Inters outpoint Antrim
Championship Special: Wexford 0-8 Antrim 0-6
Wexford ignited their Liberty Insurance Intermediate camogie championship Group 1 campaign with a rousing victory over second-placed Antrim in Innovate Wexford Park on Saturday.
Statistically, the Ulster girls boasted the most clinical strike force in the championship thus far. Scoring a total of 8-22 from their opening two group games, they appeared to be a very threatening force.
Meanwhile, Wexford sat at the foot of the table with just one point from their openers. On paper, there seemed to be only one winner.
Fortunately for the Yellowbellies, camogie is not played on paper and Wexford were competitive right from the off, despite Katie McAleese's early opener.
As both sides dropped one player from their full-forward line into midfield, the game became a battle in the centre of the park. It was a battle that Wexford largely won from start to finish, thanks in no small part to the intelligent passing play of Deirdre McMahon.
Aoife Sheil levelled proceedings momentarily in the eighth minute before Aine Devlin quickly restored Antrim's lead.
Wexford's early dominance was obvious to onlookers but it wasn't reflected on the scoreboard.
Sheil tied the game again two-thirds of the way through the first-half, capitalising on a fortunate refereeing error minutes before when official Alan Doheny missed her swipe at marker Eimhear Costello, a certain red card for the Glynn-Barntown woman if spotted.
With the wind, Wexford kicked on late into the opening half. Mags Byrne's strike, bound for the top corner, was vitally tipped over the bar by Antrim defender Kathryn Donnelly five minutes before the break. Soon after, Byrne pointed again to extend the Model county's lead to two for the first time.
Given the nature of the game, a two-point interval lead would have been an acceptable difference after playing with the wind, but when McAleese pointed for her second on the stroke of half-time, Antrim still looked favourites.
It was a deficit which certainly did seem slender (0-4 to 0-3). Knowing Antrim's scoring record and with them prospering from the wind in the second-half, there was always the possibility they would find their range and blitz strugglers Wexford.
Yet, the second period followed a similar pattern. As neither Wexford nor Antrim made any tactical adaptations, the intense midfield battles for territory continued and as a result the scoreboard felt under-used.
Róisín Kelly, certainly Wexford's best second-half performer, particularly for her defensive work, added her only point after the re-start.
Then came an eleven minute hiatus of scoring, only to be broken by another Wexford hurl, with Sheil pointing again after Kelly's free sent Wexford into a 0-6 to 0-3 points lead.
While there had been a warning minutes before when Devlin batted into the side-netting from Niamh Donnelly's free, it was testimony to Wexford's defending that it took the Ulster side 20 second-half minutes to register a score - Devlin pointing from a dead-ball.
Antrim closed the gap further just two minutes later as Emily Falloon pointed from distance. With the tide beginning to turn now in favour of the away side, Devlin pointed another free to send the sides level.
It looked as if Wexford's chance was gone. That they had tired in the final ten minutes and had allowed Antrim to claw their way back into the game. That they would now be stripped of their first Championship win.
With three points on the spin, Antrim looked ominous and the next score became vital. Drawing on their final reserves of energy, Wexford found that extra little bit to fight their way over the line.
It was a case of inches when Byrne's low struck shot crept over the Saffron crossbar in the 59th minute. Revitalised, Shiel added the insurance in injury time. Scoring her finest point of the game from wide right.
One last bout of defensive brilliance was needed. Marie Claire Morrissey crucially blocked McAleese's late shot at goal before the whistle finally sounded. Wexford's win moves them above opposition Antrim and into a much more optimistic third place in the Group 1 table with games against Derry and Kildare to come.
Wexford: Liza Bates; Clodagh Jackman, Michelle Harding, Marie Claire Morrissey; Aisling Cronin, Aideen Brennan, Chloe Cash; Leah Walsh (capt.), Eimear Nolan; Sorcha Foley, Shauna Kelly, Róisín Kelly (0-1 free); Mags Byrne (0-3), Deirdre McMahon, Aoife Sheil (0-4). Subs. - Katie Gallagher for McMahon (47), Aoife McCrea for Foley (47), also Gemma Doyle, Nancy Dunphy.
Antrim: Noeleen Cosgrove; Cliodhna Donnelly, Kathyrn Donnelly, Colleen Patterson; Niamh Donnelly, Emma McFadden, Sinéad Martin; Anna Kelly, Eimhear Costello; Aine Donnelly, Katie McAleese (capt., 0-2, 1 free), Emma Connor; Aine Devlin (0-3, 3 frees), Emily Falloon (0-1), Méabhdh Laverty. Subs. - Shannon Woulahan for Costello (39), Catherine McShane for A. Donnelly (44).
Referee: Alan Doheny (Laois)