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Despair and desolation greet Wexford’s latest Croke Park defeat

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Wexford’s Ciara Banville is heavily outnumbered by Laois trio Amy Potts, Ellen Healy and Clodagh Dunne.

Wexford’s Ciara Banville is heavily outnumbered by Laois trio Amy Potts, Ellen Healy and Clodagh Dunne.

The Wexford squad prior to their second successive TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate final defeat in Croke Park on Sunday.

The Wexford squad prior to their second successive TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate final defeat in Croke Park on Sunday.

Dejection after the game for Clara Donnelly and Emma Tomkins.

Dejection after the game for Clara Donnelly and Emma Tomkins.

Full-back Aisling Halligan is consoled by goalkeeper Mary Rose Kelly after the game.

Full-back Aisling Halligan is consoled by goalkeeper Mary Rose Kelly after the game.

Mo Nerney of Laois taking on Wexford wing-back Orlagh Kehoe.

Mo Nerney of Laois taking on Wexford wing-back Orlagh Kehoe.

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Wexford’s Ciara Banville is heavily outnumbered by Laois trio Amy Potts, Ellen Healy and Clodagh Dunne.

wexfordpeople

LAOIS 1-13 WEXFORD 1-11

UTTER DESPAIR, complete desolation and bewilderment were the emotions as Wexford lost the TG4 ladies’ football All-Ireland Intermediate championship final against Laois in Croke Park on Sunday.

The first two pretty much some up the emotions of everyone involved with this Wexford team, from backroom through to players. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, 2021 was supposed to be banished. You can only feel for everyone involved, after giving so much.

But the scars are racking up and the desperate performances in big games are becoming more common. That’s four finals in a row lost by this team in eleven months, seven of the last nine since going up to Intermediate.

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Three of the last four were completely down to wretched performances, for some or all of the game. While Wexford need to embrace that history and deal with their mental frailties, let’s just look at this performance on its own.

The first-half was eerily similar to last year’s disastrous loss to Westmeath. Laois came out buzzing around whereas Wexford were a step off, sitting back and waiting for things to happen while their opponents made them happen.

Almost everything about the first-half performance sucked but it all emanated from the kick-outs. Joint-manager Lizzy Kent played it down a little after but Wexford could have managed the first-half in third gear and not been in such a hole had they held their own from kick-outs.

They went long repeatedly and they did it from early in the game. This had to be a tactic Wexford wanted to employ, to keep pressure off their full-back line against a press, but they only served to feed a growing Laois momentum and it was an unmitigated disaster.

It smacked of a serious concern around their own kick-outs, a lack of confidence in execution, and that fed into the whole performance, one wracked with self-doubt. As disastrous as it was, Laois still left Wexford right in the game into the second quarter because of some horrific shooting.

But when Wexford did get out of their own half they displayed more of the 2021 tendencies in attack – looping suicidal handpasses to nobody, kicking the ball more in hope than design, and some terrible decision-making around the goal.

However bad Laois were at shooting the ball – put that aside for a minute – Wexford should be winning a game when their opponents score just 1-13. There were so many aspects of their attacking play that were out of kilter with the norm in the first-half that one wonders how it can go so wrong.

Indeed, one could argue that it wasn’t all that great until the last 15 minutes when Wexford did show the type of football they played in the last eight for most of the game, and they also played in the semis for most of the game, but disappeared again in a national final.

Where did it disappear to? When the capability to play a certain way is in the locker but a team can’t produce it when the pressure is on, that is a mental problem.

That’s not a manager problem – Kent tried to shift blame to herself afterwards – it’s not a talent problem, it’s a headspace problem and you can only rectify such an issue by embracing it.

Wexford have a problem with pressure and they have look for solutions.

Will it be with Kent and John Nolan at the helm? Who knows, not even Kent from talking to her afterwards.

But Wexford need to keep this set-up together and work on these issues together. This is not the time for change.

Wexford are best suited to progress to the next level with Kent and Nolan at the helm and it would be prudent to tie them down for a couple of seasons and not have this question popping up every year.

There’s so much to like about how Wexford have progressed in the last year. Things were dire when Kent took over last summer but they genuinely are capable of playing a brand and quality of football to compete at the lower end of Senior.

Naturally they have players nearing the latter years at this level. There has been regression from a few of the older players this season and one wonders how long they have left, but Aoife Cullen and Emma Tomkins came on to great effect here and they simply need to be playing more.

There are 20-odd women good enough to contribute at this level. The challenge is to blend the right ones together and to progress the others, the likes of Róisín Hughes and Leah Furlong who came into the championship panel in the summer.

The start was bad as Eva Galvin put Laois ahead in the first minute, but it could have been worse two minutes later when Erone Fitzpatrick flashed across goal and off the outside of the post.

A nervous-looking Ciara Banville was blocked out in Wexford’s first attack and Laois did add a second point through Laura Marie Maher in the fifth minute.

Clara Donnelly should have done much better than a slash over the bar when Caitríona Murray put her in on Eimear Barry in the sixth minute.

