Wexford ladies out of contention after lack-lustre performance leads to clearcut Kildare win

Aisling Halligan, seen here up against Longford's Elle Lynn, was the victim of a harsh sin-binning.

Dean GoodisonWexford People

Kildare 1-10 Wexford 0-6

WEXFORD CRASHED out of contention for the Lidl Ladies’ National Football League Division 3 title with a lack-lustre performance against hosts Kildare in Hawkfield on Sunday.

Lizzy Kent’s side went into the game knowing they would advance to the title decider if they avoided defeat, but they were vulnerable to falling on score difference should they not get the job done.

Meanwhile, Kildare were in a much more comfortable position, with only an outrageous set of results likely to wipe out their final spot. As it turned out, the Lilywhites looked like the outfit in dire need of a result while Wexford played like a scared team.

Scared of the circumstances maybe but the main fear seemed to be of Kildare, who physically dominated the visitors to a worrying extent. Perhaps past experiences have chastened Wexford, but the fear appeared to start from management and worked down.

This was the most defensive set-up we’ve ever seen under Lizzy Kent. Some of that came down to the fact that Wexford found it very difficult to work the ball down the field successfully and were constantly left defending with excessive numbers.

They couldn’t hit the quick-counter, the handpassing was poor, while the kick-passing was more hopeful than done with any intent. Maybe some of those failings can be hidden when Aisling Murphy is in the team, but without her the Slaneysiders couldn’t find a consistent out-ball.

Caitríona Murray was the one that did win her individual battles more often than not, but Kildare usually had extra numbers in attendance and the Clonee forward continually lacked support. In the end Wexford couldn’t stem the tide of turnovers and there’s absolutely no doubt they were second best.

Whether it was the ultra-cautious approach and defensive team selection that worked its way into the psyche of the players or the recent experiences against Kildare, one way or the other, on the field Wexford played tightly and with little to no freedom.

Players that have enjoyed really good league performances disappeared into the mess of turnovers and, rather than a well-drilled team that knew what each other was doing, the whole performance reeked of a scattergun approach.

This time there doesn’t seem to be an easy fix, certainly not for this nemesis. Wexford will still be physically inferior to Kildare when they meet in the Leinster championship in mid-May, but one suspects that both sides will already be assured of a semi-final spot, as they should both account for Carlow and Longford beforehand.

That gives Lizzy Kent a chance to try something different, to have a better gameplan. Wexford will have to embrace their shortcomings, not get bullied, mentally and physically, and attack Kildare with more belief. They can absolutely be the better footballing side but only if they believe it themselves.

Here Wexford played with the wind in the opening half but were only ahead once, at 0-1 to nil after Caoilfhionn Ní Núalláin’s third-minute free for a foul on Sarah Harding-Kenny. Even with the breeze it felt like Wexford were just clinging on.

The hosts hit back immediately with a nice point from their captain Grace Clifford, and they went ahead through Neasa Dooley in the eighth minute.

Aoife Cullen assisted a Amy Walsh minor off her left foot in the eleventh minute, and The Harrow native added a second with an even better strike moments after Leanne Moore had saved Ellen Dowling’s shot over the crossbar.

Walsh was one of the few that didn’t look intimidated by the opposition, but even she would drift deeper as the game progressed and Wexford managed just one more score from play in the remaining 40 minutes.

Aoife Rattigan made it 0-4 to 0-3 in the 27th minute, and Wexford were dealt a blow when Aisling Halligan was sin-binned just before half-time for a fairly tame yellow card offence, certainly taking into account some of the physical stuff referee Paul McCaughey allowed Kildare to inflict.

A foul on Murray resulted in a successful Ní Núalláin free on the stroke of half time (0-4 each). Wexford took their second and final lead of the contest in the 32nd minute through Ciara Banville, but it proved to be their last score from play and their second-last point of the game.

Kildare ended the ten-minute sin-bin advantage 0-6 to 0-5 ahead after two Róisín Byrne points, and the hosts’ hot-shot added another in the 42nd minute. Given the pattern of the game, it’s hard to say any of the substitutions made a massive amount of sense.

The first saw Emma Tomkins introduced. Wexford probably wanted a fresh ball-carrier and someone that could run at Kildare, but the Clonee player spent more time in her own half and that couldn’t have been the desired result.

Chloe Foxe came on for Ní Núalláin, and she saw very little ball, just like the woman she replaced. Aobhe Manley was introduced for Karen Tomkins in a like-for-like swap, while throwing Leah Furlong into the lion’s den felt a little harsh on the Adamstown girl but she got stuck in and had a few positive carries.

Meanwhile, Kildare were busy dominating and building an advantage. Dooley made it a three-point lead before the decisive moment arrived in the 50th minute when Moore fumbled the forward’s dropping point attempt into the goalmouth.

Ciara Price pounced on it and was adjudged to have been fouled by the Wexford ‘keeper after a long McCaughey consultation with his umpires.

Dooley converted the rebound from the spot-kick, after it came back off the bar, to all-but end Wexford hopes. Murray did knock over a free after she was fouled, but goals were needed by now.

Kildare wrapped up their spot in the final with points from Byrne and Dowling, making light work of Lauren Burke’s 58th-minute yellow.

The Slaneysiders were eliminated on score difference after Clare beat Longford by 7-15 to 2-3 to make the decider, while Down defeated Louth (2-10 to 1-9).

Overall there were good moments in this campaign and they need to be built on going forward. Kent also got to blood a lot of new players, and some blended in well to form a decent mix with those of a more seasoned nature.

Wexford will go into the championships now as underdogs for both Leinster and the All-Ireland, but they are one of a very small group of teams actually capable of winning both.

That needs to be drilled into all of this squad by the time we see them again on April 30 against Longford.

Wexford: Leanne Moore (St. Anne’s); Aisling Halligan (Clonard/Volunteers), Shauna Murphy (Shelmalier), Katie English (Adamstown); Orlagh Kehoe (Baile Dubh Tíre), Róisín Murphy (Shelmalier), Karen Tomkins (Clonee); Aoife Cullen (Gusserane), Ciara Banville (Taghmon-Camross, 0-1); Róisín Hughes (Kilanerin), Clara Donnelly (Shelmalier), Amy Walsh (Blackwater, 0-2); Sarah Harding-Kenny (Shelmalier), Caitríona Murray (Clonee, 0-1 free), Caoilfhionn Ní Núalláin (Ballygarrett-Réalt na Mara, 0-2 frees). Subs. - Emma Tomkins (Clonee) for Cullen (42), Aobhe Manley (Shelmalier) for K. Tomkins (50), Chloe Foxe (Clongeen) for Ní Núalláin (50), Leah Furlong (Adamstown) for Hughes (55).

Kildare: Mary Hulgraine; Lauren Burke, Laoise Lenehan, Aoife Clifford; Lara Gilbert, Ruth Sargent, Gráinne Kenneally; Grace Clifford (capt., 0-1), Aoife Rattigan (0-1); Claire Sullivan, Róisín Byrne (0-4, 3 frees), Trina Duggan; Ellen Dowling (0-2), Neasa Dooley (1-2), Lara Curran. Subs. - Sarah Munnelly for A. Clifford (21), Ciara Price for Sullivan (31), Róisín Forde for Curran (55).

Referee: Paul McCaughley (Westmeath).