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Thursday 23 November 2017

Nervous Wexford miss out

Championship Special: Meath 2-8 Wexford 0-9

Dean Goodison

Aisling Murphy grapples for a 50-50 ball
Aisling Murphy grapples for a 50-50 ball
Wexford attacker Caitríona Murray taking on Emma Troy of Meath
Dejection for Wexford's Kellie Kearney after the final whistle

At different stages in our lives almost every one of us has wanted something too much. It's simple human nature. But that yearning feeling - coveting something, being consumed by it, dreaming about it - can become an unhealthy obsession.

Wexford went out against Meath in Netwatch Cullen Park in the TG4 Leinster ladies' Intermediate football final on Sunday and looked like a team that wanted it too much. They started like a bundle of nerves and, while some shook it off, others were inhibited and couldn't settle at all.

It's probably easier for the playmakers to work their way into the game. They have time on the ball, can feel themselves in with a couple of nice runs and sharp off-loads, and they did just that, as the middle of the field functioned extremely well for 50 minutes.

However, it's not so easy for the forwards as, if they don't score, invariably the team will struggle to win games and that's what happened. Of the three in the full-forward line, 16-year old Rachel Bennett looked the most at ease; the confidence of youth, perhaps.

Fiona Rochford looked like a captain with the weight of the world on her shoulders. When under pressure and kicking instinctively during moves she was hit and miss, but the placed balls were an absolute disaster for Wexford.

Rarely nowadays will you see a game without one dead-ball score but this was it. The reasons were contrasting at either end, as Wexford missed seven scoreable frees of differing difficulties, Rochford with the first six and Caitríona Murray with the seventh.

The most difficult was probably Murray's from the right of the posts with her right foot, a tap-over for a leftie. The easiest was a 20-metre free that Rochford pushed wide right from directly in front of the posts after Meath 'keeper Orlagh McLoughlin was penalised for taking too long with a kick-out.

Those misses were soul-destroying for Wexford, as continuing to bounce back mentally is almost impossible. The sheer amount of hard work that went into winning those dead-balls was frightening and Rochford, usually reliable, just had one of those days when everything looked awkward.

It was a little different at the other end. Not for the first time this season, Wexford didn't give away any scoreable frees, which sounds like a great asset to have, but really there are times when giving away a point is a good result.

For all of the ball they had, all of the possession and territorial dominance they enjoyed, Meath sliced them open a few too many times. One of the reasons is that Wexford are not cynical enough in the tackle. It's a fine line to run and it's admirable, but maybe a bit of work needs to be done on what is a good foul to concede.

Some questions will be asked about Anthony Masterson's tactics and that's natural after a loss against an inferior team. It's a difficult one, as Wexford controlled the ball, and the game, for the most part by playing the way they did - building through the hands, with speed and running with the ball.

The thing is, Wexford played their best football in their previous game against Meath when they went medium-long quickly to Aisling Murphy and Rachel Bennett. They had a spell when the two of them cut the Royals apart and they showed enough in this game to suggest they would win the majority of that type of ball.

Gusserane springer Murphy has had a fantastic season. Nobody could have asked more of her or expected as much, but like Rochford her radar was off, her decision-making in front of goal was impeded, and again it seemed like the occasion and nerves took over and it snowballed.

The other problem with the way Wexford played was that it took its toll and they were spent as the game moved into the last quarter. Running the ball and controlling the game is great when you build a lead you can defend, but with temperatures in the twenties the Slaneysiders melted.

Niamh O'Sullivan kicked Meath into a third-minute lead but they would only add one further first-half point, through Fiona O'Neill in the 19th minute, as Wexford completely took control.

Rochford's first free dropped short from 30 metres out after Rachel Bennett was fouled on the right of goal. Aisling Murphy then fired wide from a good position after great work by Bernie Breen in midfield.

The full-forward line had a miscue each on the board when Bennett missed the target. Wexford did level the game through Rochford with a left foot finish after Murphy's feed on the left of goal.

Another Murphy wide followed from distance but Wexford took their first lead when Caitríona Murray fed Rochford and tapped over. The St. Anne's forward was short with a free from 37 metres out, Breen missed the target and Rochford fired wide as the struggles continued.

After Clara Donnelly tapped over following a clinical one-two with Aisling Murphy, Wexford went 0-3 to 0-1 up after 16 minutes. Meath had a rare decent spell which they finished with their second point but the status quo quickly returned.

Rochford missed the target but might have felt she should have had a free for a high tackle, Murphy added another wide and Rochford followed it with a missed free from 30 metres out.

