Wexford in seventh heaven as they breeze past Longford to set up crunch clash

Aisling Murphy of Wexford taking on Grace Shannon.

Caoilfhionn Ní Núalláin is closely policed by Maria Kelleher.

Katie English is first to the ball in this clash with Clodagh Lohan.

Clara Donnelly breaking away from Fumni Talaba of Longford.

thumbnail: Aisling Murphy of Wexford taking on Grace Shannon.
thumbnail: Caoilfhionn Ní Núalláin is closely policed by Maria Kelleher.
thumbnail: Katie English is first to the ball in this clash with Clodagh Lohan.
thumbnail: Clara Donnelly breaking away from Fumni Talaba of Longford.
Dean GoodisonWexford People

Wexford 7-8 Longford 1-3

It’s all set up for a grandstand finish in Division 3 of the Lidl Ladies’ National Football League after Wexford sauntered past Longford in Chadwicks Wexford Park on Sunday.

Lizzy Kent’s side came into the game knowing two wins would guarantee them a spot in the league final, and they achieved the first part of that aim with a routine success against a poor Longford outfit.

The tougher part of the equation faces Wexford on Sunday when they travel to Kildare, a team that the Slaneysiders couldn’t get a handle on in 2022. A win will see them into the final in top spot in the table, a draw would suffice for both teams, while a loss would bring others into the mix.

If either side wins on Sunday, second spot is highly likely to be a three-way tie and score difference will come into play. Given their +69 points difference, Kildare look fairly secure, but Wexford are certainly more vulnerable on +45.

That’s 23 points clear of Down and 25 better than Clare, but the Banner women travel to Longford on Sunday and certainly have the quality to win by a huge margin against a side that looked completely devoid of confidence in this fixture.

Indeed, Wexford may live to regret not pushing on in the final quarter. They got very sloppy after moving 7-5 to 1-1 ahead after 39 minutes, and those scores that were there for the taking could potentially be the difference in the end.

The only blot on the copybook in this campaign to date was the one-point loss to Down, and that game should be of critical importance going forward. While Wexford weren’t at their best that day, one feels that had it been played in almost anywhere other than St. Patrick’s Park they would have won.

The proof was in the pudding here as the wide-open field was just what Wexford needed to slice Longford to pieces. It wouldn’t have been this easy to pick them off in the Enniscorthy venue, and it just shows that the County Board have to be very careful when booking venues in the coming months.

Obviously, options aren’t limitless, but it’s a conversation that should be had with Lizzy Kent and her management team to ensure the surroundings are an actual home advantage and suitable for Wexford, depending on the opponent at the other end of the field.

Had Wexford even drawn that Down game they would now be preparing for a final, but they knew there was work to do here regardless and they went about it the right way.

Kent named a fairly experimental line-up, certainly different from what we have previously seen, but they had to tweak it before throw-in, with Shauna Murphy ruled out through injury.

With all due respect to her replacement, Róisín Hughes, who grew into a corner-back role that she wouldn’t be overly familiar with, Murphy and the vital experience she brings would be a massive loss against a potentially potent Kildare attack.

Aisling Halligan shifted across to full-back and was solid, but it was probably Katie English who caught the eye with an excellent display in the other corner, a showing that was easily her best of a very strong league campaign.

Kent was careful with youngster Karen Tomkins after she played 59 minutes for the Intermediate camogie side one day earlier, replacing her shortly after the interval.

Ciara Banville was back in midfield and was probably at her best of 2023 too, getting involved in most attacks as well as registering 2-1.

The make-up of the front six was interesting and one wonders what lies ahead on Sunday. Caitríona Murray moved back inside and looked threatening, and if anything it was Aisling Murphy dropping back to help out.

With Emma Tomkins lining out at half-forward, it ensured she and sister Karen started together for the first time in a Senior football jersey for their county.

The inclusion of Amy Walsh was arguably the biggest surprise but, having not seen much action in 2023, the former Wexford Youths woman was reasonably clean in her execution and she’s clearly an excellent athlete.

The hosts took a little time to settle in a wet Chadwicks Wexford Park and kicked some poor wides around their only score of the opening seven minutes, a Caitríona Murray point.

