Longford next up for Garden
Preview: Leinster IFC semi-final battle awaits
Wicklow's ladies footballers will again take to the field next Sunday at 2pm when they will do battle with Longford in the Leinster Ladies Intermediate Championship semi-final.
While the venue has not been confirmed as yet, the drama will be played out at a Longford venue. Longford will come into this semi-final without a competitive match since the national football league - they operated at the higher Division 3 but had a tough campaign throughout - so the advantage in this regard rests with Wicklow.
Wicklow have played their national football final against Louth at the start of May while they also played and defeated a strongly fancied Meath squad in Roundwood as recently as last Sunday week. These matches will surely stand to a Wicklow side whose improvement in 2018 has been remarkable. The Wicklow side is a finely balanced mix of youth and experience and it is a combination which has served the county so well this season.
Blessington's netminder Kim Connors has developed into a strong keeper while her defence, marshalled at full-back by Baltinglass's Sarah Jane Winder and by Sarah Hogan at the centre-back have been strong in all aspects of their defensive duties.
Lorna Fusciardi too has shown she has lost none of her steel and her companion in the half-back line, Alana Conroy from Bray, has shown a maturity beyond her years.
However, it is in midfield that I feel this match will hinge. If Sinead McGettigan, who is having her best season in the blue and gold of Wicklow, gets parity with Longford's talented Jacinta Brady then I feel that a base can be formed for a supply of ball to a forward division who are not over reliant on any one forward but rather have been working well as a unit.
In young Marie Kealy, Wicklow have a forward who has combined well with Meadhbh Deeney and Laura Hogan while the return of Claire Walsh has given a huge impetus to the squad.
The strength of the squad has been evident throughout the season and while it is a small squad it is laden with experience and talent.
This squad ethos was never more evident than in the quarter-final against Meath when it was the introduction of Kilbride's Walsh and the St Patrick's speedster Saoirse O'Reilly which eventually turned the tide in the Garden County's favour.
However, this Longford side are also not without their own match winners. Their terrible twin strike force of Sarah Tierney and Mairead Farrell will certainly test the Wicklow rearguard - as they did in last year's Lidl NFL Division 4 final.
Wicklow however would have been forewarned of their threat and would surely have made preparations for dealing with this dynamic duo.
Allied to their forward threat in Leanne Keegan, the Longford side possess a full-back of huge ability and she along with her fellow defenders will strive to contain Wicklow's forward unit while also providing the platform to drive Longford forward to victory.
Of course, a significant impact during all the Wicklow games thus far in 2018 has been the amazing support given to the Garden side. Hopefully this support will be gathered again this Sunday for what promises to be an eventful and exciting semi-final.
I feel that the benefit of the win over Meath, together with their unbeaten run in 2018 should stand to the Wicklow side and it is that run together with the fact that Wicklow had such a tough match against the Royals while Longford have been competitively inactive for a period of time that may be the difference in a match between two sides who have always served up tight competitive games over the past few seasons.
The Wicklow management of Mick O'Rourke, Mick Kavanagh, Emer Miley and Caitriona McKeon will certainly leave no stone unturned in their endeavours to guide their team towards a Leinster final and in that we should lend all the support possible to ensure that the atmosphere is as electric as it was for their recent matches against Louth and Meath.