U-19s in glory bid
Soccer: Wexford to take on M.G.L. in decider
A thrilling 4-3 away win over close rivals Limerick via a Niamh Millar opener and a hat-trick from captain Fiona Ryan has led to the Wexford League's Under-19 girls creating history by reaching an historic FAI national final.
They will meet Dublin's M.G.L. in the decider at the Arklow Town ground on Sunday, April 14, with the preparations for the big game being handled by Mick Bennett (manager), Mike Raftery (assistant manager), Amy Cleary (coach) and Barry Dempsey (co-ordinator).
'This is the inaugural FAI national Under-19 competition which has been introduced since the changes to age groups,' Bennett explained.
The Wexford League's Under-13 and Under-15 teams now compete nationally in the Gaynor Cup tournament by way of regional leagues, with the finals being held in the University of Limerick in June.
The Under-17s are now streamed into the National League clubs (as in our own Wexford Youths), and the Under-19s have now replaced the previous Under-18 stage.
Because of the 'gap' created by this change, the Under-19 competition gives an opportunity for girls to compete at higher levels for longer and to access coaching at UEFA standards.
'We are all very excited to be at the forefront of the new competition and have had to overcome traditionally strong soccer counties such as Cork and Limerick in order to reach the final with the Metropolitan Girls' League who, in the past, have dominated most of the age groups,' Bennett added.
Girls from a wide variety of clubs in the Wexford Women's League featured in the 4-3 away win to qualify for the first-ever final.
They were under tremendous pressure for the first 20 minutes as Limerick started quickly and pressed hard for an opener, having a couple of good opportunities as Wexford took time to find their feet.
On 25 minutes though, Niamh Millar put pressure on the Limerick centre-back as she tried to bring out a short goal kick and forced her to play back to the goalkeeper who had moved out of position. It was a goal against the run of play but it took some of the pressure off.
The lead lasted no more than two minutes as Limerick were gifted an equaliser but, by this time, the Wexford girls had started to come into the game more and began to penetrate more deeply into the Limerick half.
A tactical switch of wingers saw Fiona Ryan coming in from the right to receive a pass with her back to goal and swing around to get the ball on to her now famous left foot. There was only one place this fire-cracker was going to go as it flew past the despairing Limerick goalkeeper to establish a 2-1 lead at half-time.
The second-half started brightly as Wexford once again attacked with width and Fiona Ryan, with a second unstoppable shot, gave them a 3-1 lead but, once again, Limerick had their own long-range specialist who sent a super shot in to reduce arrears.
Wexford were playing really good pass and move soccer by this stage and, as Jasmine Martin found space on the left, she played a ball into the path of Katie Murphy whose first-time cross high towards the far post was trapped superbly by the oncoming Fiona Ryan who instinctively curled the ball around the goalkeeper and into the opposite corner to complete a superb hat-trick and a 4-2 lead.
The game opened up from here as tiredness set in, but the defensive unit of Chloe Moynihan, Gemma Corrigan and Sarah Walsh (Amy Lawlor in the second-half) suffocated most of the attempted plays and were expertly organised by goalkeeper Gráinne McCabe who made a number of key saves and interception throughout.
The midfield unit of Britney Conroy and Niamh Brown were hard working and creative and were complemented later on by the introduction of Shauna Redmond and Alannah Anglim who continued with Wexford's signature bite and creativity.
Chloe Mythen provided the cover between midfield and defence and coolly dealt with any loose ball with deft touches to always re-launch the forward transition.
Cramp was becoming an issue for a number of players as they entered the final few minutes, and Limerick pulled back another one after a lot of pressure to make it 4-3.
A number of injuries and stoppages meant nine minutes of extra-time had to be endured and either side might have secured another goal but the whistle, mercifully, finally sounded.