Narrow defeat on trip to Tipp
An experienced Tipperary side just about got the better of Wexford to take the spoils in round three of the Lidl ladies' football National League Division 3 in Clogheen, Co. Tipperary, on Sunday.
Tipperary 1-7 Wexford 0-6
The Premier county are a rejuvenated unit under manager Gerry McGill. They have 13 of the 15 players who lost the All-Ireland Intermediate final in 2013 in the squad, with eleven of those taking starting berths against Wexford.
It meant that the Slaneysiders - missing the influential Fiona Rochford from the team which won against Roscommon seven days earlier - were always going to be underdogs having given up home advantage.
Yet Shane McCormack's young side didn't play with any fear. Unlike seven days earlier when Roscommon were sluggish, both sides hit the ground running, meaning they cancelled each other out for much of the game.
In fact, Wexford edged the clash territorially, had the lion's share of possession but just failed to consistently take the correct option in the final third. The visitors did tire in the final few minutes but given the energy exerted on a tough, heavy pitch that's hardly surprising.
Once again Wexford set up to contain defensively while mixing up attacking moves and by-and-large they did it well. Defensively they succeeded for the most part. Edel Hanley, and Gillian O'Brien after her introduction, caused a few headaches but that's to be expected at this level.
One thing that can't happen for Wexford to compete come championship time is for the defence to switch off like they did when a straightforward Mairéad Morrissey punt split them open for the game's only goal. It was the one massive mistake and it proved costly.
Taking away kick-outs, which Tipperary edged, Wexford won midfield with their ferocity and doggedness in the tackle, but with Rochford missing the attack never quite got the run on possibly the best defence they will meet all year.
What will be interesting as the season goes on is how the management team choose to use Fiona Bennett. The St. Anne's player didn't really get the supply she profits from against Tipperary - partly because of solid defending but also because of the manner Wexford play in the attacking third.
Typifying her starting position, when Bennett cut in from the left in the third minute her attempted handpass across goal to Marcella Cullen was just cut out and a dangerous Wexford move came to nothing.
There was no score in the game until Morrissey booted over the top in the twelfth minute. Catríona Walsh got away unmarked and forced Natasha Walsh into a fine save, however, in the scramble that followed the ball squirted towards the Wexford goal perfectly for Edel Hanley to net untouched.
When Bennett was dragged back off the ball, Catríona Murray opened her account with a free. Hanley responded in kind at the other end as Wexford missed a couple of decent openings with poor finishing.
Good build-up play by Clara Donnelly and Niamh Moore resulted in Aleisha Cullen cutting in from the left wing and pointing in the 21st minute, but again the excellent Hanley responded to make it 1-2 to 0-2.
Wexford's best opening of the half again came from midfield with Moore and Donnelly linking again. The latter struck her shot well, too well, as it flew straight at Lauren Fizpatrick when either side of the 'keeper would surely have seen the net bulge.
A sloppy 60 seconds saw Hanley and O'Brien point for the hosts but Marcella Cullen did add a classy late minor from Róisín Murphy's feed to leave her side trailing by four at the half-time break (1-4 to 0-3).
Hanley added her fourth point in the 31st minute but when Donnelly was fouled Murray responded. Another superb Marcella Cullen point saw Wexford pull within three (1-5 to 0-5) but Hanley registered again in the 36th minute.
There wasn't another score until the 52nd minute, which wasn't much of a surprise as the ball was hardly ever in play. It started with Maria Byrne getting sin-binned in the 39th minute and tempers soon flared.
The match official, rather than referee the game, attempted to manage it by following dodgy decisions with 'make-up' calls. It meant a lot of soft stuff was penalised and some clear fouls were ignored.
That style particularly riled the Wexford bench who had one mentor dismissed and another warned. It also agitated the players as Tipperary picked up two yellows and avoided worse when Kellie Kearney was pole-axed in a confrontation while the ball was out of play.
Despite the numerical advantage in the final ten-plus minutes, Wexford didn't kick on after Murray's third free in the 52nd minute. Claire Carroll, who matched Hanley and Jennifer Grant as Tipperary's best, pointed in the final minute of normal time to leave four in the game again.
One big goal chance was created by the visitors, nine minutes into added time, when Maria Byrne broke through but her shot thundered wide to end their challenge. Next up is a trip to Fermanagh on February 28 where Wexford will expect to take the points and move a step closer to the semi-finals.
Wexford: Natasha Walsh; Georgina Hearn, Marica Cullen, Brídín Doyle; Sandra Thorpe, Maria Byrne, Marguerite Doyle; Kellie Kearney, Niamh Moore; Róisín Murphy (capt.), Catríona Murray (0-3 frees), Clara Donnelly; Marcella Cullen (0-2), Fiona Bennett, Aleisha Cullen (0-1). Subs. - Niamh Cloke-Rochford for Hearn (24), Eleanor Neville for Marica Cullen, inj. (45), Fiona Rowe for A. Cullen (60), also Maeve Quill, Beth Cardiff, Niamh Mernagh, Siobhán Cloake, Caoimhe Roche, Chantelle Martin.
Tipperary: Lauren Fitzpatrick; Bríd Condon, Samantha Lambert, Louise Caddell; Anne O'Dwyer, Jennifer Grant, Claire Carroll (0-1); Aoife Ryan, Sheelagh Carew; Niamh Lonergan, Mairéad Morrissey, Eimear Myles; Catríona Walsh, Lorraine O'Shea, Edel Hanley (capt., 1-5, 0-2 frees). Subs. - Gillian O'Brien (0-1) for Walsh (23), Sinéad Delahunty for Caddell (52).
Referee: Stephen McNulty (Wicklow).
The management committee and County Board would like to send their deepest sympathy to the Troy family from Kilmore on the sad loss of their daughter and sister, Abbie.