Wexford clear first hurdle
Four points to spare over Wicklow in championship
Wexford travelled to Aughrim on Sunday in the finest of conditions to take on Wicklow in the Leinster ladies' football Intermediate championship and came away with a hard-earned four-point victory.
Wexford 2-16 Wicklow 2-12
Wicklow were faced with a difficult task having lost Jackie Kinch recently to her travels, and their cause wasn't helped with an injury doubt to Laurie Ahern before throw-in. After coming through a late test, the Foxrock-Cabinteely clubwoman took her place on the edge of the square with minutes to spare.
Despite this boost, Wexford hit the ground running. A 20-yard unchallenged run by midfielder Niamh Moore resulted in the Kilmore woman burying the ball into the roof of the net from 14 yards, leaving Wicklow goalkeeper Kim Connors with no chance. It was a dream start from the Model county.
Wicklow responded with a point from Niamh O'Brien after patient build-up play involving Mulhall and Fusciardi after 90 seconds. Wexford set up very defensively early in this game, with the two wing-forwards dropping to half-back when they weren't in possession of the ball and the wing-backs dropping in as sweepers. It was the fitness and speed of these two lines which was the difference-maker in this game very early on.
Wing-forward Kellie Kearney was extremely impressive in the first-half and chipped in with a point on a counter-attack from a Wicklow turnover in her own half-back line. This was added to by another point from Moore and Wexford were into their stride.
Emily Mulhall and Sarah Jane Winders thwarted a goal chance from Catríona Murray before Niamh O'Brien fired over her second point. Wexford upped the tempo from here for a ten-minute blitz, mainly stemming from interceptions from their swamped defence and swift counter-attacking.
Centre-forward Fiona Rochford scored Wexford's second goal in the eleventh minute which was almost a carbon copy of their first, and again Kim Connors had no chance between the Wicklow posts.
Points from Catríona Murray, Clara Donnelly, Aleisha Cullen and Maeve Quill extended the Wexford lead to ten. During this period, Lorna Fusciardi was having a fine game in the half-back line for Wicklow and Emily Mulhall was getting the upper hand on Wexford full-forward Murray.
Laurie Ahern and Niamh O'Brien swapped scores with Maeve Quill and Niamh Moore before Wicklow got a timely boost coming up to half-time with a fortuitous goal from Amy Ryan. Excellent work from the calm and collected Fusciardi fed her midfielder who shot from long range.
The ball dropped just under the bar and went off the 'keeper's hand into the back of the net. A Georgina Canavan free brought Wicklow to within six as the half-time whistle sounded.
Centre-forwards Fiona Rochford and Laura Hogan traded the opening scores of the second-half as the sun rose its head for the remainder of the game. The Tinahely woman added a second point from the next attack following patient Wicklow play through the hands before substitute Maria Kealy reduced the deficit to four.
Kim Connors produced the first of four second-half saves to keep her team in the game in the eighth minute as Clara Donnelly's effort was thwarted. This lifted the Wicklow crowd and sideline and also the players as Georgina Canavan topped off a lovely sweeping move involving Molly Cullen and Laura Hogan to bring the gap to three.
Donnelly and Amy Ryan swapped points and it looked like Wicklow were really going to keep the pressure up. However, six minutes of mayhem resulted in Wexford again pulling away.
Fiona Rochford at centre-forward and Clara Donnelly in midfield seemed to be almost telepathic in their play, and both players were involved in every positive move from here on for Wexford.
First up Donnelly assisted Ellen O'Brien in a score before Rochford jinked her way out of a tight area on the Wicklow '14 to fire over another point. Siobhán Cloake played a defence-splitting crossfield ball for Donnelly to run onto and the Shelmalier player obliged with a fine score.
She followed this up with an assist to Catríona Murray whose effort was turned behind by Kim Connors who extinguished another goal chance from the resulting '45, but Rochford popped over the rebound. Again, Wicklow struggled to gain territory from the kick-out and Rochford fed Murray who this time popped it over.
At this stage, Wexford had opened up a 2-15 to 1-10 lead with ten minutes to go. Laura Hogan pulled a point back from a free and Clara Donnelly's shot was deflected onto the post by Kim Connors with seven minutes remaining which could have been the nail in the coffin.
Wicklow never dropped their heads. A delightful crossfield ball from Amy Murphy to Katie Miley saw the attacker swivel and bury the ball to the top corner from 20 yards with five minutes remaining.
Unfortunately for the Garden county, a dogged Wexford rearguard expertly stewarded by Marica Cullen absorbed every attack. Georgina Canavan added a free in injury time to bring the gap to three, but Catríona Murray closed out the scoring to stem the Wicklow comeback as Wexford emerged victorious by 2-16 to 2-12.
Wexford: Natasha Walsh; Ciara Corrigan, Marica Cullen, Georgina Hearn; Beth Cardiff, Róisín Murphy, Marguerite Doyle; Clara Donnelly (0-3), Niamh Moore (1-2); Ellen O'Brien (0-1), Fiona Rochford (1-3), Kellie Kearney (0-1); Aleisha Cullen (0-1), Catríona Murray (0-3), Maeve Quill (0-2). Subs. - Siobhán Cloake for Cullen, Triona Sinnott for Quill, Caoimhe Denton for Doyle, also Bríd Byrne, Maria Byrne, Niamh Cloke-Rochford, Eleanor Neville, Fiona Rowe, Eimear Cahill, Rachel Bridges.
Wicklow: Kim Connors; Emily Mulhall, Sarah Jane Winders, Aine Byrne; Lorna Fusciardi, Sarah Miley, Rose Fagan; Amy Ryan (1-1), Helena Dowling; Georgina Canavan (0-3), Laura Hogan (0-3), Molly Cullen; Amy Murphy, Laurie Ahern (0-1), Niamh O'Brien (0-3). Subs. - Maria Kealy (0-1) for Ahern, Katie Miley (1-0) for Ryan, Annie Conroy for O'Brien.
Referee: Angela Gallagher (Dublin).