independent

Monday 23 April 2018

Tables are turned

Wexford 3-12 Meath 2-6

Dean Goodison

Wexford’s Bernie Breen bursting forward from midfield
Wexford’s Bernie Breen bursting forward from midfield

A powerful second-half performance, full of hard, intelligent running and improved shooting, propelled Wexford into the Division 3 semi-finals of the Lidl Ladies' National Football League in St. Patrick's Park on Sunday.

For a little while it looked like Meath had an almost Tipperary-like knack of getting into Wexford heads. The first-half mirrored last season's Leinster final, with the hosts squandering multiple chances to go in at the break ahead.

Yet this time, when panic looked set to take over, Anthony Masterson's side relaxed. They kept plugging away, they stayed reasonably patient, eventually the gaps became bigger and the shots became more profitable.

Chloe Foxe took her goals well, while Caitríona Murray again proved almost impossible to stop running at full-tilt, but the best indicator of Wexford's quality was the return of Fiona Rochford to her confident best in front of the posts.

The St. Anne's clubwoman is a majestic sight shooting from an arc of 30-35 metres out when in top form. The way Rochford kicked points in the second-half certainly bodes well for the summer ahead, not only for her own confidence but that of the team.

The Wexford movement and inter-play is exceptional, their speed of play is unrivalled in this division, but it's not a team blessed with a glut of long-range shooting prowess, so Rochford's form is absolutely vital to their hopes going forward.

That said, if they cut ribbons through every team they face this year, like they did through Meath in this game, they might not need too many points to win.

That's five from five now, with the boss able to flip his team around in each game, try out different combinations and still produce results.

It didn't all go to plan as Meath cut through Wexford a little too easily in the opening minutes. Megan Thynne fed Stacey Grimes for the opener in the fifth minute, with her shot deflected but carrying enough weight to loop into the net.

Wexford stemmed the flow a little towards the end of the opening quarter with points from Chloe Foxe and Kellie Kearney, but they looked to have a serious mountain to climb when Vikki Wall netted in the 17th minute to make it 2-2 to 0-2.

The inside forward line were winning individual battles but missing chances for Wexford. However, immediately after Murray pointed, the ever-sharpening Niamh Moore won the kick-out and fed Rochford who in turn released Foxe, and the Clongeen woman beat Monica McGuirk with a composed finish.

Wexford still had a chance to be be wasteful on a few more occasions before the break, which meant that Aoibhín Cleary's injury-time point left them three points down and with plenty of work to do (2-3 to 1-3).

On paper, 2-9 to 0-3 in the second-half looks like a procession but Wexford still had to forget another spate of wides before they found their groove.

Grimes put Meath four points ahead but they they were dealt a blow when Niamh Lister was sin-binned in the 37th minute.

Yet something inside the Slaneysiders' psyche clicked when Rochford connected perfectly with her opening score in the 40th minute. Her team-mates came alive and suddenly everyone wanted the ball, with runners coming at the Meath defence from all over the place.

Despite some respite from Thynne, Murray and Foxe got Wexford within one (2-5 to 1-7). Niamh Moore set Aisling Murphy away in the 48th minute, and she heard the roars of Murray sprinting down the left unmarked. The ball was pretty much perfect and Murray dispatched it past McGuirk at the second attempt.

Already rocking, Meath were beaten when Bernie Breen released Chloe Foxe mere seconds later and she sent a rocket into the top corner of the visitors' net to make it 3-7 to 2-5.

Wexford, who have been searching for this type of performance this season, weren't about to take it easy.

They played some majestic possession football in the remaining minutes. At times they played keep-ball for 20, 30 passes before springing clear to point. Murray added her third point, Rochford added two stunning scores, and Clara Donnelly posted a late brace as well.

Wexford now head to Down on Saturday with a semi-final spot secured. However, the Ulster side have five wins from six games and will be looking to spring another surprise.

Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly (capt.); Niamh Mernagh, Maria Byrne, Shauna Murphy; Georgina Hearn, Róisín Murphy, Niamh Butler; Clara Donnelly (0-2), Bernie Breen; Kellie Kearney (0-1), Caitríona Murray (1-3, 0-1 free), Niamh Moore; Chloe Foxe (2-2, 0-1 free), Aisling Murphy, Fiona Rochford (0-4, 1 free). Subs. - Cailín Fitzpatrick for A. Murphy (58), Ciara Ryan for Moore (60), Cathy O'Brien for Butler (60+3), also Sinéad Whelan, Anne Byrne, Aoife Drennan, Aoife Sheil, Chantelle Martin, Ellen O'Brien, Amy Wilson, Lauren Cousins, Rachel Bennett, Sarah Harding-Kenny, Fiona Bennett, Marguerite Doyle.

Meath: Monica McGuirk; Sarah Powderly, Michelle Peel, Niamh Lister; Shauna Ennis, Emma Troy, Niamh Gallogly; Aoibhín Cleary (0-1), Marie O'Shaughnessy (capt.); Megan Thynne (0-2), Vikki Wall (1-0), Aoibheann Leahy; Laura Dempsey, Emma White (0-1), Stacey Grimes (1-2, 0-1 free). Subs. - Blathnaid Keogh for Ennis (10), Ennis for Keogh (17), Fiona O'Neill for Leahy (31), Marion Farrelly for Dempsey (38), Orla Byrne for White (38), Karley Leavy for Lister (54).

Referee: Stephen McNulty (Wicklow).

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