The Wexford midfield of Kellie Kearney and Breen continued to work really well and they combined to pick out Bennett for a well-taken score in the 26th minute.

Seconds later Rochford finished over the bar from close range after her corner-forwards combined to free her.

Hanging on for dear life, after kicking four balls out over the sideline, Orlagh McLoughlin was penalised for delaying the resulting kick-out. Rochford missed to the right from directly in front of the posts.

Murphy was guilty of another poor miss with two minutes of the half remaining but Wexford did take a 0-6 to 0-2 lead in at the interval when Kellie Kearney broke forward and showed how to finish with the half-time hooter imminent.

There was the slightest of breezes favouring Meath in the second-half but it really wasn't significant. The Royals did start the second period with a couple of wides themselves but Wexford still had plenty of the game.

Rochford missed the target with another free after Murphy was dragged back by an arm. To add insult to missed dead-balls, Meath broke up the field, Fiona O'Neill got in, fed Marion Farrelly and the Meath full-forward found the net.

Aisling Murphy was a handful when coming out to meet the ball and she was fouled again in the 39th minute, but this time Murray came over to the right wing and missed. Breen, Marguerite Doyle and Donnelly all combined for a nice Siobhán Cloake score in the 41st minute.

Rachel Bennett added her second after some excellent work by Niamh Butler. Masterson took Cloake off at this stage and in hindsight it was a change that backfired as Wexford lost containment of the Meath half-back line.

Aoibhin Cleary soloed clear at the other end and Meath scored their first uncontested point, a worry and a sign of things to come.

Donnelly actually broke free moments later but her ball to Bennett slowed up the move, and when it was re-cycled to Rochford she fired wide.

After O'Sullivan scored for Meath, Donnelly was again creator in the 46th minute when Murray picked off her only score to put Wexford 0-9 to 1-4 up, but they did not register again.

A big chance came and went for Wexford just a minute later. Chantelle Martin's hopeful ball got Bennett away, however, the St. Anne's youngster shot across McLoughlin and past the far post.

O'Sullivan's third point narrowed the gap to one before Martin dragged a point attempt wide. Disaster struck in the 50th minute when a long ball was misjudged by Sarah Harding-Kenny and the danger-woman she had kept reasonably quiet all day, Fiona O'Neill, got away and squared to Megan Thynne who fired past Sarah Merrigan.

Panic-stricken, Aisling Murphy fired hopelessly wide a minute later.

Wexford looked like a spent team as gaps appeared for Meath. Marion Farrelly pointed twice and Niamh Gallagly sauntered forward untouched to register and condemn the Slaneysiders to a shock defeat.

Now Wexford have to brush themselves down and go again. A lot of teams that go into the qualifiers are no-hopers, but Anthony Masterson's side have the quality to go on a run and make it all the way to Croke Park in September.

It will be hard for Wexford to get themselves up for a meeting with the winners of Louth and Offaly in the qualifiers, as they shouldn't pose any real test to the Slaneysiders on the weekend of July 29.

However, Tipperary are waiting in the wings for a quarter-final showdown two weeks later, and a repeat of this showing will see Wexford straight out of the championship because the Premier county are a far superior outfit to Meath.

Wexford: Sarah Merrigan; Sarah Harding-Kenny, Marica Cullen, Niamh Mernagh; Clara Donnelly (0-1), Róisín Murphy, Marguerite Doyle; Bernie Breen, Kellie Kearney (0-1); Niamh Butler, Caitríona Murray (0-1), Siobhán Cloake (0-1); Rachel Bennett (0-2), Fiona Rochford (capt., 0-3), Aisling Murphy. Subs. - Chantelle Martin for Cloake (44), Aoife Sheil for Butler (53), Maeve Quill for Doyle (56), Ciara Walsh for Cullen (56), also Bríd Byrne, Brídín Doyle, Emer Cahill, Eleanor Neville, Elaine McCabe, Georgina Hearn, Fiona Rowe, Anne Byrne, Mary Rose Kelly.

Meath: Orlagh McLoughlin; Emma Troy, Emma White, Aideen Guy; Niamh Gallagly (0-1), Vikki Wall, Aoibhin Cleary (0-1); Máire O'Shaughnessy, Kate Byrne; Megan Thynne (1-0), Niamh O'Sullivan (capt., 0-3), Orla Byrne; Stacey Grimes, Marion Farrelly (1-2), Fiona O'Neill (0-1). Subs. - Niamh Lister for Byrne (48), Katie Newe for O'Neill (57).

Referee: Des McEnery (Westmeath).

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