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Monday 26 August 2019

Wexford make the last eight

Ladies Football, TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship: Wexford 3-6 Laois 1-10

Wexford’s Maria Byrne battling with Janes Moore of Laois
Wexford’s Maria Byrne battling with Janes Moore of Laois

Dean Goodison in St. Patrick's Park

In front of a crowd of approximately 250 people in St. Patrick's Park on Sunday, Wexford qualified for the quarter-finals on top of Group 3 of the TG4 All-Ireland ladies' football Intermediate championship.

That was probably the best news of the day, as this was arguably their weakest performance of the summer season to date.

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Kellie Kearney has had a phenomenal season, but it was even clearer how influential she has been as Wexford toiled as she limped around with a water bottle in hand.

With a quick turnaround and a strong Meath team to play this weekend in the last eight, the fitness of Kearney is going to be absolutely vital. Wexford did dominate the opening half but were always lacking a little cutting edge from deep, that injection of pace.

They built a 2-5 to 1-4 interval advantage but managed just two scores in the second period and struggled to get on top of Laois, in the same way they have been able to dominate every other opponent in the championship so far.

Anthony Masterson would have to be concerned by the lack of impact from those he called on from the bench. With Ailis Neville also injured, the Wexford boss was forced to rely on players who haven't had many championship minutes, and it's tough to quickly get up to the speed of this level of football.

They will also sweat on the fitness of Sarah Harding-Kenny after the Shelmalier clubwoman went off injured in the final quarter. If she's good to go next week the change was probably a blessing in disguise as it prompted a positional switch that helped slow down the Laois momentum.

Erone Fitzpatrick was blitzing Wexford through the heart of their defence, often in tandem with Laura Nerney, but moving Niamh Mernagh to the talented young number ten helped cut off the supply line and things just slowed down a little for the visitors.

It was badly needed at the time as Wexford were flat and unrecognisable from the team which comfortably dispatched Clare two weeks earlier.

Laois came into the game without a win this season but the Slaneysiders probably don't match up well against their strengths, meaning this was always likely to be tougher in reality than it seemed on paper.

That said, one wouldn't have thought that after 26 minutes with Wexford leading by 2-4 to 0-2. They were so comfortable in those early stages that they could afford to be incredibly sloppy in the final third of the field.

As well as those six scores, Wexford kicked six wides, dropped three balls short into the 'keeper's hands, and hit the upright. They also turned over mountains of ball in the final third, with Chloe Foxe the prime culprit.

However, the Clongeen clubwoman was hardly beaten to a ball so it gives Masterson a conundrum: can he trust that Foxe will get sharper in possession with a run of football action when the camogie ends tomorrow evening (Wednesday) and she has a sole focus, or is it too late for that?

On the plus side, Ellen O'Brien came into the starting line-up and registered from three of her four shots to give Wexford another viable scoring threat. Going forward, games are going to be decided by fine margins and in the end this contest was no different.

Had Fiona Kelly not spilled a dipping long-range point attempt from Niamh Butler inches over the line in the second minute, would Wexford have won this game?

O'Brien made it 1-1 to nil a minute later, and Maria Byrne flighted over another point in the sixth minute.

Laois had all their four first-half wides in the opening quarter, but Wexford matched them until Clara Donnelly's long ball in was fought for and won by Aisling Murphy, with the Gusserane attacker taking off inside and sending a composed finish past Kelly to the net.

O'Brien made it 2-3 to nil before Aisling Kehoe and Áine Haberlin replied at the other end. More misses followed as Wexford went ten minutes without a score, but that was ended when Fiona Rochford split the uprights.

After Mo Nerney responded with a free, Kehoe got on the end of a move involving Ellen Healy and Caoimhe Simms and slotted past Mary Rose Kelly.

Foxe kicked a free after Donnelly was fouled, but Nerney responded before the interval to make it 2-5 to 1-4.

Sarah Harding-Kenny saw an early second-half shot comfortably saved by Kelly in the Laois goal, and the visitors soon attacked and responded with points from Mo and Laura Nerney.

O'Brien scored her third from Niamh Moore's pass, but Mary Rose Kelly had to make an excellent stop from Emma Lawlor after Laura Nerney and Fitzpatrick cut Wexford apart.

Laois were really purring at this stage and Lawlor narrowed the gap again. Wexford had a double chance to net in the 46th minute, but Bernie Breen and then Aisling Murphy were denied by solid stops from Fiona Kelly.

Kehoe pulled the O'Moore county within one (2-6 to 1-8), but Wexford did put together one clinical move, with Shauna Murphy, Breen and Aisling Murphy all involved in releasing Maria Byrne for a critical third goal.

In between points from Mo Nerney and Simms, the former flashed a shot across the Wexford goal that Kelly got a touch on.

Wexford had a chance to wrap it up but Breen went for goal and was denied when a point would have guaranteed a draw and cemented top spot in the group.

However, Clodagh Dunne was sin-binned late on for her third tick and, while it didn't help the Laois cause, they had been slowed by that stage.

Wexford held on to book their last eight place against Meath this weekend, with fixture details to be announced during the week.

Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly (capt.); Niamh Mernagh, Marica Cullen, Sadbh McCarthy; Sarah Harding-Kenny, Shauna Murphy, Clara Donnelly; Bernie Breen, Niamh Butler (1-0); Ellen O'Brien (0-3), Fiona Rochford (0-1), Niamh Moore; Aisling Murphy (1-0), Maria Byrne (1-1), Chloe Foxe (0-1 free). Subs. - Ciara Banville for Rochford (31), Tara Doyle for Foxe (31), Aoife Tormey for Harding-Kenny, inj. (45), Katie White for Moore (51), also Sarah Donnellan, Amy Wilson, Cailín Fitzpatrick, Ailis Neville, Ciara Bridges, Jane Rossiter, Juliet Rochford, Kellie Kearney.

Laois: Fiona Kelly; Aimee Kelly, Jane Moore, Maureen Young; Mary Cotter, Clodagh Dunne, Laura Nerney (0-1); Áine Haberlin (0-1), Ellen Healy; Caoimhe Simms (0-1), Aisling Kehoe (1-2), Erone Fitzpatrick; Mo Nerney (0-4, 3 frees), Shannon Costello, Emma Lawlor (0-1). Subs. - Hannah Russell for L. Nerney (53), Michelle Lynch for Kehoe (53), Niamh O'Rourke for Costello (53).

Referee: Seamus Mulvihill (Kerry).

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