With Wexford floundering on kick-outs, Laois hit four wides in a row before Mo Nerney made it 0-3 to 0-1 after 13 minutes. Two more wides followed before Wexford broke and Murray flashed over to make it 0-3 to 0-2.

It was an almost unbelievable scoreline, given the shape of the game, but Wexford didn’t learn their lesson. They needed someone to go down for a few minutes so they could regroup but Laois just kept coming.

Nerney scored a free and Laois won the resulting kick-out, worked it in and Nerney fired low past Mary Rose Kelly. Wides at both ends were followed by Sherene Hamilon handpassing onto the crossbar from eight yards out.

Murray did pull one back before more Laois wides surrounded another successful Nerney free (1-6 to 0-3).

Critically, Wexford still would have been in a reasonable position but they conceded three points in two minutes to end the half, from Erone Fitzpatrick (two) and Emma Lawlor, and they were costly scores.

Aoife Cullen came on at the start of the second-half and after Fitzpatrick made the lead a game-high ten, the Gusserane woman pointed. Kellie Kearney added another before Bernie Breen made it 1-10 to 0-6 after 37 minutes.

Cullen dribbled a soft shot wide when cutting in on the right before Anna Healy slowed the building momentum with a point.

Aisling Murphy had her chance to goal in the 40th minute but smashed the ball straight at Eimear Barry when the placed finish would have been the prudent option.

Murray clattered the bar from a 20-metre free one minute later as Wexford’s luck remained out. Murphy was drifting further and further outfield to try to get involved but after Breen and Nerney exchanged points, the full-forward did kick a lovely point to make it 1-12 to 0-8 at the end of the third quarter.

Wexford spurned a big moment in the 48th minute when Kellie Kearney kicked over with Murray free to her left and Banville darting away in the middle. Goals were needed and it was a great chance to get one with Laois stretched. That point was cancelled out by Nernay a minute later but Laois looked to be struggling at this stage and were in hang-on mode. Murray missed a second close-range free in the 50th minute when it was blocked.

Wexford were given further life when Aisling Donoher was sin-binned for ploughing through Emma Tomkins. Kearney clipped another point off the deficit before Donnelly wasted a chance in front of goal after being found by Tomkins.

Ciara Banville was next to see a shot blocked as Laois threw everything in front of the ball. The goal Wexford need early only came in the 59th minute when Murphy hared through, fed Murray and she smashed in off the post.

Wexford got the ball back and won a free 20 metres out. Needing a goal, somehow Murray wasn’t given the message to go for it, rather than kicking a nothing point.

The Slaneysiders were never going to get the ball back in time to score again and it pretty much summed up their game management from the off. The players don’t get much time to dwell on this disappointment, as they head back to their clubs for the start of their championship this Wednesday and Thursday, which will probably be a nice distraction in the circumstances.

Wexford: Mary Rose Kelly (St. Fintan’s); Shauna Murphy (Shelmalier), Aisling Halligan (Clonard/Volunteers), Orlagh Kehoe (Baile Dubh Tíre); Clara Donnelly (Shelmalier, 0-1), Róisín Murphy (Shelmalier, capt.), Sarah Harding-Kenny (Shelmalier); Kellie Kearney (Shelmalier, 0-3), Ciara Banville (Taghmon-Camross); Ellen O’Brien (Adamstown), Bernie Breen (Baile Dubh Tíre, 0-2), Sherene Hamilton (Ballygarrett-Réalt na Mara); Amy Wilson (Castletown), Aisling Murphy (Gusserane, 0-1), Caitríona Murray (Clonee, 1-3, 0-1 free). Subs. - Aoife Cullen (Gusserane, 0-1) for Hamilton (31), Chloe Foxe (Clongeen) for Wilson (41), Amy Walsh (Blackwater) for Harding-Kenny (43), Emma Tomkins (Clonee) for O’Brien (45), also Sarah Merrigan (Kilanerin), Cathy O’Brien (Adamstown), Anne Byrne (Clonee), Ciara Neville (Shelmalier), Niamh Cloke-Rochford (Ballyhogue), Fiona Bennett (St. Anne’s), Leanne Moore (St. Anne’s), Ailis Neville (Shelmalier), Tara Doyle (Ballygarrett-Réalt na Mara), Róisín Hughes (Kilanerin), Leah Furlong (Adamstown).

Laois: Eimear Barry; Clodagh Dunne, Aisling Donoher, Aimee Kelly (capt.); Rachel Williams, Ellen Healy, Amy Potts; Anna Healy (0-1), Jane Moore; Eva Galvin (0-1), Laura Marie Maher (0-1), Erone Fitzpatrick (0-3); Mo Nerney (1-5, 0-4 frees), Emma Lawlor (0-2), Sarah Anne Fitzgerald. Subs. - Joyce Dunne for Potts (40), Shifra Havill for Fitzgerald (45), Anna Moore for Dunne, temp. (54-55), Moore for Galvin (57).

Referee: Siobhán Coyle (Donegal).


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