in the 29th minute. Critically, Wexford hit back in added-time when Murray broke Martin's hopeful punt to herself, drove in and calmly finished past Dunne.

Egan knocked over a dead-ball with the last kick of the first-half, leaving the match finely balanced at the interval (2-4 to 1-6). Still looking a little sorry for themselves, Wexford didn't emerge after the break with a massive amount of energy.

However, that changed after Daly clanked the post. To their credit, Offaly fought away but couldn't get past the Wexford wall. They kicked a few nice points but the Slaneysiders were happy enough to trade those off for a clean sheet in the second-half.

At the other end Wexford kicked further points from Rochford, Aisling Murphy and Murray (two). Martin got one that went over off the crossbar and Clara Donnelly, off the bench for the last 15 minutes, smacked the foot of the post.

It was always likely to be a difficult game for Wexford, not necessarily because of the opposition, but the circumstances. It was well below the level they will need to beat Tipperary in less than two weeks' time but Anthony Masterson and his side will be under no illusions about that.

Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly; Maeve Quill, Marica Cullen, Marguerite Doyle; Niamh Mernagh, Róisín Murphy, Georgina Hearn; Bernie Breen, Aisling Murphy (0-1); Niamh Butler, Chantelle Martin (1-3), Aoife Sheil (0-1); Rachel Bennett (1-0), Fiona Rochford (capt., 0-2), Caitríona Murray (2-5, 0-2 frees). Subs. - Clara Donnelly for Sheil (45), Siobhán Cloake for Butler (55), Ciara Ryan for Bennett (58), Shauna Murphy for Quill (58), also Sarah Merrigan, Brídín Doyle, Emer Cahill, Eleanor Neville, Elaine McCabe, Fiona Rowe, Ciara Walsh, Ann Byrne, Sarah Harding-Kenny, Kellie Kearney.

Offaly: Lauren Dunne; Alisha Murphy, Sarah Cummins, Bernie Walsh; Katie Kehoe, Emer Nally (0-1), Gráinne Dolan; Aoife Norris (capt.), Elle McEvoy (0-2, 1 free); Mairéad Daly (1-3, 0-2 frees), Róisín Egan (0-5, 2 frees), Sarah Kehoe; Amy Gavin-Mangan, Méabh Coleman, Aoife Corbett (0-1). Subs. - Ann Daly for Walsh, inj. (15), Vicki Carey (0-1) for Coleman (49), Niamh Glackin for Corbett (60).

Referee: Colm McManus (Meath).

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