Wexford toppled by Tipp
Tipperary 0-15 Wexford 1-10
Wexford were second best in this Lidl Ladies' National Football League Division 3 final replay in Birr on Sunday. Things came easier to Tipperary; their passing was crisper, especially in tight areas, their running with the ball was tidier, and they had a game-changer in Aisling Moloney.
However, Wexford are a dogged bunch and when things started to go against them, Anthony Masterson's side rallied and got themselves going again. It wasn't always pretty but they knew their jobs and relentlessly worked their way level with just under seven minutes to go.
Then referee Stephen McNulty was faced with his biggest decision of the game and made an absolute mess of it.
Tipperary already had three girls twiddling their thumbs on the sideline after picking up yellow cards. At least two of those could be considered on the soft side too. However, what came next was as blatant a 'make-up' call as you'll ever see.
Sarah Harding-Kenny, in the process of having another fine outing in the purple and gold, was freed from the defensive shackles after the trio of yellows and was making inroads in the Tipperary half of the field.
The Shelmalier youngster collected a fantastic crossfield ball which set her away at the last Tipperary defender, Emma Buckley. Baring down on the inside-back, Harding-Kenny, at full pace, cut outside only for Buckley to sidestep right into her path, clearly impeding the run and a fantastic goal chance. Both hit the ground. Buckley, probably fearing the worst, stayed there.
After a moment's hesitation McNulty pointed for a free out, instead of an easy dead-ball to give the Slaneysiders the lead. He topped off his ineptitude by booking the Wexford youngster, ruling her out of the remainder of the game.
There's a strong argument that that one decision has cost Wexford a Division 3 title. One point ahead, playing against eleven or twelve (because what it should have been was a yellow for Buckley) with 15 for the remaining minutes - this side would very likely have closed the game out.
But no, Wexford were down to 14, Tipperary soon went back to 13, and all the air was let out of the Slaneysiders' balloon. The Premier won two frees - go figure - kicked them for scores and held out for the win and a spot in Division 2 in 2018.
Something about the three battles these sides have already played this year suggests that this rivalry is not over yet. Both are in the All-Ireland Intermediate championship and could well be on a collision course later in the year. Hopefully, if it does happen, Stephen McNulty won't be the referee.
There wasn't a huge shift in gameplan from what almost got the job done 14 days earlier. The same 15 started but there was a slight change in Wexford's attempts to limit the threat of Aisling Moloney, with Niamh Mernagh doing some of the work but others taking turns too.
What the Leinster favourites didn't have was the back-up quality of Chantelle Martin on the bench, as she wasn't togged out as she continues to nurse nagging injuries. Otherwise it was a case of go out and have a crack again.
They began pretty well, motoring into a 0-4 to 0-1 lead after 13 minutes. Ellen O'Brien started the afternoon with a well-taken score, only for Moloney to equalise at the other end. Then, Kellie Kearney kicked a nice point from a crisp Aisling Murphy handpass in the sixth minute.
Moments later Caitríona Murray picked out Georgina Hearn with a fantastic crossfield pass; she fed Fiona Rochford and the Wexford captain made it three-one. When Rochford, Róisín Murphy and Clara Donnelly all combined for Aisling Murphy to smash narrowly over, Wexford were purring.
However, Orla O'Dwyer grabbed two quick points, the second a Mary Rose Kelly save over the crossbar after the Tipp forward nudged Harding-Kenny to the ground off the ball in the build-up.
In between those scores Jennifer Grant registered and Munster side were level. With the breeze Wexford needed to build a lead but, after Rochford knocked over a free, they were a little fortunate to move four points ahead when the Wexford captain sailed one to the net over Lauren Fitzpatrick.
Moloney scored her first point from play in the 25th minute, but three in a row at the other end left Wexford in a good position. Bernie Breen registered after more great work from the excellent Donnelly, and then Aisling Murphy kicked another fantastic point from 35 metres out.
A second goal would have given Tipperary a mountain to climb after the break and Wexford nearly got it when Rochford ghosted in and slashed just over the crossbar in the 29th minute.
Shane Ronayne's side were able to respond just before the interval with an Aisling McCarthy point to leave five between the sides at the change of ends (1-8 to 0-6).
The Premier girls started the second-half with an Aisling McCarthy pointed free. However, 'The McNulty Show' started with an horrifically soft yellow for an already ticked Bernie Breen in the 35th minute.
Wexford didn't deal well with the loss of their talismanic midfielder. They conceded six points in a row between the 35th and 44th minutes. Aisling Moloney registered four of them, all from play, to turn a five-point interval deficit into a 0-13 to 1-8 lead.
After Gillian O'Brien was sin-binned for Tipperary, Ellen O'Brien kicked a fine score. Rochford missed a close-in free that would have levelled the game moments after Maria Curley received a nothing yellow for a nudge on Ellen O'Brien.
Tipperary were running out of players when Moloney left an arm in on Kellie Kearney and picked up what would have to be considered another fairly soft booking. Caitríona Murray just about converted the dead-ball, off the inside of the upright.
It all looked to be going Wexford's way when Mary Rose Kelly tipped Róisín Howard's punched effort onto the foot of the post. However, they the ludicrous Harding-Kenny decision came and it really hurt the Slaneysiders.
Aisling McCarthy popped over two points in a row to give Tipperary a 0-15 to 1-10 lead. Wexford's last chance went when Caitríona Murray missed a 59th-minute free wide left and the victors ran down the clock without fuss.
Wexford don't have too long to overcome the disappointment of this loss.
They are back in action in the Leinster championship on May 27 with a home tie against neighbours Wicklow.
Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly; Marguerite Doyle, Marica Cullen, Sarah Harding-Kenny; Niamh Mernagh, Róisín Murphy, Georgina Hearn; Bernie Breen (0-1), Kellie Kearney (0-1); Clara Donnelly, Caitríona Murray (0-1 free), Niamh Butler; Aisling Murphy (0-2), Fiona Rochford (capt., 1-3, 0-1 free), Ellen O'Brien (0-2). Subs. - Siobhán Cloake for Hearn (46), Fiona Rowe for Butler (57), also Sarah Merrigan, Brídín Doyle, Ann Byrne, Emer Cahill, Eleanor Neville, Elaine McCabe, Rachel Bennett, Maeve Quill, Ciara Walsh, Maria Byrne, Ciara Corrigan, Lorraine Breen, Chantelle Martin.
Tipperary: Lauren Fitzpatrick; Emma Buckley, Siobhán Condon, Bríd Condon; Maria Curley, Samantha Lambert (capt.), Caoimhe Condon; Jennifer Grant (0-1), Aisling Moloney (0-6, 1 free); Elaine Fitzpatrick, Aisling McCarthy (0-5, 4 frees), Niamh Lonergan; Gillian O'Brien (0-1), Orla O'Dwyer (0-2), Mairéad Morrissey. Subs. - Róisín Howard for Lonergan (46), Elaine Kelly for Morrissey (52).
Referee: Stephen McNulty (Wicklow).