Jacob heroics seal Wexford fightback
WEXFORD proved why they are camogie's new queens by pulling off a magnificent All-Ireland double in Croke Park yesterday.
It was the Slaneysiders' first senior two-in-a-row since the Swinging Sixties and their intermediate victory completed a double that only Cork have previously achieved.
Yet only a late flurry and some spectacular heroics from their 'Captain Fantastic' Ursula Jacob, who scored their last 1-3, kept their senior crown intact.
Galway had them on the back foot for a good 45 minutes and Wexford really needed to show the true character of champions to dig out this third title since 2007 and, by doing so, confirmed themselves beyond question as the game's new superpower.
The Tribeswomen were inconsolable afterwards, many of them still sobbing as they left the pitch, and no wonder.
It wasn't just that they'd lost their 14th senior final and a second in a row, by just two points again, to Wexford.
It was how they had dominated the defending champions for so long but couldn't kick on and apply the killer blow.
With just one senior title (1996) to their name, Galway camogie has suffered some horrendous heartbreak in Croke Park.
But this, surely, was the worst, especially for veterans like Therese Maher, who put in a magnificent player of the match stint at centre-back yet still suffered what was her fifth All-Ireland final loss.
Noel Finn's gutsy side had done the unthinkable by stopping Wexford from scoring from play for 38 minutes and, after trailing by two at half-time, had quickly gone three points clear after the restart.
They were still three clear with 10 minutes left after Jacob (free) and excellent substitute Orla Kilkenny traded points.
But Galway, fatally, also missed three great scoring opportunities around the end of the third quarter; Brenda Hanney dropped a shot short, Aislinn Connolly missed from 25 metres and no one was there to pounce when Tara Ruttledge had a shot off the upright.
Wexford, smelling blood, finally bared their teeth.
A full 52 minutes had elapsed when their midfielder Josie Dwyer lobbed in a testing diagonal ball from the left wing and Jacob rattled the net to swing the game their way.
"I wouldn't be known for my aerial ability!" the full-forward chuckled afterwards. "A high ball came across the square and I just said I'm going for this, because I knew we weren't going to get many chances.
"I just remember putting my hand up, turning on my left-hand side and shooting and thankfully it went in."
Jacob's superwoman act didn't end with just levelling matters.
Five minutes later, she coolly popped over a 25-metre free to edge them ahead. Then, when hard-working Kate Kelly found her wide on the right wing a full 88 seconds into injury time, she swung over a magnificent long-range insurance point.
A daughter of Mick and sister of current Wexford seniors Rory and Mick, she continued a magnificent family tradition yesterday and as soon as the final whistle sounded bolted for the dugout to find her sister, Helena, who was goalkeeper for the intermediates and also a sub with the seniors.
"The intermediates lost last year which was real heartache so their win gave us a great boost beforehand," she said. "We got the news through the dressing-room and it really spurred us on. This is probably the best day ever in Wexford camogie history."
Things looked particularly grim initially for Galway when they conceded a penalty just three minutes after throw-in, which Una Leacy dispatched without blinking.
But then they largely outfought, outfielded and out-thought the champions for the rest of the half, with Niamh Kilkenny and Ann Marie Starr completely dominating midfield and Maher and Heather Cooney leading a brilliant half-back line.
Wexford led at half-time (1-2 to 0-3) but didn't score from play until a Josie Dwyer point in the 39th minute.
Galway shot seven costly wides by the break but still looked sharper and hungrier and re-started in similar vein.
Noreen Coen and Tara Ruttledge quickly levelled it and they went three clear after 36 minutes when the latter got on the end of a long Niamh Kilkenny free to goal.
But, like all true champions, JJ Doyle's side simply refused to yield.
Fiona Kavanagh came off the bench to strengthen midfield, Kelly and Katrina Parrock dropped deep to help out, Mary and Una Leacy won some vital ball and somehow they found the will and the scores to get themselves across the line, noticeably not striking any wides in the second half.
To lose a fifth final since '96 may prove too much for some of Galway's long-time servants to stomach but their side certainly didn't want for skill, bottle or effort yesterday.
"It's really hard to take," said dejected losing manager Noel Finn.
"All of our backs played really well but things just didn't happen for our forwards.
"Other days we put up big tallies but when we went a goal up we missed chances. We really tested their character but instead of going four or five points up we didn't, they came back down, got a point and a goal and then it was game-ball."
Scorers -- Wexford: U Jacob 1-5 (4f), U Leacy 1-0 (pen), J Dwyer, L Holohan 0-1 each. Galway: T Ruttledge 1-1, A Connolly 0-2 (1f), N Kilkenny, N Coen, M Conroy, V Curtin, O Kilkenny 0-1 each.
WEXFORD -- M Darcy 8; C O'Connor 6, C O'Loughlin 7, K Atkinson 6; N Lambert 6, M Leacy 7, A O'Connor 7; D Codd 5, J Dwyer 7; K Kelly 7, U Leacy 6, M O'Leary 5; L Holohan 7, U Jacob 9, K Parrock 7. Subs: F Kavanagh 8 for Dwyer (54), E Quigley 6 for Holohan (56), C Storey 6 for Atkinson (62).
GALWAY -- S Earner 9; T Manton 7, S Cahalan 6, L Ryan 8 ; AM Hayes 7, T Maher 9, H Cooney 8; N Kilkenny 8, AM Starr 9; A Connolly 8, M Conroy 6, N Coen 7; T Ruttledge 7, B Hanney (capt) 6, V Curtin 6. Subs: O Kilkenny 8 for Curtin (38).
Ref -- M O'Kelly (Cork)