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Monday 16 September 2019

Dream was real for brief spell

Women's Champions League Qualifying Group: Ajax (Netherlands) 4 Wexford Youths 1

Orlaith Conlon hurdles over Lina Salmi of Ajax in Seaview, Belfast, on Tuesday
Orlaith Conlon hurdles over Lina Salmi of Ajax in Seaview, Belfast, on Tuesday

Dean Goodison in Belfast

For two marvellous minutes the improbable was suddenly possible. When Rianna Jarrett connected perfectly with Emma Hansberry's left wing free-kick, guiding her header with impeccable placement into the top corner of the Ajax net, Wexford Youths were ahead and in dreamland.

It simply shouldn't be possible. This was an amateur team, training two nights a week - the second of which can't be too heavy as it's often the evening before game day - leading against a professional European football institution in the biggest competition in the women's club game.

As Jarrett wheeled away and set off sprinting in the general area of the Wexford bench at Seaview, Belfast, on Tuesday, faces contorted with a disbelieving euphoria followed in unison.

They were all having their own moment but at the same time, as the black sea closed in on provider Hansberry, they were never more together.

It's those seconds that make all the sacrifices that go with playing in the Women's National League worthwhile. It's that fleeting feeling of everything being possible, nothing being out of reach. It's a high that can not be artificially replicated.

In reality, the moment was too big for Wexford Youths to handle. Reaching that state of euphoria, there's only one way to go and it's down.

Even had the Ferrycarrig Park side held on to produce one of the UEFA Women's Champions League's biggest-ever shocks, it would have been incredible, but those few seconds would still have been the pinnacle.

The goal scattered Wexford minds more than it damaged their opponents. Ajax came back and quickly equalised through Kay-Lee de Sanders.

They eventually ran out 4-1 winners and they are probably destined to make the knockout stages.

They were the victors, nothing is going to change that, but they didn't have the moments that Wexford experienced. Nothing that happens for Ajax in this qualifying group will match those few seconds the Youths players lived and that, in itself, is something to be thankful for.

That said, Wexford would of course give that feeling back for a place in the next round. They went out with that aim but in the end, the gulf between a professional club and a team of gutsy amateurs was as large as one would imagine it should be.

This was Youths' first loss of the season but there's nothing those women didn't give to prevent it from happening. Picking holes in the performance is complete folly when you're not comparing like for like, as it's clearly a different game when you are playing it every day.

However, in any defeat there are learning opportunities and there is one big thing for Wexford to take away from this game. In fact, it is something that happened when the result was already beyond doubt.

With 72 minutes on the clock, Aisling Frawley hit the ground hard by the touchline and was immediately banging her fist against the astro turf.

The right thing for Ajax to do was put the ball out of play, but they didn't. They attacked, it broke down and Wexford scrambled it away, but they attacked again and scored with a long-range Liza van der Most strike. Frawley was on the floor the whole time.

It was as unsporting a passage of football as you are ever likely to see in a sport that likes to push its 'fair play' nonsense. Ajax were classless in how they dealt with it and they should be embarrassed by the whole situation, but it's Wexford that need to learn from it.

Ajax would not have scored had Claire O'Riordan still been with Youths, as she would have sorted out the situation using any means necessary, long before they had the chance to get that shot away.

Wexford need someone to take over that mantle. The goal in this game matters little in the grand scheme of things, it was just embarrassing for the Dutch club, but it highlights an area in which Youths are now lacking.

With at least three games against Shelbourne, and two against Peamount, still to come in all competitions, probably more, they need an enforcer to step up soon. Not everything will go to plan as the season draws to a conclusion and someone has to fill O'Riordan's boots.

They need someone put their foot in, open their mouth to roar at a referee, someone to take a yellow card if and when it's necessary. It's not a role that sits comfortably with everyone, but someone like Lauren Dwyer has the assets and right temperament to step up to the plate, a future captain in the making.

The Carlow native, along with her fellow defenders, looked the picture of composure as Ajax dominated possession but found Wexford a difficult nut to crack in the first-half.

In fact, despite all their possession, it was Hansberry who nearly caught Marinke Ubachs off her line with a bouncing lob in the twelfth minute.

The Dutch side did start to work Ciamh Dollard as the half wore on. The Wexford 'keeper easily held van der Most's shot, came out to smother with Marthe Munsterman attempting to break through, and narrowed the angle when Ellen Jansen fired into the side-netting.

A quick Hansberry free-kick down the right released Nicola Sinnott but her cross was clutched by Ubachs with Jarrett lurking.

Then, two minutes before the break, Katrina Parrock was pulled back on the edge of the box, and Hansberry took the free-kick but ballooned it over the crossbar.

Having been fairly comfortable containing a slick Ajax before the break, Wexford took just seconds to go in front after the resumption. Parrock won the free-kick on the left that Hansberry placed onto Jarrett's head, and her connection couldn't have been more pure.

The equaliser came two minutes later when Munsterman's corner collided with Kay-Lee de Sanders' shoulder and looped over Katrina Parrock and into the net at the deserted back post.

Another Hansberry free-kick was just missed by Jarrett, Parrock and Edel Kennedy all attacking it at the back post in the 50th minute.

Soon after Ajax were ahead when Soraya Verhoeve crossed for Ellen Jansen to glance an uncontested header past Dollard.

Ajax now controlled everything as Wexford struggled to maintain belief. Verhoeve crushed the crossbar with a rocket from the edge of the box before a fizzed Line Roddik cross-cum-shot from the wing clipped the top of the metalwork on the way over.

Lois Oudemast turned in Verhoeve's low cross to make it 3-1 in the 67th minute before calls of 'put it out' presumably got lost in translation as van der Most chipped Dollard.

Wexford did battle away and half-threatened from a couple of set-pieces with Jarrett's aerial ability.

When Lauren Dwyer's long free fell to her on the edge of the area, substitute McKenna Davidson fired wide as Wexford's last chance to get a goal back came and went. Youths had two full days off before returning to action against Thor/KA on Friday.

Wexford Youths: Ciamh Dollard; Nicola Sinnott, Lauren Dwyer, Orlaith Conlon, Doireann Fahey; Edel Kennedy, Kylie Murphy (capt.); Aisling Frawley, Emma Hansberry, Katrina Parrock; Rianna Jarrett. Subs. - Becky Conroy for Parrock (60), Orla Casey for Murphy (70), McKenna Davidson for Frawley (80), also Sophie Lenehan, Ciara Delaney, Becky Cassin, Aoife Slattery.

Ajax: Marinke Ubachs; Liza van der Most, Kay-Lee de Sanders, Line Roddik, Kika van Es; Marthe Munsterman, Kelly Zeeman, Lois Oudemast (capt.); Soraya Verhoeve, Ellen Jansen, Vanity Lewerissa. Subs. - Eshly Bakker for Lewerissa (60), Lina Salmi for Oudemast (70), Kirsten Van de Westeringh (81), also Aukje Van Seijst, Linda Bakker, Vita van der Linden, Nikita Tromp.

Referee: Maria Marotta (Italy).

Wexford People