However, Aisling Murphy broke the seal on a barrage of scores when she dipped a powerful shot under Ruth Jones’ crossbar.

One minute later Wexford were in again. Emma Tomkins started it off, Murray and Murphy were involved, but it was Sarah Harding-Kenny, cutting right, then left, that applied the finishing touches to make it 2-1 to nil.

Having been of little threat up to the tenth minute, Longford got a goal from nothing when Ella O’Reilly’s point attempt came out of the sky and beat Leanne Moore on her line. They would later add a Clodagh Lohan point, but the goal was far from the start of anything.

Murray knocked over a free after Murphy was fouled to round out the opening quarter. Banville made it 2-3 to 1-0 before Harding-Kenny flashed across the face of goal with her left foot. A lovely, quick kick-pass move ended with Murphy’s point in the 23rd minute.

The outcome wasn’t out of sight yet, but Wexford made sure it was before the break. Murray ensured all three inside forwards had a goal in the opening period, and then Harding-Kenny got her second when reacting superbly to Banville’s effort that came down off the crossbar.

The Shelmalier clubwoman was heavily involved again in Wexford’s fifth, inter-changing with Murphy before releasing Banville to make it 5-4 to 1-1 at the interval.

Much like the first-half, the hosts were sloppy at the start of the second but did get their sixth goal in the 36th minute when Banville powered through the middle and rattled the roof of the net.

Amy Walsh got the point her performance deserved to make it 6-5 to 1-1. Caoilfhionn Ní Núalláin came on and made the biggest impact of the substitutions, and it was the Ballygarrett-Réalt na Mara youngster who scored Wexford’s seventh major after great work by Emma Tomkins and Harding-Kenny in the build-up.

From that point on Wexford eased off the gas and would only win the remainder of the game by 0-3 to 0-2. Some comically favourable refereeing also helped the visitors limit the damage at times, but Ní Núalláin did add two nice points to make it 7-7 to 1-1.

Kate Shannon knocked over two late points, including a dead-ball that should never have been given. As added-time continued, Chloe Foxe converted a free to round out the scoring and set up a mouth-watering clash against Kildare on Sunday.

Wexford: Leanne Moore (St. Anne’s); Róisín Hughes (Kilanerin), Aisling Halligan (Clonard/Volunteers), Katie English (Adamstown); Orlagh Kehoe (Baile Dubh Tíre), Róisín Murphy (Shelmalier, capt.), Karen Tomkins (Clonee); Aoife Cullen (Gusserane), Ciara Banville (Taghmon-Camross, 2-1); Amy Walsh (Blackwater, 0-1), Emma Tomkins (Clonee), Clara Donnelly (Shelmalier); Sarah Harding-Kenny (Shelmalier, 2-0), Aisling Murphy (Gusserane, 1-1), Caitríona Murray (Clonee, 1-2, 0-1 free). Subs. - Caoilfhionn Ní Núalláin (Ballygarrett-Réalt na Mara, 1-2) for K. Tomkins (38), Chloe Foxe (Clongeen, 0-1 free) for Harding-Kenny (45), Bébhínn McDonald (Kilanerin) for Murray (53), Ciara Roban (Baile Dubh Tíre) for A. Murphy (53), Niamh English (Adamstown) for Kehoe (60), Leah Furlong (Adamstown) for Banville (60), Aobhe Manley (Shelmalier) for Walsh (60).

Longford: Ruth Jones; Shauna McCormack, Emily Reilly, Emma Doris; Caoimhe McCormack, Maria Kelleher, Hannah Glennon; Grace Shannon (capt.), Fumni Talabi; Ella O’Reilly (1-0), Caoimhe Lohan, Katelyn McKeon; Clodagh Lohan (0-1), Elle Lynn, Kate Shannon (0-2, 1 free). Subs. - Grace Kenny for McCormack (38), Ella Duggan for Lynn (43), Teni Alaba for Reilly (48), Edel Sheedy for McKeon (54), Casey McNamara for O’Reilly (54).

Referee: Ciarán Groome (Offaly).