Sub Niamh is hero
IMPROBABLY, almost impossibly, 16-year old substitute Niamh Walsh was the hero for St. Ibar's/Shelmalier as they claimed their first Wexford Senior camogie championship title in eleven years.
The youngster was only on the field three minutes when she latched on to Deirdre McMahon's feed, from Kate Kelly's breaking, long-range free, and caressed a shot from tight to the right touchline onto the roof of Helena Jacob's net at the scoreboard end in Bellefield on Saturday last.
Almost in slow motion the acute angle cut drifted on the breeze as it mustered just enough energy to clear the crossbar and send the large Ibar's following into 62nd-minute delirium. Little did they know that they would have to endure another torturous five minutes of added time. Or maybe those extra minutes made Kate Kelly's 67th-minute clincher all the sweeter. The county title; back to Hollymount again, and not before time.
In truth, it was a bruising affair that rarely hit the heights quality-wise. The clash of two of the queen bees of Wexford camogie promised much but often reverted to a battle of the big guns - namely multiple All Stars Kate Kelly and Ursula Jacob.
For a decade - barring the mid-term blip that allowed an O'Connor-fuelled Rathnure a county title - Oulart-The Ballagh had reigned supreme. It's a spell that culminated in the All-Ireland title in early 2012. Since then they have worn a big, bold target on their backs. The Blackstairs women hit that target to wrestle the league title back to Rathnure, now St. Ibar's/Shelmalier have taken the second-last bit of silverware their great rivals held. In the coming weeks they look to take the final cup - the Leinster title.
Minds couldn't have been any further away from provincial goals when Oulart-The Ballagh bagged the opening major. A Jacob free had her side ahead in the second minute - a score Deirdre McMahon countered - but the Enniscorthy District club strode clear when Jacob flashed to the roof of the net.
Shelley Kehoe, the only scorer for Oulart-The Ballagh other than Jacob, quickly added another point but St. Ibar's/Shelmalier edged their way back into the contest when Kelly's long-range effort crept in under the crossbar with Helena Jacob under pressure from McMahon.
Oulart-The Ballagh, through Kehoe and Jacob, maintained a narrow lead until their opponents notched their second goal just four minutes before the interval. Goalkeeper Jacob had earlier been alert to deny Michelle Hearne from close range but could do nothing to stop Michelle Murphy lashing home a ground shot after superb build-up play by the lively McMahon and Wexford star Katrina Parrock.
Two more points brought Ursula Jacob's first-half tally to 1-4 but it wasn't enough to be on level terms with St. Ibar's/Shelmalier who were denied a third major when McMahon's powerful pull was somehow kept out of the net (2-4 to 1-6).
A brace of dead balls from 'player of the game' Kelly gave her side a game-high three-point lead after the resumption but Oulart-The Ballagh soon pulled level when Jacob grabbed her second goal from an under-hit point attempt.
While Kelly again fired her side ahead, the tide was slowly turning as Oulart-The Ballagh began to get a foothold in the middle third, an area in which St. Ibar's/Shelmalier had previously held the upper hand.
Jacob, who ended the period off the field after picking up her second yellow card five minutes into added time, was the only scorer for her side in the second-half. Her two points edged Oulart-The Ballagh ahead, before Kelly replied in kind. However, the 2012 championship top scorer grabbed her eighth point to again give her club the lead with seven minutes remaining (2-10 to 2-9).
That would prove to be the last Oulart-The Ballagh scoring salvo. Katrina Parrock fed Michelle Hearne for the leveller with four minutes to go but it was left to youngster Niamh Walsh to win the cup for her side. All that was left was for captain Ciara Donohoe to collect the trophy from county Chairperson Rachel Hogan on behalf of her team. St. Ibar's/Shelmalier now face Dublin four-in-a-row champions Ballyboden St. Enda's in the Leinster championship this coming Sunday in the capital at 2 p.m.