Late Lilies flourish crucial
Wexford undone by scoring barrage in last ten minutes
Wexford succumbed to a wave of Kildare scores in the last ten minutes to fall just short in the TG4 Leinster ladies' football Intermediate championship final at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise, on Sunday.
Kildare 1-18 Wexford 2-11
The Slaneysiders were competing in their first second tier final since 2009 and looked to be on their way to a surprise win, leading by 1-10 to 0-11 in the 50th minute. However, a few cruel twists of fate were on the horizon, which Wexford were unable to overcome.
The big talking point from this game will be the tackle on Aleisha Cullen that sent the Wexford attacker off to hospital in the back of an ambulance and the resulting lack of punishment for the culprit.
Crossabeg-Ballymurn clubwoman Cullen was dipping down to pick up the ball when she was hit hard in the head and neck area by Aisling Savage running at pace. It was a dangerous tackle that warranted a yellow card and ten minutes in the sin-bin, without the damage even being contemplated.
As it turned out it was a pivotal moment in the match. After a break of several minutes, Wexford re-started, won a free close to goal and Catríona Murray converted. That three-point lead disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Down the other end Kildare went and Maria Byrne, who was exceptional, put in a stunning block on Róisín Byrne's shot. Marica Cullen lost the ball coming out from defence though and Maria Moolick nipped in to toe-poke a killer goal past Natasha Walsh.
From level pegging, two poor kick-outs gave Byrne and Ellen Dowling scores Kildare hardly had to work for and left Wexford in a hole. Then Róisín Murphy was sin-binned for a pull in midfield and that was pretty much game over as Kildare tacked on four further points in a row.
The yellow for Murphy on the face of it was soft, given the horror tackle that left Aleisha Cullen prone. But referee Niall McCormack was nit-picky throughout and eventually someone was going to take a card for persistent fouling, although it couldn't have happened at a worse time for Wexford.
Some Wexford players looked short of belief after the run of events that unfolded, which is hardly surprising. But several of the experienced campaigners kept going.
Clara Donnelly drove at the Kildare defence with her side trailing by 1-17 to 1-11 and fed Fiona Rochford who hit a stunning shot from the '20 to the top corner of Mary Hulgraine's net.
With just a goal in it, and a minute of added time remaining, Wexford won the resulting kick-out but they just couldn't get those experienced, clear heads on the ball. Eventually Siobhán Cloake kicked an effort wide right, with Kildare marching up the other end and finishing off the game with a Moolick point.
It's been a mixed season for Wexford, with some good performances and some bad, and this was clearly the former. It wasn't all spectacular football but the team is showing signs of rounding into its best form at the right time.
There was a lot to like from the performance. The defending, by and large, was done well as a team and the attacking moves were crisper than previous games with more focus on getting the correct players in position to score.
The big question coming out of this game for McCormack and his team of selectors is how to properly fit Fiona Bennett into their plans. In her 15-minute cameo the St. Anne's woman looked the most dangerous she has been since recovering from an ACL injury.
Undoubtedly her best position is full-forward but it's a place management seem to reserve for Murray, when she could be as effective cutting in from the corner. With Cullen on the other side that would amount to as dangerous a full-forward line as there is in the Intermediate championship.
Wexford, fired up by some fantastic football from Fiona Rochford and Maria Byrne in particular, built a 0-3 to 0-2 lead after eleven minutes. 'Player of the match' Róisín Byrne knocked over a brace but Cullen kicked her only score of the afternoon from the left wing to make it 0-4 each.
The Lilywhites eased 6-4 in front after 22 minutes but, either side of a Mikaela McKenna point, Rochford added her fourth and Murray registered her first score to leave the Slaneysiders trailing by 0-7 to 0-6 at the interval.
Playing against the breeze after the change-around, Rochford levelled within 30 seconds of the re-start. Moments later Róisín Murphy took a pass from Maeve Quill, cut in from the right wing and the Kildare defence opened up. The Shelmalier clubwoman fired low across the 'keeper to the left corner.
Kildare re-grouped and kicked the next four points to lead by 0-11 to 1-7 after 40 minutes. In that spell Murray missed a couple of straightforward frees, and the fact that the Baile Dubh Tíre attacker made just two dead-balls from six attempts inside 30 metres is a cause for concern.
Still, Murray nailed one after Kellie Kearney was felled before Donnelly added a fine point. Murray darted inside and out before tapping over her third point and with 48 minutes gone Wexford were dominating the game, leading by 1-10 to 0-11.
The whole situation with Cullen destabilised Wexford and, despite quickly getting a Murray pointed free after Fiona Rowe was pulled, they never regained control. The Moolick goal really hurt too, and the six quick points that followed came against a shadow of the former challengers.
Rochford's goal capped a superb individual performance but there was to be no fairytale finish as Kildare took the silverware. Wexford now drop into the qualifying rounds of the All-Ireland Intermediate championship with that fixture to be played in the coming weeks.
Wexford: Natasha Walsh; Niamh Mernagh, Marica Cullen, Ciara Corrigan; Beth Cardiff, Róisín Murphy (capt., 1-0), Niamh Moore; Clara Donnelly (0-1), Maria Byrne; Kellie Kearney, Fiona Rochford (1-5), Ellen O'Brien; Maeve Quill, Catríona Murray (0-4, 2 frees), Aliesha Cullen (0-1). Subs. - Siobhán Cloake for Moore (39), Fiona Bennett for Quill (43), Fiona Rowe for Cullen, inj. (53), also Bríd Byrne, Brídín Doyle, Niamh Cloke-Rochford, Eleanor Neville, Caoimhe Denton, Trina Sinnott, Emer Cahill, Caoimhe Roche, Rachael Bridges, Anne Byrne, Aoife McAuliffe, Marguerite Doyle.
Kildare: Mary Hulgraine; Trina Duggan, Paula Keatley, Rachel Cribbin; Shauna Kendrick, Michaela Nolan, Rachel Reidy; Erica Burke, Aisling Holton (capt., 0-1); Róisín Byrne (0-6, 3 frees), Maria Moolick (1-1), Eadaoin Connolly (0-1); Mikaela McKenna (0-5), Noelle Earley (0-2), Ellen Dowling (0-2 frees). Subs. - Aisling Savage for Nolan (31), Tara Hallinan for Reidy (52), Jane O'Donoghue for Kendrick (60+13), Aoife Molyneaux for Hulgraine, inj. (60+13).
Referee: Niall McCormack (Laois).