Wexford target semi-finals
Ladies Football, Lidl National League Division 2: Wexford 0-15 Laois 2-8
The primary objective at the start of the season is all-but complete for Wexford after they held on to defeat Laois in Division 2 of the Lidl Ladies' National Football League in Timahoe on Sunday.
The initial goal for the Division 3 champions was to avoid a quick relegation back down from where they came. Barring a bizarre set of results - involving the outcomes of ten of the remaining eleven games going against them - that box is ticked.
Now they have a chance to go after the next target, a place in the league semi-finals. Indeed, there's a great opportunity on Sunday to go from almost safe to almost qualified, as all Wexford need to do is beat Cavan.
If they show the kind of spirit and hunger they displayed in this contest, Anthony Masterson's side will have every chance against last year's beaten finalists.
Wexford built a lead with the breeze in the first-half, got pushed back for long spells after the interval, but stood firm to beat relegation favourites Laois.
In the process Wexford kicked 15 scores, seven more than the eight they managed against Tyrone in their previous encounter, which had been their best effort of the season to date. Wexford upped their average from seven to nine points total per game, the lowest in the top three divisions.
While they may have previously lacked scores, the secret to what is now an unbeaten three-game run is their defensive effort.
Only Galway have been better in the top three divisions, despite Sunday being Wexford's worst showing of the season and the first time they have conceded at least one goal.
The fact that it has been achieved with two rookie corner-backs and a newly returning mother in the full-back line makes it all the more impressive. Niamh Mernagh was back from injury, having missed the victory over Tyrone, but she slotted into the spot vacated by Clara Donnelly.
Fresh from her goalscoring exploits against the Ulster side, Katie White replaced Amy Wilson at corner-forward, but it was Tara Doyle in the opposite corner who found herself involved in plenty of the action.
After Laois burst out of the blocks with two quick points against a howling wind, Doyle kicked the opening Wexford point from a free following a foul on Sarah Harding-Kenny. Bernie Breen levelled a few moments later before Maria Byrne saw her shot at goal blocked.
Wexford powered forward in numbers, hitting Byrne early just enough to keep Laois off-balance. Doyle nailed another free before Fiona Rochford kicked two in a row. It was 0-6 to 0-2 at the end of the first quarter after another successful dead-ball.
Byrne made it seven and Doyle brought her tally to five with another brace. Aisling Keogh gave the hosts some respite but Breen and Doyle added further points as Wexford led by 0-11 to 0-3 approaching the final minutes of the half.
After a period with lots of whistling, some quality-point taking but only a smattering of goal chances, things took a turn for the dramatic before the break. Joyce Dunne had plenty to do when she netted, firing across Mary Rose Kelly in the 30th minute.
Wexford went straight down the other end and Kellie Kearney's long ball sent Byrne clean through on an isolated Fiona Kelly in the Laois goal. Maybe thinking she didn't have as much time as she had, Byrne shot straight at the 'keeper and the chance was gone.
The Slaneysiders could still have added a late point but in the next attack, just as Fiona Rochford was lining up her shot from 25 metres out, referee Des McEnery blew his whistle for half-time.
Five points (0-11 to 1-3) probably looked like a par score, given the strong breeze.
However, Laois were largely insipid throughout the second-half and for 28 minutes looked like they had no hope of overturning the deficit.
Wexford matched their opponents' fast start to the first-half with quick points. Good combination play between Rochford and Niamh Moore saw the latter point before Bernie Breen registered from Niamh Mernagh's assist to increase the lead to seven.
Mary Rose Kelly made a sharp save from Mo Nerney in the 35th minute, and Laois did push Wexford back towards their own goal, but their play was stunted and untidy and they only managed two points before the 59th minute.
Moore and Tara Doyle countered those scores as the visitors still held a seven-point advantage late in the game. Emma Lawlor and Nerney kicked points as the game headed into added-time, but Wexford still felt comfortable, leading by 0-15 to 1-7.
That was until Nerney smacked a shot into the roof of the net from a good 20 metres out to suddenly narrow the gap to two. When the Laois attacker tapped over a free two minutes later, the Wexford advantage was down to one.
The minutes and seconds ticked away until McEnery finally brought the game to an end after eight minutes of stoppage time. Wexford host Cavan on Sunday afternoon where a third win on the bounce would leave Anthony Masterson's side one step closer to a semi-final spot.
Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly; Aoife Tormey, Marica Cullen, Sadbh McCarthy; Niamh Mernagh, Shauna Murphy, Sarah Harding-Kenny; Kellie Kearney, Bernie Breen (0-3); Niamh Butler, Fiona Rochford (0-2), Niamh Moore (0-2); Katie White, Maria Byrne (0-1), Tara Doyle (0-7, 5 frees). Sub. - Chloe Foxe for White (54).
Laois: Fiona Kelly; Clodagh Dunne, Maureen Young, Aimee Kelly; Mary Cotter, Jane Moore (capt.), Ellen Healy; Anna Healy, Laura Nerney; Alanna Havill, Joyce Dunne (1-0), Emma Lawlor (0-2); Mo Nerney (1-5, 0-3 frees), Aisling Keogh (0-1), Meaghan Dunne. Subs. - Áine Haberlin for E. Healy (25), Niamh O'Rourke for Cotter (37), Shannon Costello for Keogh (41), Alice Dunne for J. Dunne (53), Laura Peake for Young (53), Emma Finlay for Kelly, inj. (54), Laura Finlay for Lawlor (60+1), Sinéad Cullen for Havill (60+3).
Referee: Des MeEnery (Westmeath).