Saturday 18 January 2020

Opportunity lost for Wexford

Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 2: Wexford 1-5 Clare 0-8

Wexford’s Niamh Mernagh is tracked by Clare’s Cliodhna Blake and Niamh O’Dea
Wexford’s Niamh Mernagh is tracked by Clare’s Cliodhna Blake and Niamh O’Dea

Dean Goodison

Draws are funny, how should one feel at the end? Good draws, bad draws, indifferent draws, in the grand scheme of things they all amount to the same result, one point each.

That's what Wexford left St Patrick's Park with on Sunday afternoon last, Clare were the visitors for this Lidl Ladies National Football League Division 2 tie and were probably marginally the happier.

The problem with draws in this league structure comes from the fact that three points are awarded for a win. That system devalues a draw and makes the difference between a kick of the ball here or there even more pronounced.

Anthony Masterson and Wexford will have to wait to discover if it was a good point or not. This would have been one he and his team circled as a possible victory in their quest to stay in the division and they looked on course, taking a lead in at the break after playing against a gale.

However, it probably turned into a better point after they largely withstood a Clare onslaught in the final twenty minutes. There were plenty of things that didn't go right for Wexford, their gutsy defensive effort was not one of them.

The moment that will frustrate Masterson the most, and visably did both when it happened and after the full-time whistle, was a situation in the lead-up to Grainne Nolan's equalising point in the 60th minute.

Fiona Rochford had just kicked Wexford ahead with their only score after the 37th minute and it ought to have given them something to hold on to. Clare immediately moved the ball forward but fumbled the ball and Bernie Breen looked set to pick up possession.

However, she was denied possession by a two-footed lunge that broke the ball free, set Clare on their way to a score and left Masterson apoplectic. You can have sympathy for referees in some instances but not here, Jonathan Murphy was looking right at it, he just made a blunder.

It was a yellow card offence too but Wexford did not use their extra player well previously when Ellie O'Gorman was sin-binned for a high tackle in the 39th minute. In fact, it was at this point that the hosts started to lose their way.

Clare had started the game with the wind and went into an early lead when Niamh O'Dea showed her quality with a second minute score. However, Wexford were relentless up to the twenty minute mark and smothered the life out of the visitors.

They also got a touch of good fortune. When Kellie Kearney's hopeful ball in was dropped by the Clare 'keeper in the 10th minute, Amy Wilson nipped in gathered possession, cut inside and drilled into the empty net.

She kicked a classy point in the 12th minute after Clara Donnelly started a move that involved Niamh Butler and a Maria Byrne assist. When Butler, who probably had her best game in a Wexford shirt, kicked another seconds later, her side led 1-2 to 0-1.

Those three scores, which spanned less than a three minute spell, were the grand total of the hosts first period salvo. O'Dea kicked two more for Clare and Nolan popped over a free-kick in added-time to leave the Munster side a point down at the change of ends (1-2 to 0-4).

Wexford started the second half like a team that had found a little confidence after talking a lead against the breeze. After Rochford missed a chance, Kellie Kearney popped over from more good work by Byrne.

Rochford made no mistake in the 37th minute to give the Slaneysiders a three point lead but things went flat in a hurry. Wexford looked a little lost between moving the ball quickly on the breeze and working it forward and in the end they did neither particularly well.

At times there seemed a reluctance to look for certain options with forward balls and Clare started to get the upper hand with just fourteen players. They outscored Wexford while a player light by 0-2 to nil.

Fidelma Marrinan got the first despite clipping the unfortunate Aoife Tormey's fingertips on the way by, O'Dea got into a pocket of space from Nolan's hand-pass and kicked the second to put a point between the sides (1-4 to 0-6).

When Nolan kicked a 52nd minute free, with her team back to full strength, Wexford looked in deep trouble. A break, for an injury to the experienced Mary Rose Kelly, was absolutely vital in giving her side a breather.

They regrouped and almost took the lead when Clara Donnelly sliced wide from 25 meters out in the 58th minute. However, Maria Byrne won possession back after the resulting kick-out, fed Rochford and she kicked Wexford back in front.

From then on, through almost eight minutes of added-time it was a struggle again for a shattered Wexford. Nolan popped over the point to level it after referee Murphy's blunder and Clare had the lion's share of possession thereafter.

Nolan did miss a very makeable free to win it but it would have been harsh on Wexford and they held on for the draw. With four draws in the first eight games in Division 2, there are clearly a lot of teams reasonably closely matched.

Wexford host Tyrone on Saturday week, the Ulster side have four points from a possible six and will be a formidable but beatable proposition. It will be Anthony Masterson's sides second last home game (Cavan), with three more away ties (Kerry, Laois and Armagh) remaining.

WEXFORD: Mary Rose Kelly; Aoife Tormey, Marica Cullen, Niamh Mernagh; Clara Donnelly, Shauna Murphy, Sarah Harding Kenny; Kellie Kearney (0-1, capt.), Bernie Breen; Niamh Butler (0-1), Fiona Rochford (0-2), Niamh Moore; Amy Wilson (1-1), Maria Byrne, Cailín Fitzpatrick. Subs. - Ailish Neville for Wilson (52), Tara Doyle for Fitzpatrick (52).

CLARE: Ciara Harvey; Áine Keane, Ellie O'Gorman, Grainne Harvey; Róisín Considine, Sarah Bohannon, Aisling Reidy; Eimear O'Connor, Róisín Looney; Caoimhe Harvey, Laurie Ryan (capt.), Tara Kelly; Fidelma Marrinan (0-1), Niamh O'Dea (0-4), Grainne Nolan (0-3, 2 frees). Subs. - Eimear Keane for O'Connor (37), Siofra Ní Chonnaill for Considine (42), Carol O'Leary for Marrinan (55), Keeva Corry for O'Dea, inj (60+7).

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