Saturday 25 November 2017

Fiona's happy with hard call

Championship Special: Dual player had to choose

Dean Goodison

Fiona Rochford races away from Siobhán Condon of Tipperary during the replayed league final
Fiona Rochford races away from Siobhán Condon of Tipperary during the replayed league final

When the girls of Wexford made their way up the steps of the Hogan Stand on September 28, 2014, to collect their Junior football All-Ireland winners' medals, most were experiencing that feeling for the first time. Not Fiona Rochford, as it wasn't her only saunter as a champion.

In fact, that All-Ireland completed a set. Added to Intermediate and Senior camogie successes in 2011 and 2012, it made the St. Anne's stalwart the only Wexford woman to hold gold at all three grades. Eventually, as a dual star, there was bound to be a dilemma.

It came after a year out in 2015. Camogie or football? It was, by Rochford's own admission, a hard call.

'It was really a toss up,' she explained. 'I really enjoyed, and had fantastic years, with the camogie team as well. I suppose I had began with the football team so I felt maybe more a sense of a loyalty towards that but it wasn't an easy decision.'

Maybe somewhere in there was a sense that, at the time, Shane McCormack's side was a team on the rise.

And they were. A solid league campaign ended with Wexford making the last four. They then reached the Leinster final but let a big lead slip against eventual All-Ireland champions Kildare.

Sligo were next to expose a Wexford weakness of not being able to finish out games, defeating the Slaneysiders in the All-Ireland quarters. A year that promised so much, ended without anything to cling on to. Only raw wounds remained.

The scabs were hardly healed when Tipperary came to Enniscorthy at the end of January. Then a similar failing surfaced to slice them open again. Those partially fading scars blood red with a stinging sense of déja vu.

'The first game of the year we got beaten by Tipperary so that was really, really tough to take, particularly at seven or eight points up,' she said.

'I remember walking off the field with Róisín Murphy and just the two of us saying that we can't do this for another year.

'I suppose at the same time we were only getting used to Anthony (Masterson) and his method of playing, only getting used to new players and things as well. I think we panicked a little initially with that, "Jesus, is this going to be what it is again", but as the games went on we played better and we were coming together, getting used to each other as a team.'

Things soon got really good. Wexford waltzed into the final, going on an impressive seven-game winning run only to meet Tipperary again. It was close, a draw first time out, then Wexford lost the replay and again failed to claim the desired medal. Yet it was different, it wasn't a collapse.

'Okay, they beat us but there's not a massive amount between us,' she said. 'They are a good team and we were never going to beat them well or be on top for the full game, but maybe we just contained them a little bit better.

'The forwards had a lot to answer for after the first game, maybe we didn't get as many scores as we should have. That's something we kind of worked on and we put up a few good scores since. Obviously not against the same quality of team but we have worked on it and I think it has come along.'

There was certainly an added oomph in the Wexford step as they dismantled Wicklow and put Meath away in a blistering spell in the first-half. Offaly provided only an average test in the semi-final but Rochford's side are back where they needed to be, in the Leinster final, against a Royals team they know a bit about.

'We had a good start, played quite well against them in the first half of the Leinster game (against Meath),' she explained.

'They are very good in attack and I know they were missing one of their stronger players that day as well so we won't be taking anything for granted.

'The other side of it is, we would be relatively confident in ourselves having beaten them twice already this year, but at the same time we wouldn't want to be taking anything for granted, that's for sure.'

The occasion certainly shouldn't get to Wexford, having experienced the atmosphere at the same stage last season. Rochford is of the view that that game against Kildare will stand to the side she captains and that their approach won't change, just because it's a final.

'At the end of the day it's just another match,' she said. 'We need to win, we really need to win. I feel that we are good enough to win it if we perform, it's about us and maybe less about Meath, we need to perform.'

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