Ladies lose out to lethal Laois outfit
Laois 2-13 Wicklow 0-13
The Wicklow ladies came up against a well-oiled and clinical Laois machine last weekend in the Leinster Intermediate football final in Netwatch Cullen Park.
Mick O'Rourke's side will be gutted to have lost out to the O'Moore County side but can hold their heads high after an 11-game winning streak and a league title in the bag in 2018.
That may not have been a source of much consolation for the Garden County side in the immediate aftermath of this defeat on the scorched sod of Netwatch Cullen Park before a reasonable travelling support.
Moral victories or patronising slaps in the back are not part of the Wicklow ladies psyche and they will know that their own errors, missed chances and the failure to rise to the occasion for the entire clash are as much to blame for the loss as the very impressive Laois play that cut the Wicklow midfield and defence to shreds not to mention their tight-marking defence that thwarted attack after attack.
In the end, it was Laois' goals that separated the sides. You could also say it was Wicklow's failure to score goals that separated the sides and there wouldn't be much argument to the contrary.
Wicklow had their chances, they also had a foot block not called in the first half and a few other decisions that went against them but sometimes that's the difference when you come up against a team that has competed at a higher level; those small breaks go against you, there's not as much time on the ball, small errors are punished ruthlessly, everything moves quicker.
A good start would have helped ease Wicklow into this game. Despite an attack from the off that promised just such a start, Mick O'Rourke's side went wide from an early free and Laois launched a stunning attack in the next move that saw Emma Lawlor fire home past Kim Connors in the Wicklow goal for the worst possible beginning they could have imagined.
To their immense credit, Wicklow rallied after the early concession of the goal and went on to draw level through three points, the first from Amy Murphy, the second from a free from Meadhbh Deeney after a foul on Marie Kealy and the third from the Baltinglass attacker who had started the game like a train. Game on. Or so we thought.
Laois scored the next six points on the trot as they totally dominated the middle third. They would score 2-10 from play, Wicklow would manage seven points as the Garden County attack struggled with a debilitating Laois defence marshalled by the wily Mags McEvoy at six, Jenny McEvoy at full-back and the outstanding half-back pairing of Amy Potts and Anna Healy.
The real damage to the Wicklow cause was inflicted by the excellent Clare Conlon at centre half-forward and the ruthless Laura Nerney at midfield.
Like a conductor, Conlon pulled the strings of the Laois attack, fired devastating ball after devastating ball into the full-forward line and generally tormented Wicklow over the course of the hour. Nerney caused havoc for the Wicklow players around the middle third and covered every single blade of burnt grass in Netwatch Cullen Park not to mention the healthy blades on those few weirdly shaped circles of green at either end.
Three unhelpful wides in a row from Wicklow (two from frees) saw us reach the 20th minute of the opening half and the reality of the difference between a Division 4 side and a Division 2 outfit was abundantly obvious. Wicklow needed to be reaching beyond the heights they hit against Meath to stand any chance of causing a monumental upset. Unfortunately, they never scaled those heights in Netwatch Cullen Park.
Wicklow were creating scoring chances and Meadhbh Deeney's shot for goal looked to have been thwarted by a foot block from Fiona Kelly but referee Des McEnery from Westmeath didn't agree and the chance of a penalty was gone.
Laura Hogan swung over a fine score with eight left in the first half to make it 1-6 to 0-4 but Laois galloped to the break with two sweet scores from Conlon and Erone Fitzpatrick.
As the first half began, so did the second. A Wicklow attack harvested a wide while Laois broke down the field and rattled the back of Kim Connors' net for what was a devastating blow to the Garden County side.
They followed that with a point from Emma Lawlor but threei rapid-fre white flags from Wicklow off the boots of Deeney (two frees) and Jackie Kinch from play brought Wicklow back into the game at 2-9 to 0-7 behind.
Into the action came Claire Walsh and Saoirse O'Reilly. Could they make the impact that they did in Roundwood in the Meath game? Only time would tell.
Both women brought a fresh energy to the side and O'Reilly was key for Jackie Kinch's second point immediately after a Meadhbh Deeney score from play to leave Wicklow trailing by 2-10 to 0-9.
From here on in it was tit for tat with Wicklow really bringing the game to Laois, but each time Wicklow expened huge energy into engineering a score Laois could rampage down the field and fire over with what looked like consummate ease.
Credit to Mick O'Rourke and the management team, they tried various things including sending sarah Miley into the edge of the square to try and create and score those goals Wiklow eeded to salvage something from the game but the Laois defence was outstanding and they refused to budge.
Wicklow bagged nine points to Laois' 1-5 in the second half but they will not find any comfort in such a stat.
In the white heat of battle in the opening half, when the destiny of the Leinster title was being forged, they were found wanting against a superior foe on the day.
That is the standard to which they must aim, and beyond. And given the progress made and the ability and talent within the group, that is a standard that is very reachable for this tight-knit group of footballers.
Wicklow face the daunting task of travelling to meet Tyrone in the All-Ireland Intermediate Championship Round 1, Group 2 on the weekend of July 14/15.
A final word for Blessington's Kim Connors, what a game the Wicklow netminder had. Outstanding!
Scorers - Laois: Emma Lawlor 1-3, Meaghan Dunne 1-0 Erone Fitzpatrick 0-2, Clare Conlon 0-5 (0-1 frees), Ciara Burke 0-2.
Wicklow: Amy Murphy 0-1, Meadhbh Deeney 0-3 (3f), Marie Kealy 0-1, Laura Hogan 0-3 (0-2), Jackie Kinch 0-1, Laurie Ahern 0-1, Rose Fagan 0-1
Laois: Fiona Kelly; Ciara Hughes, Jenny McEvoy, Alison McEvoy; Amy Potts; Mags McEvoy; Anna Healy; Jane Moore, Laura Nerney; Erone Fitzpatrick, Clare Conlon, Caoimhe Simms; Emma Lawlor, Ciara Burke (Sarsfields), Meaghan Dunne. Subs: Eva Galvin for A McEvoy (10 mins, injury. A McEvoy returned second-half) , Eva Galvin for J Moore (43 minutes), Mary Cotter for Ciara Hughes (53 minutes), Conlon for Maggie Murphy (54th minute)
Wicklow: Kim Connors; Emily Mulhall, Sarah-Jane Winder, Aoife Gillen; Alanna Conroy, Sarah Hogan, Lorna Fusciardi; Niamh McGettigan, Sarah Miley; Meadhbh Deeney, Jackie Kinch, Laurie Ahern; Marie Kealy, Laura Hogan, Amy Murphy. Subs: Claire Walsh for Aoife Gillen (41 minutes), Saoirse O'Reilly for S Miley (41 minutes), Niamh McGettigan for Marie Kealy (56th minute)
Referee: Des McEnery (Westmeath)