Women on way back to Aviva
Soccer, FAI Senior Cup Semi-final: Wexford Youths 4 Galway WFC 2
Wexford Youths are heading back to the Aviva Stadium after seeing off Galway in the FAI Women's Senior Cup semi-final in Ferrycarrig Park on Saturday.
Desperate to take something tangible from an otherwise disappointing campaign, the hosts dominated this game and probably should have won with even more comfort than they did.
Tom Elmes threw a curveball with his formation, with Ireland's newest heroine Rianna Jarrett joined up front by Lauren Kelly.
It helped Wexford have a greater impact in the attacking third, and they constantly looked like breaking through the Galway rearguard.
There were still mistakes, like the blunder that allowed Galway to take the lead, but Wexford played with a natural comfort, working the ball into wide areas where the wingers were often joined by Jarrett, who seemed to be everywhere.
There's absolutely no doubt that Youths are playing better in the latter months of the season than they did at any point in the first half of the campaign. The speed of thought is in sync with the pace they want to play at, and those whose form was an issue previously are peaking now.
They will go into the final as bookies' underdogs, whether they face Shelbourne or Peamount, who meet in the other semi-final tomorrow (Wednesday) night. In reality, Wexford are a match for either in this form.
This was Galway's biggest game of the season. They know they can nab a point here or there against the big sides, but at the moment they aren't realistic title contenders. To get some silverware, this cup is a clear aim and they would have fancied their chances on their trip to the south-east.
McKenna Davidson came into the Wexford side for her first start since picking up an injury in the Champions League, while Fiona Ryan dropped to the bench in the only Youths change from the side that obliterated DLR Waves in their previous outing.
The opening 15 minutes were a little nervy. Wexford were dominating possession and probing but just trying to find their feet when calamity struck. Lynn Craven threw the ball back to Nicola Sinnott in acres of space and she too looked backwards.
Orlaith Conlon received her pass and went back to Maeve Williams and it was all very casual, however, Williams shanked the clearance and Aoife Thompson nipped in, rounded the Wexford stopper and side-footed to the net.
Yet even at that stage it felt like a game Wexford could fully control, take their time and work their way back into it. There was no sense of impatience and a mere seven minutes later they equalised.
Craven's cross to the centre was controlled but not struck cleanly by Jarrett. The ball deflected into the path of Davidson, and the Hawaiian slotted a composed finish past Abbey Ronayne to the Galway net.
Four minutes later Youths led. Lauren Kelly knocked the ball out to the left wing for Davidson, and she measured her left-footed cross to the near post where Jarrett arrived to poke home.
Jarrett was involved in the 36th minute when Wexford went close again. She drifted out to the right and pulled the ball back to Aisling Frawley.
The winger combined with Kylie Murphy, who released Kelly on the left, but her caressed shot clanked down off the crossbar.
Murphy sent Jarrett away in the 39th minute, and on her left foot the striker stutter-stepped and flashed a low shot just wide of the near post.
Just before the break a Ciara Rossiter free picked out Kelly eight yards from goal, but her thunderous volley collided with the crossbar again as it stayed 2-1 at the interval.
It looked to be more of the same when Jarrett nipped in on an under-hit back-pass in the 46th minute. Her initial effort came back off the crossbar, but it was third time lucky for Youths as the Irish attacker tapped in the rebound.
Jarrett turned provider for Frawley in the 49th minute but she sliced her shot wide of the right post.
Referee Claire Purcell, who made too many errors for it to be considered a decent officiating performance, failed to play advantage when Davidson was in on goal three minutes later.
Instead she pulled play back for a handball, and Jarrett hit the wall with her free-kick. Having given that one, the referee was in a poor position when the ball cannoned off an outstretched arm from a Davidson shot in the 54th minute and didn't award the penalty.
It felt like a complete stroll for Wexford at this stage, but Galway broke after that non-penalty decision, and won a corner which Sinéad Donovan crossed into the box. As the hosts floundered to clear, Aoife Thompson nipped in to score her second.
Despite getting right back into the contest, not once in the final 34 minutes did the visitors ever look like creating a chance to potentially find an equaliser. Instead it was Wexford making and missing opportunities at the other end.
Murphy volleyed over from Jarrett's pull-back in the 56th minute, while Edel Kennedy was next to miss the target when Lauren Kelly's corner landed at her feet.
Aisling Frawley cut in from the left wing with 13 minutes to go and brought a solid save out of Ronayne.
A Rossiter corner dribbled across the box for Lauren Dwyer to slice wide in the 80th minute, but Wexford did finally get their clincher when Jarrett was hacked down gliding into the box.
Assistant referee Patrick O'Connor gave the clear penalty while the head official again floundered, and Murphy stepped up to slot it home.
Jarrett was slow to get up after the tackle and soon came off with what appeared to be a dead leg. There was no way back for Galway in the few minutes that remained as Wexford Youths booked their spot in the decider.
While everything will now be geared towards putting in the best possible performance in the cup final on November 3, Wexford still have to finish out their league campaign before going for gold.
That starts tomorrow (Wednesday) with a trip down to Midleton to face Cork City. Youths visit Shelbourne on Sunday afternoon with the tasty prospect of ending their WNL title hopes, and they round out the league season with a home game against Kilkenny six days later.
Wexford Youths: Maeve Williams; Lynn Craven, Nicola Sinnott, Orlaith Conlon, Ciara Rossiter; Aisling Frawley, Edel Kennedy, Kylie Murphy (capt.), McKenna Davidson; Rianna Jarrett, Lauren Kelly. Subs. - Lauren Dwyer for Davidson (73), Vanessa Ogbonna for Jarrett, inj. (85), Becky Cassin for Rossiter (90), also Ciamh Dollard, Blessing Kingsley, Fiona Ryan, Aoife Slattery.
Galway WFC: Abbey Ronayne; Therese Kinnevey, Shauna Fox, Keara Cormican (capt.), Méabh De Búrca; Sinéad Donovan; Chloe Singleton, Sadhbh Doyle, Tessa Mullins; McKenna Doyle, Aoife Thompson. Subs. - Rachel Baynes for Kinnevey (55), Ailbhe Clancy for Donovan (73), also Tina Hughes, Aoife Walsh, Lynsey McKey, Leah Brady, Ria McPhilbin.
Referee: Claire Purcell (Waterford).