Wexford take points away
TG4 All-Ireland Ladies Intermediate Championship: Wexford 3-10 Clare 0-16
Wexford kicked off their TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate ladies' football championship round-robin campaign with a strong victory over Clare in Doonbeg on Sunday.
Anthony Masterson's side lost the corresponding fixture last season, but they are a different animal at the moment and, once again, should have won this game by more than the eventual margin of three points.
Clare aren't without their quality, particularly in attacking areas, but they were loose defensively and could have taken a tonking if this had been the fixture where the Slaneysiders took somewhere near the majority of their chances.
The hosts looked to match up player-for-player and it worked insofar as Wexford lost plenty of long kick-outs. However, when the visitors did break forward they cut their opponents to pieces and had double-digit goal chances again.
It's all well and good if you win, it papers over the cracks, but Clare don't look like contenders playing this way, despite the talented Niamh O'Dea keeping them in this contest with a masterclass at full-forward.
Unlike recent seasons, Wexford still look like they are on an upward trajectory. There's a lot of talk about teams not fancying a crack at Tipperary, but if the Premier county are watching, they will want someone to dispose of the Leinster champs for them as, right now, Masterson's team are the best equipped to knock them out.
The most impressive thing about Wexford in the last couple of games is their composure. That doesn't necessarily translate when the whites of their eyes are bearing down on goal, but further out the field they looked completely comfortable with what they want to do.
One could have argued that Wexford would have benefited from more quick, early balls into one-on-ones against the player-for-player match-ups, but the ease in which the Slaneysiders spliced their hosts apart with their methodical, possession-first build-ups rallies against that logic.
Niamh Moore, in what might have been her best performance of the season, opened the scoring after some nice inter-change with Sarah Harding-Kenny on the left wing.
Fidelma Marrinan replied at the other end but Wexford could have opened their major account when Clara Donnelly raced clear from Ailis Neville's feed and flashed her shot wide.
Gráinne Nolan made it 0-2 to 0-1 but Aisling Murphy was next to be denied from point-blank range after being picked out close to goal by Maria Byrne. Wexford did recycle from the rebound and Byrne equalised, but Clare were back in front when O'Dea pointed.
The visitors' opening goal did come in the twelfth minute when Bernie Breen parted the hosts' defence with a 40-yard run and clinical finish.
Donnelly had a shot saved over the crossbar but the home county ended the opening quarter with a Caoimhe Harvey point (1-3 to 0-4).
Wexford had a sticky patch around this time, as O'Dea had fired a chance wide and then hit the post when through with advantage in the 17th minute. The referee brought it back and awarded the penalty, but Mary Rose Kelly went early and stopped Nolan's powerful spot-kick.
O'Dea and Marrinan did point to level the contest (1-3 to 0-6) before Niamh Moore was denied a goal by a Clara Harvey save.
Fiona Rochford tapped over in the aftermath, and Moore flashed just over in the 26th minute as Wexford kept pressing against the breeze.
Aisling Murphy added a late point between scores from Róisín and Ailish Considine, but Wexford still went in leading by 1-6 to 0-8.
That advantage was wiped out in a sticky five minutes after the re-start as Clare scored three unanswered points and Bernie Breen was sin-binned.
After eight minutes of doing nothing well, Wexford broke forward and a superb team build-up saw Maria Byrne release Donnelly for a crucial second goal. The Kilmore forward added her second point moments later to make it 2-7 to 0-11.
Nolan pulled a point back but, just as Breen was coming back on, Clare lost their key figure O'Dea for ten minutes. Aisling Murphy was fouled in the process of shooting in the 46th minute but Rochford dribbled an awful resulting penalty wide of the left post.
Ailish Considine levelled for the fourth time in the 49th minute, but it didn't feel like a game Wexford were going to lose.
Kellie Kearney tapped over to give her side the lead before Niamh Butler broke through and saw her shot saved by Clara Harvey.
Off balance, Gráinne Halvey equalised again (2-8 to 0-14), but Wexford went back down the other end and netted.
This time it was all about Ailis Neville, who had been hobbling from late in the first-half, as she cut in and sent an unstoppable finish to the top left corner of the Clare net.
Shauna Murphy made the lead four but O'Dea and Róisín Considine narrowed the gap to two. Aisling Murphy made it 3-10 to 0-16 in the second minute of added-time, yet there was still more drama to come.
It would have been hugely controversial had Clare netted an equaliser as referee Shane Curley let the hosts take a quick free-kick at least ten yards from where the infringement took place. O'Dea released Ailish Considine but her shot dribbed wide as Wexford held on to take the win.
This victory moves Wexford a step away from a quarter-final meeting with favourites Tipperary and a little closer to a last eight re-match against beaten Leinster finalists Meath, with an in-form Roscommon a likely last four opponent.
A win over Laois on Sunday week will cement top spot in Group 3, with Meath odds-on favourites to take second place in Group 2. However, depending on the result of Clare versus Laois this weekend, a comprehensive loss to Laois could actually see Wexford exit the championship.
Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly (capt.); Aoife Tormey, Marica Cullen, Niamh Mernagh; Clara Donnelly (1-1), Shauna Murphy (0-1), Sarah Harding-Kenny; Kellie Kearney (0-1), Bernie Breen (1-0); Niamh Butler, Fiona Rochford (0-1), Niamh Moore (0-2); Ailis Neville (1-0), Maria Byrne (0-2), Aisling Murphy (0-2). Subs. - Ellen O'Brien for Tormey (41), Chloe Foxe for Neville (54), also Sarah Donnellan, Sadbh McCarthy, Amy Wilson, Cailín Fitzpatrick, Ciara Bridges, Tara Doyle, Jane Rossiter, Ciara Banville, Katie White.
Clare: Ciara Harvey; Áine Keane, Ellie O'Gorman, Gráinne Harvey (0-1); Carol O'Leary, Laurie Ryan (capt.), Siofra Ní Chonnall; Orla Davitt, Eimear O'Connor, Caoimhe Halvey (0-1), Gráinne Nolan (0-3, 2 frees), Ailish Considine (0-2); Róisín Considine (0-2), Niamh O'Dea (0-3), Fidelma Marrinan (0-3). Subs. - Eimear Keane (0-1) for O'Leary (31), Tara Kelly for O'Connor (38), Róisín Looney for A. Keane (40), Aisling Reidy for Nolan (55).
Referee: Shane Curley (Galway).