Tuesday 16 July 2019

Magic from Minors

Wexford 2-13 Kilkenny 1-9

The Wexford squad get acquainted with the trophy after their victory in Banagher, Co. Offaly, on Sunday
The Wexford squad get acquainted with the trophy after their victory in Banagher, Co. Offaly, on Sunday

Dean Goodison

Wexford claimed the Leinster Minor camogie championship crown in Banagher, Co. Offaly, on Sunday, beating old foes Kilkenny in a typically frenzied tussle.

It was the first time the Slaneysiders have taken this title since 2014 and was a satisfying way to end a year for a side which probably played their best camogie on the hard summer ground.

As well as being a nice confidence booster for these girls going forward, it was also important for management - Neil Cullen, Cathal Darcy and Bernie Mahon - to get some silverware under their belts after strong back-to-back seasons with first the Under-16s and now the Minors.

This success was only possible after Wexford saw off Dublin in their provincial semi-final five days earlier. The hero on that occasion was Anais Curran with a smashing personal haul of 1-11 in a 2-12 to 1-8 success, and the Oulart-The Ballagh clubwoman was on song again in this contest.

However, the 'player of the game' award went to Ciara O'Connor and there could be no argument with that choice. In an age group where fluctuations in form are common-place, the St. Martin's youngster continually bucks that trend with consistent excellent performances.

As well as O'Connor played, she needed help and it came from all around the middle third of the field.

It's fair to say that Wexford won most areas on the pitch but their strength from Laura Doran at five all through the half-back line, into midfield and though the half-forward line, was absolutely critical.

The fact that Kilkenny rarely looked like getting in for a goal is also a credit to those further back. If you concede just two goals in two games at this level you are going to be in every game you play and that comes back to dogged, unwavering defending.

Curran and Katie Smyth, scorer of the other goal against Dublin, both notched early points as Wexford settled faster. Craanford youngster Smyth could have netted for the second game running in the fifth minute, but Elizabeth Phelan made a classy save.

After Kate Kirwan pointed, Wexford did get the major their early quality deserved. Amy O'Leary, who might have played her best game for her county at corner-forward, fed the ball across goal and Lettie Whelan arrived on cue to pull home from 15 metres out.

Smyth almost added a second when her shot was fumbled towards the line but Phelan recovered to clear. After Kilkenny responded with a couple of points, Curran notched her second dead-ball to make it 1-4 to 0-2.

Kilkenny had a little purple patch at the start of the second quarter and closed to within two after Steffi Fitzgerald opened her account. However, Curran flighted over two late frees and it was enough to leave her side 1-6 to 0-6 up at the break.

After scoring 1-3 without reply inside seven first-half minutes, one might have expected Kilkenny to heed that warning. However, Wexford took just one minute more to rack up the same score and it was simply about managing the game thereafter.

Curran grabbed the first two of those, both coming after fouls on O'Leary. Then the Rathnure clubwoman got the perfect reward for her performance when her pulled effort from O'Connor's ball in beat Phelan and squirmed over the line.

Kilkenny never ever completely go away and Emma Bergin made sure the tempo continued to be through the roof when she crept one inside the post after fine build-up play involving Fitzgerald and the dangerous Caoimhe Dowling (2-9 to 1-6).

The runners-up went on to score three more points but every time they pulled the game within five Wexford responded. Whelan, Smyth and Curran pointed to counter scores at the other end by Eimear Farrell, Fitzgerald and Shauna Tracey.

With the game in added time and Kilkenny getting no closer, Lettie Whelan put the seal on her, and several of her team-mates', under-age career with Wexford camogie with the clinching free from midfield, a score that was shortly followed by joyous, winning Wexford squeals.

Wexford: Gráinne McCabe; Elaine Quigley, Anna Hennessy (capt.), Aisling Halligan; Laura Doran, Ailis Neville, Alannah Davis; Megan Cullen, Kate Kirwan (0-1); Ciara O'Connor, Lettie Whelan (1-2, 0-1 free), Anais Curran (0-8 frees); Katie Smyth (0-2), Lauren Murphy, Amy O'Leary (1-0). Subs. - Ciara Bridges for O'Leary (57), Doireann Cullen for Doran (60), Ciara Banville for Murphy (60+3), also Lara O'Shea, Ciara O'Carroll, Mollie Somers, Eimear O'Connor, Sarah Harding-Kenny, Ciara Walsh, Amy Cahill.

Kilkenny: Elizabeth Phelan; Caoimhe Kelly, Maria Brennan, Eve Lacey; Jane Cass, Caroline Kennedy, Eimear Leahy; Aoife Doyle (0-1), Lisa Donnelly; Steffi Fitzgerald (0-2), Caoimhe Dowling (0-3, 2 frees), Ruth Kent (0-1); Afton Grace, Eimear Farrell (capt., 0-1), Emma Bergin (1-0). Subs. - Shauna Tracey (0-1) for Donnelly (55), Marie Beth Kirby for Kelly (60).

Referee: John Dermody (Westmeath).

Gorey Guardian