Leacy goals fire Wexford to emotional victory
Wexford 2-7, Cork 1-8 A brace of brilliantly-taken goals from Una Leacy in the first quarter, coupled with a magnificent defensive performance throughout, proved the decisive factors as Wexford captured their first Gala All-Ireland Senior camogie championship title since 1975 with a two-point victory over a powerful Cork side amid a sea of emotion at Croke Park on Sunday after
Wexford 2-7, Cork 1-8 A brace of brilliantly-taken goals from Una Leacy in the first quarter, coupled with a magnificent defensive performance throughout, proved the decisive factors as Wexford captured their first Gala All-Ireland Senior camogie championship title since 1975 with a two-point victory over a powerful Cork side amid a sea of emotion at Croke Park on Sunday afternoon last.
When efficient match referee John Morrissey eventually opted to sound the final whistle after approximately six and a half minutes of injury-time, it sparked wild celebrations amongst the massive Slaneyside following in the 33,154 crowd at G.A.A. headquarters.
In marvellous scenes reminiscent of 1996 when the county claimed the Liam MacCarthy Cup, hundreds of Wexford fans streamed on to the pitch to greet their heroines after a truly fantastic win over the Leesiders, who were chasing their third All-Ireland title on the trot.
However, the much-vaunted Rebelettes were forced to succumb to a supremely hungry and more determined Wexford team on the day, as despite cutting the gap to the minimum midway through the second-half, they never really looked like breaking down the outstanding winners' rearguard.
And after a number of heartbreaking championship defeats to the likes of Cork and Tipperary in recent years, this All-Ireland success is just reward for a gifted and dedicated bunch of camogie players, plus a very professional and tactically astute management team, who were determined not to leave Croke Park without the O'Duffy Cup.
Nevertheless, given that it was Wexford's first All-Ireland final appearance since 1994, there was some concern that they might be over-awed by the big occasion, especially with so many young players on board.
However, it proved to be quite the opposite, as teenage assassin Una Leacy buried the ball in the Cork net in just the fourth minute to help settle any early nerves. And with the Wexford players chasing, tackling and hassling for every ball as if their lives depended on it, it was evident from an early stage that Cork were going to be in for a very tough afternoon. And when the excellent Leacy handpassed to the net in the 15th minute, Wexford were in dreamland at five points up (2-1 to 0-2), as Cork visibly struggled to penetrate their tenacious defence.
While scores were at a premium for the remainder of the half, it was still a gripping and hugely-entertaining encounter, with some excellent skills displayed by both teams, but particularly by the Wexford ladies.
They led by 2-2 to 0-3 at the turnaround, but a 37th-minute goal by Emer Dillon and some forceful play by team captain Gemma O'Connor helped to haul Cork back into contention. However, three unanswered points between the 53rd and 57th minutes put Wexford back in control, and they comfortably withstood some late pressure from Cork to claim a famous victory.
It would be difficult to single out Wexford's best performers as the entire starting 15, plus the three substitutes used, all contributed hugely to their fully-deserved victory. Mags D'Arcy was confident and assured between the posts, while she was protected by an outstanding full-back line of Noeleen Lambert, Catherine O'Loughlin and the most experienced member of the team, Avis Nolan. Mary Leacy played the captain's role to perfection, and was inspirational in the second-half when Cork threatened her team's lead. On the flanks, Deirdre Codd was excellent throughout, while Áine Codd toiled hard before being withdrawn early in the second-half.
Bróna Furlong and Caroline Murphy were up against a powerful Cork midfield pairing of Briege Corkery and Gemma O'Connor, who had their dominant spells, but the energetic Wexford duo more than matched them, and were full of running and hard work throughout. Wexford's most influential attackers were the excellent trio of Kate Kelly, Una Leacy and Ursula Jacob, who contributed 2-5 between them and were a constant threat to the Cork defence.
As ever, Rose-Marie Breen kept the ball moving at centre-forward and contributed a lovely point, while the two Michelles, O'Leary and Hearne, also took the fight to the Cork defence, despite not hitting the target. Two of Wexford's substitutes were also impressive when introduced early in the second-half, namely Aoife O'Connor and Katrina Parrock.
On a dull, but dry, September afternoon, Cork started brightly as Jennifer O'Leary pointed a first-minute free, while they also struck a brace of early wides.
However, in literally their first meaningful attack, Wexford had the ball in the net, as an Ursula Jacob delivery broke kindly inside for Una Leacy and she rattled it past Cork keeper Aoife Murray with considerable aplomb. Kate Kelly, who started at right corner-forward but constantly alternated positions with Leacy to great effect, tapped over a free, but Emer Dillon responded for the holders with a sixth-minute point (1-1 to 0-2). Cork could have reduced the gap but for some wayward shooting as they struck four wides in the first quarter, before Bróna Furlong - who lined out at midfield instead of right half-forward - registered Wexford's first miss in the 15th minute.
However, Deirdre Codd caught the resultant puckout and launched the ball downfield towards Una Leacy, who was firstly hooked by Amanda O'Regan as she cut in from the right corner.
However, the talented number 13 showed great composure to regain possession and handpass the ball just inside the far post to complete an ideal start for the Slaneysiders (2-1 to 0-2).
There were no further scores for over ten minutes, as a somewhat stunned Cork side tried hard to hit back, but with right corner-back Noeleen Lambert in particularly impressive form, they just couldn't break Wexford down. Having shot wide minutes earlier, Kate Kelly finally ended the scoring impasse in the 26th minute with a superb point from play to put her team into a six-point lead.
Under immense pressure from the Wexford defence, Cork continued to struggle with their shooting, as their first-half wides tally increased to seven, but highly-rated 18-year-old Orla Cotter did hit the target in the 29th minute.
While Kate Kelly had a rare bad miss at the other end, in the four minutes of first-half injury-time, Wexford defended stoutly to hold on to their five-point interval advantage (2-2 to 0-3), with Noeleen Lambert and Avis Nolan making another couple of vital interceptions.