Wexford now the team to beat
Wexford Youths 2 UCD Waves 1
On the ninth day of the Continental Tyres Women's National League season, manager Heffernan said let there be wingers, proper ones; there was, and it was good. Everyone rejoiced.
There have been a few false dawns for Wexford Youths this season but only self-inflicted wounds can stop them now. At the halfway point in the season they are the team to beat, leading the league with a game in hand, suddenly in rude health.
And finally they are set up to play to their strengths, stretch teams, make opponents uncomfortable. UCD Waves didn't enjoy their visit to Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday; they left as second best, outplayed by a Youths side which found its best performance of the season.
Outplayed is important because Wexford haven't done that to a challenger until now, so it's a big moment. They have won matches, drawn with Shelbourne, but it's all been without control. Luck has played a part, even more so the sheer doggedness of the players.
When this team is put in a position to win, they have proved almost impossible to stop. They looked like a relieved team in this game, released from self-imposed shackles, free to be themselves, to express their own quality.
A team that was supposedly set up defensively earlier in the season, a side that was haemorrhaging goals, has now conceded just one in three games since Jess Gleeson was switched back into centre-half.
Even the goal that UCD scored wasn't created, it was a pot-shot from distance that looped over Sophie Lenehan. They created very little, and it was almost all in front of a back four which has settled down and will only get better the more they play together and gel.
In front of them Becky Cassin was excellent. Her industry had the UCD bench frustrated as they weren't getting the easy space they had enjoyed in the side's previous encounter.
The quartet in front wasn't perfect and it probably held Wexford back a little in the first-half. Katrina Parrock started her first game for Youths in the centre and she just doesn't have the legs to play there successfully at the moment.
In fairness to manager Laura Heffernan, it was worth a try and she was quick to make the required change at the start of the second-half. Out wide Aisling Frawley was excellent, while Linda Douglas was a little rusty but her energy and speed were of huge importance to the way the hosts played.
There was a moment at the end of the first-half that summed up what Wexford can now do. Jess Gleeson stepped out of defence with the ball and pinged it 50 yards down the right to Douglas.
The Waterford native easily outpaced Aisling Dunbar and whipped in a cross that Brooke Dunne did really well to hold with Kylie Murphy lurking. It was a snapshot of what is possible, the clearest example of what speed does to teams.
There was little to choose between the teams in the first-half. For Wexford, it was about feeling their way back into old habits. Management seem to want balls to feet but this team will be more successful using the available space.
The first example came in the 14th minute when Murphy released Frawley down the left. The winger looked to be in the clear but a heavy touch allowed Brooke Dunne to get out and smother the ball.
UCD had one of their only decent chances in the 23rd minute and it came from a Wexford error. Nicola Sinnott gave the ball away in a dangerous position to Sinéad Gaynor who slipped Aine O'Gorman away, but the Irish international saw her shot glanced over by Lenehan.
In the 32nd minute Waves won a corner on the right. Orlagh Nolan picked out Karen Duggan just inside the penalty area but her volley, under severe pressure from Jess Gleeson, was well held by Lenehan.
At the other end Parrock's corner from the left side of the area bypassed everyone. Cassin chased it down, crossed the ball in but Nicola Sinnott's header was too powerful to fall for Murphy, not strong enough to trouble Dunne.
In the 40th minute Lauren Dwyer's ball forward was played through to Claire O'Riordan by Kylie Murphy but the Wexford attacker was offside. O'Gorman saw Lenehan off her line in the 43rd minute but her shot from distance was well held by the Wexford 'keeper.
If the parity of the first-half was a big improvement for Youths, the dominance of the second was majestic. Right from the start they went after the game, radiating confidence after their solid showing in the first 45.
After the relentless Douglas won a corner on the right, Parrock's last involvement was to float over a dead-ball that missed several bodies before glancing off Sinnott and drifting harmlessly wide. She was replaced by the superb Rianna Jarrett.
Becky Cassin started a move that nearly ended with her firing in Frawley's cross in the 51st minute. Frawley slipped O'Riordan in two minutes later but the Wexford attacker couldn't get past the last defender.
The pressure on the Waves goal was ratcheting up and Youths went close again in the 56th minute. Jarrett slipped the ball to Frawley who dribbled her way in but with only Dunne to beat the Wexford winger hit the 'keeper.
Jarrett was causing problems again moments later. She squared to Lauren Dwyer who shot narrowly off target from 20 yards out. Linda Douglas got away on the right in the next attack. Her cross beat the defence but O'Riordan made a mess of her volley.
After the barrage of Wexford attacks they visitors had a breather for a few minutes but went no closer than a Sinéad Gaynor effort from distance that Lenehan comfortably held. When the goal came in the 71st minute, it was fully deserved.
Frawley was again the provider on the left, feeding the ball into the centre where Jarrett flicked on to O'Riordan and, with the deftest of finishes, the Limerick native fired over Dunne from 16 yards out to give Youths the lead.
The goal jolted Waves to life and Nolan curled onto the post from outside the area with Lenehan beaten. O'Gorman found a yard of space on the right of goal and fired across the face and wide in the 77th minute.
Jarrett almost got on the end of a deflected Frawley cross in the 78th minute. From the resulting corner Emma Hansberry, only off the bench, crossed, Jarrett got the flick on and the ball bounded off a defender into the net.
Edel Kennedy came on to a huge reception with ten minutes to go and Wexford looked comfortable. There was a twist in the tale when ex-Wexford squad player Sinéad Gaynor floated a ball past Lenehan that the 'keeper would like to have back.
In the three minutes, plus the three more of added-time that followed, Wexford created the best chance. Kennedy won a good ball and sent Jarrett away but her shot from the edge of the area was saved by Dunne.
Youths sit proudly on top of the table, one point clear of Peamount with a game in hand after the Dublin side suffered a shock 5-1 defeat to Galway. The top two meet in a massive clash in Greenogue on Saturday evening.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Jess Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon, Lauren Dwyer; Becky Cassin; Linda Douglas, Kylie Murphy (capt.), Katrina Parrock, Aisling Frawley; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Rianna Jarrett for Parrock (47), Emma Hansberry for Douglas (76), Edel Kennedy for O'Riordan (80), also Tamara Furlong, Jenny O'Keeffe, Aoibhín Webb, Orla Casey.
UCD Waves: Brooke Dunne; Jetta Berrill, Karen Duggan, Claire Walsh, Aisling Dunbar; Sinéad Gaynor, Chloe Mustaki; Naimi Chemaou, Orlagh Nolan, Dearbhaile Beirne; Áine O'Gorman. Subs. - Lauren Kelly for Dunbar (76), Catherine Cronin for Bernie (88), also Erica Turner, Jennifer Cosgrave, Sophie O'Donoghue, Kerri Letmon.
Referee: Brian Fenlon (Wexford).