Wexford's day of glory
CROKE Park stewards found themselves in the unusual position of pleading with players, not fans, to vacate the pitch yesterday after Wexford sabotaged Cork's three in-a-row hopes to win their fourth Gala All-Ireland senior camogie title.
After ending a 32-year drought and toppling the old order, the 'Girls of Wexford' simply didn't want to leave, and their equally joyous fans amongst the 33,154 crowd weren't going anywhere until their heroines left.
With so much tight marking and ground tussles, it wasn't the prettiest decider but, that mattered little to Wexford, who were back in their first final for 13 years.
Manufacturers may be producing pink camogie helmets nowadays, but there was nothing delicate or girly about this famous victory.
Tough, fit female hurlers were needed to harry and hassle a loaded Cork side appearing in their seventh final in eight years, and Stellah Sinnott's side managed to produce exactly that, led by Brona Furlong, Rose-Marie Breen, Noeleen Lambert and a particularly inspirational centre-back in their captain, Mary Leacy.
After a dream two-goal start, they led by five points at half-time, but memories of the League Final, when Cork made a 12-point turnaround to pip them, loomed large.
Just three minutes before they were due to go back out, their management left the players alone and Leacy's speech to her team, apparently, was a goose-bump raiser.
Her younger sister Una had already played a massive part with two goals.
Ursula Jacob handily set her up for the first after just three minutes, but she did all the work for the second, hand-passing to the net after 16 minutes to continue a marvellous family tradition, as their mum (Margaret O'Leary) is a three-time All-Ireland winner.
The big question was whether Wexford could keep up the phenomenal work-rate that had managed to contain the usually imperious Rebelettes to just three points (2-2 to 0-3) at the break.
Furlong, showing all her athletic prowess -- she's a 400m hurler with London 2012 Olympic aspirations -- roamed tirelessly in midfield to contain Briege Corkery and release Kate Kelly to wing-forward duty.
But Cork had already wasted lots of chances (seven wides), and the threat that Emer Dillon posed to Avis Nolan was proven seven minutes after the re-start, when she goaled.
With Cork captain Gemma O'Connor having an inspirational second-half (0-3 from play) they quickly cut the deficit to a mere point. Then came a potential turning point, when Una Leacy went goal-chasing again -- instead of taking a steadying point -- and Caitriona Foley got in a vital block.
Minutes later, the pendulum swung again when a long O'Connor free yielded a goal chance for Una O'Donoghue, but Nolan, heroically, scrambled it off the line.
As Cork coach Fiona O'Driscoll noted: "If we had drawn level or gone a point ahead they might have panicked a little, but we never got level and they didn't."
A rattled Cork never sparkled and, after weathering that tough third-quarter storm, Wexford got their second wind and sailed for home.
Kate Kelly, Ursula Jacob and teen super-sub Katrina Parrock scored without reply to go four clear yet Cork, particularly their corner-backs, still continued to battle on heroically. Orla Cotter, who was by then at centre-forward, forced a great save from Mags Darcy at the start of the four minutes of injury-time that, agonisingly, was extended by over two more in Wexford's painful countdown to victory.
For once, Cork met a hungrier side than themselves, and four of Wexford's starters will be back in a fortnight chasing a 'double' in the intermediate football final.
Player of the Match: Mary Leacy (Wexford).
Scorers: Wexford: U Leacy 2-0, K Kelly 0-3 (1f), U Jacob 0-2, R Breen and K Parrock 0-1 each. Cork: E Dillon 1-1, G O'Connor 0-3, B Corkery, A Walsh and O Cotter 0-1 each, J O'Leary 0-1 (f).
Teams and Ratings.
WEXFORD: M Darcy 8; N Lambert 9, C O'Loughlin 8, A Nolan 7; A Codd 6, M Leacy (Capt) 9, D Codd 7; B Furlong 8, C Murphy 7; K Kelly 6, RM Breen 9, M O'Leary 7; U Leacy 8, M Hearne 7, U Jacob 7. Subs -- A O'Connor 7 for A Codd (35 mins), K Parrock 8 for O'Leary (42), C O'Connor for Nolan (66).
CORK: A Murray 7; J O'Callaghan 8, C Foley 8, A O'Regan 6; R Buckley 6, M O'Connor 6, A Geary 8; B Corkery 6, G O'Connor (Capt) 9; U O'Donoghue 6, A Walsh 6, J O'Leary 6; E Dillon 7, O Cotter 7, S Burns 6. Subs - E Watson 7 for O'Donoghue (52 mins), S O'Donovan for Walsh (56).
Referee: J Morrissey (Tipperary).