Friday 17 November 2017

No joy for Wicklow

Offaly 0-10 Wicklow 2-02

The Wicklow Junior camogie team who lost out to Offaly in the Leinster Junior final in Portlaoise on Sunday evening last
The Wicklow Junior camogie team who lost out to Offaly in the Leinster Junior final in Portlaoise on Sunday evening last

Brendan Lawrence at Portlaoise

Wicklow's hopes of retaining the Leinster Junior camogie crown were blown away by the wind and the rain and a lively Offaly outfit on a windswept field outside of Portlaoise on Sunday evening.

Played at the Portlaoise GAA grounds, which resembles the many centre of excellences that have sprung up around the country in recent years, the players and spectators were left completely open to the elements on the wide open and flat site.

It would appear to be nothing short of disrespectful to hold a Leinster final of any kind at a venue like this.

No offence meant to the Portlaoise GAA Club, the site is a superb amenity for the likes of training and development and games of a certain type, but to bring the very healthy crowd all the way from Wicklow and force them to stand in the spills of rain and the blustery wind is shocking.

Whatever about the fact that the first game was played in Birr, which would suggest that the replay should have been played in the Garden county, surely a better venue could have been found to give the fixture, the teams and the spectators (not to mention the media!) the credit and the comfort they deserve.

Such was the gusting wind on the wide open plain, the announcer's voice couldn't be heard on the field of play, which was a short walk from the dressing rooms (think the short term car park to the terminal in Dublin Airport and you wouldn't be too far off) and neither could the rendition of Amhrán na bhFiann.

The team news that greeted the arriving supporters from Wicklow was that Donard-The Glen's Mary O'Neill was unable to travel to the game and, in an adventurous tactical move, manager Brendan Phelan deployed full-back Aine O'Keeffe up to the edge of the Offaly square, sent Kellie Byrne back from centre-half back to full-back and introduced Sarah Forde on the 45.

It didn't take long for spectators to realise that the conditions mightn't be the worst thing in the world in terms of the Wicklow side given the passing and movement from the Offaly side in the opening stages of this game.

If anything, the horrid weather might be something of a help for the Garden county side although when it came to free taking and the likes it certainly took a toll and that price would be a costly one at the end.

Standing out early on for Offaly was half-forward Aoife Walsh, indeed, their half-forward line was sprightly as were their midfielders.

Wicklow were blown for overcarrying in the opening seconds and Offaly launched their first real attack moments later and it looked as though Nora O'Neill was about to clear but she was well hooked.

The ball was worked to Aoife Walsh on the sideline and her long ball was taken on the boss of Kellie Byrne's hurl but it hopped up too high and there was Mary Teehan and the referee adjudged that Kellie Byrne had fouled the Offaly number 9 and the Faithful side had their opening chance which Walsh banged over with aplomb.

Wicklow had the wind, as much as it could be had, for the opening half and they needed to build up something of a score by half-time. However, they met a fairly resolute Offaly defence with Ciara Ryan enjoying a right battle with Aine O'Keeffe in the opening half.

But Offaly were able to repel the Wicklow attacks over the course of the opening half hour and they did this through confident handling, competent hurling and fine support play and running through the middle into the face of that strong wind.

Good work from Aine O'Keeffe under pressure from Birr's Aoibhe Whelehan saw Erynn O'Brien pass to the waiting Laura Manley and the Glenealy woman fired over Wicklow's opener with six minutes on the clock.

Pressure from both defences was good in the early stages with Bernie Byrne, Lisa Hogan and Kellie Byrne performing superbly at one stage to prevent Offaly from scoring a goal after 12 minutes.

A wide from Sinead Byrne was followed by a Sarah Walsh point for Offaly and then Wicklow had two wides in an important period of the game where scores were vital.

The Wicklow women got a massive boost moments later though when a long ball from midfield was flicked on to Aine Byrne by the alert Kelly O'Neill and the Knockananna woman fired home to the back of the Offaly net to make it 1-01 to 0-02 and that was how it would stay until half-time with Wicklow chalking up two further wides before the break.

You felt that whatever team came out of the blocks the better after the restart would put themselves in a very strong position and Offaly, with that wind at their backs, enjoyed a lightening start.

Points from Aoife Walsh (after 20 seconds) and Louise Savage had them back level and two converted frees from Walsh pushed them ahead after 10 minutes of the second half as Wicklow struggled to contain the Faithful onslaught.

Wicklow had switched Kelly O'Neill with Aine O'Keeffe and the Donard-The Glen woman enjoyed a productive few moments on the edge of the Offaly square midway through the second half.

First, powerful defending from Wicklow saw the ball worked up the sideline in the spills of rain to Laura Manley who won possession thanks to the mammoth efforts of Sarah Byrne to win dirty ball. Manley fired a lovely ball to Laura Hogan who gathered under pressure and turned her marker superbly. The Knockananna camogie player rifled a ball in to Kelly O'Neill who took the ball and turned her marker before unleashing a rocket past Ellen Gilligan. It was wonderful stuff. The only problem was, Wicklow didn't play anywhere near enough of it over the course of the hour.

Kelly O'Neill added a point shortly afterwards to give Wicklow a two-point advantage but that was to be their last score of the game and Offaly finished stronger to give them a 0-10 to 2-02 victory in what was a fiercely disappointing defeat for the Wicklow side.

There's no time to dwell on the loss for Brendan Phelan's side. They face two home games in the All-Ireland championship in July with Westmeath and Dublin coming calling so they will need to be at their best when the play host of both of those outfits.

Scorers - Wicklow: Kelly O'Neill 1-01, Aine O'Keeffe 1-00, Laura Manley 0-01.

Offaly: Aoife Walsh 0-07 (4f), Louise Savage 0-02 (1f); Sarah Walsh 0-01.

Wicklow: Bernie Byrne; Shannagh Gotelen, Kellie Byrne, Clare Byrne; Lisa Hogan, Sarah Forde, Nora O'Neill; Laura Manley, Sile Whelan; Sinead Byrne, Kelly O'Neill, Sarah Byrne; Erynn O'Brien, Aine O'Keeffe, Laura Hogan. Subs: Clare Grace for S Forde; Aoife Weir for S Byrne; Denise Walsh for C Byrne; Ciara Byrne for C Grace.

Offaly: Ellen Gilligan; Aoibhe Whelehan, Ciara Ryan, Lisa Brady; Kelly Sammon, Una Kilmartin, Alana Roddy; Louise Savage, Mary Teehan; Aoife Walsh, Aoife McLoughlin, Sarah Walsh; Eadaoin Kilmartin, Rebecca Hoctor, Niamh Walsh.

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