Senior camogie team's powerful finish to reach quarters
THE WEXFORD Senior camogie team turned in a powerful final 20 minutes in Wexford Park on Saturday last to eventually shake off a dogged Clare side with relative ease and advance to an All-Ireland championship quarter-final clash with Offaly on August 3.
There was no margin for error in this tie as the holders had entered the last-chance saloon two games earlier than planned, but they stood up to the pressure and grew in stature in the closing quarter as the home crowd greeted each score with a resounding cheer.
The display was no more than average up to the 40th minute when Clare's Claire McMahon brought them level (0-7 each) from a dubious free after two of their own players appeared to collide.
However, Wexford's experienced performers stepped up to the plate when they were needed most and the home side outscored their rivals by 1-9 to 1-1 in a rampant conclusion.
The excellent Kate Kelly, full of energy and dash, restored their lead from a free after a foul on Bríd Gordon in the right corner before adding another point within seconds after Clare netminder Denise Lynch stepped outside the small square with her puck-out and conceded a '45.
Although Lisa Loughnane responded for the Munster side, they didn't score again until the second-last puck of game nearly three minutes into added time when Chloe Morey's low shot from a close-in free ended up in the net.
In between it was nearly all Wexford, with a major moment arriving in the 46th minute when the game was still finely poised.
A long ball to the town end by defender Máire McGrath was gathered inside by Sinéad Tuohy who had a goal in her sights, but Mags D'Arcy advanced to bring off a very good save and that seemed to knock a lot of fight out of the underdogs.
Within seconds Kate Kelly had set up Josie Dwyer for a point to make it 0-10 to 0-8, and the former hit the target from a free after Ursula Jacob was impeded before availing of an Eimear O'Connor handpass to stretch the advantage to four with eight minutes left.
Any lingering doubts still regarding the outcome were dispelled less than 60 seconds later when netminder Denise Lynch was distracted by the traffic in front of her goal at the Clonard end and a long-range Kelly free entered the net thanks to a stroke of good fortune (1-12 to 0-8).
It was mainly plain sailing after that, with four points added before that late consolation goal courtesy of Kelly (free), Eimear O'Connor, Kelly (play) and Shelley Kehoe.
While there is still more required from this Wexford team to match the feats of their predecessors, this was a significant victory all the same as their mettle was tested after successive lapses against Galway and Kilkenny and they reacted well to the pressure. They will be expected to overcome Offaly whom they saw off in last year's penultimate round, and then the draw for the semi-finals will pit them against the Cats or Cork, with Galway facing Tipperary in the other quarter-final.
Then and only then will we get the real indication of how this team measures up in comparison to the last three seasons, and bear in mind that it won't be easy given the magnitude of the losses since the All-Ireland final of 2012.
There wasn't much flowing play in the first-half of Saturday's tie which yielded 16 frees (nine for Wexford), and they established a 0-6 to 0-4 interval lead without flourishing for any extended period.
A flick by Bríd Gordon helped Ursula Jacob to open their account in the fourth minute, and she added a second from a placed ball after Fiona Kavanagh was impeded.
Free-taker Claire McMahon replied with a brace to draw Clare level, but another Jacob placed ball after a throw by Eimear Considine restored the home side's lead in the 12th minute (0-3 to 0-2).
A sloppy clearance by Mags D'Arcy helped Susan Vaughan to restore parity, but Bríd Gordon replied as Clare found it impossible to get their noses in front.
Susan Vaughan did equalise for them in the 26th minute, with late scores from Stacey Kehoe and Kate Kelly leaving Wexford ahead at the break (0-6 to 0-4).
The sides had shared eight wides, with all four from the leaders coming from placed balls courtesy of Ursula Jacob (two), Kelly and Mary Leacy.
A Naomi Carroll point within 40 seconds of the re-start filled Clare with hope, and Jacob had two more wides, the second from a free, before Josie Dwyer and Bríd Gordon combined to pick out Shelley Kehoe for a score (0-7 to 0-5).
A Claire McMahon point was sandwiched in between missed chances from Kelly and Gordon, and the sides were deadlocked again when she repeated the dose in the 40th minute.
However, everything Wexford tried in the attacking stakes turned to gold from that point on as they didn't add to their overall wides tally of eight and strode purposefully clear to ease some of the anxiety felt in Nowlan Park one week earlier.