Cork City 4 Wexford Youths 1
Wexford Youths' unbeaten start to the season came to a shuddering halt with a disastrous second-half performance against Cork City in Bishopstown Stadium on Saturday.
The Ferrycarrig Park side dominated the first period, playing some of their best football of the season so far, but they couldn't convert their chances and were made to pay for it during a really poor second 45 minutes.
Youths set up with a similar system to their win over Peamount seven days earlier, with Orla Casey and Aisling Frawley coming into the team for Aoibhín Webb and the absent Emma Hansberry.
Laura Heffernan's side were afforded more time in possession than they have become accustomed to in recent weeks and they made good use of it, creating plenty of clear openings against a flimsy Cork rearguard.
Jess Gleeson looked up for the challenge of holding in midfield and performed as well as she has all season in the first-half. Another Youth playing out of position, Orla Casey, added a different dimension on the right and also had an impressive start to the clash.
The tone was set by the league leaders in the opening minute, with Gleeson bursting in to intercept. She took aim and fired from 40 yards out, a shot that warmed Cork 'keeper Amanda Budden's hands.
Moments later, after Becky Cassin was fouled on the right, Kylie Murphy curled in a free-kick that was glanced wide of the post by Claire O'Riordan. It was a sign of things to come for the Wexford striker.
However, it was Aisling Frawley missed the first great chance. Sent away by O'Riordan on the left, the Youths winger had just Budden to beat. Her shot was low and powerful but the Cork 'keeper got enough on it to keep it out.
More in her creative element, Frawley fed O'Riordan into the clear in the twelfth minute but the Limerick native fired across goal and wide with just Budden to beat. Kylie Murphy then tried to send Frawley away but the linesman's flag was quickly raised.
Wexford had a let-off in the 18th minute when Saoirse Noonan, alone inside the Youths penalty area, mis-controlled a defensive clearance from a Meghan Bourque corner. She did the same when picked out by Clare Shine's cross from the byline.
A beautifully weighted Orla Casey reverse pass found O'Riordan on the right but again she dragged her shot wide of Budden's goal. At the other end, Orlaith Conlon reacted quickly to rob Shine after she broke in on a long Ciara McNamara ball that flicked off a back-pedalling Nicola Sinnott.
Frustration was rising for the visitors when O'Riordan got away again and lofted over Budden, only to see her shot bounce up off the top of the post. Still, the goal did finally come four minutes before the break when O'Riordan slipped Murphy into the clear, and she rounded the Cork 'keeper and tapped into the empty net.
One up at the break, Wexford looked set to claim their fifth win of the season. However, it took just 19 second-half seconds for Cork to equalise and it was simply way too easy for Clare Shine to get to the byline untouched and cross for Saoirse Noonan to head in unchallenged.
It really kicked Cork into gear; suddenly the time Wexford had to boss the game in the centre of the field disappeared and it was back to the the same old story for the visitors. Creation almost ceased and O'Riordan had very little service.
Obviously the quality of Emma Hansberry was missed but that excuse might wash if Wexford's next-best passer of a football, Rachel Hutchinson, wasn't picking up splinters on the bench since being shifted out of the starting line-up earlier in the season.
Cork had to do very little to take the lead. A simple ball over the top by Danielle Burke sent Stacey Paul away. A non-factor in the opening half, the Cork attacking midfielder ran onto the ball and fired past Sophie Lenehan.
Casey, looking the worse for ware after recently returning from international duty with the Under-17s, was correctly withdrawn but Aoibhín Webb became another hexagonal-shaped peg in a round hole out on the right wing. It changed nothing.
In the 66th minute a Bourque corner from the right wing was met by a flying Shine foot eight yards from goal and it flew through a crowded six-yard box to the far corner of the net. Wexford did have a great chance to get back into the game when O'Riordan's ball fell to Frawley on the left of goal, but again Budden made the save with her feet.
Soon it was 4-1. After getting no joy attacking the right side of the Youths defence in the first-half, Shine paid more attention to the left after the break. She darted behind Jenny O'Keeffe, got her shot away unchallenged, and it beat Sophie Lenehan again.
It's almost painful to watch the young Wexford 'keeper berate herself after each mistake, and she's making a few, especially technically. It looks like she's trying so hard to do everything perfectly, that she's letting her brain get in the way of her undeniable talent. When it all clicks, and the game slows down, Lenehan is going to be a big asset for this side.
Usually an asset herself, O'Riordan was still having a day to forget at the other end. When Murphy's feed found her on the penalty spot with 13 minutes remaining, she sent a half-volley harmlessly over.
Wexford didn't create another chance of note until Chelsee Snell was flagged for offside, just before Murphy tuned her header into the net from close range in the final minute of normal time. It was left to The Ballagh's Nicola Sinnott to head the final opportunity wide from Gleeson's left wing cross in the 95th minute.
The loss leaves Wexford joint top with UCD Waves after the first third of the season, with Peamount just one point behind the duo. Youths do not have another league game until they visit Galway on June 24. In the meantime, Wexford head north to face Shelbourne in the League Cup quarter-final on Saturday week and follow it seven days later with a home game in the shield semi-final against UCD Waves.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Linda Douglas, Nicola Sinnott, Orlaith Conlon, Jenny O'Keeffe; Jess Gleeson; Orla Casey, Becky Cassin, Kylie Murphy (capt.), Aisling Frawley; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Aoibhín Webb for Casey (63), Chelsee Snell for O'Keeffe (73), also Ally O'Keeffe, Siobhán Doolan, Rachel Hutchinson, Amy Wilson, Emma Hansberry.
Cork City: Amanda Budden; Natalie O'Brien, Maggie Duncliffe, Ciara McNamara (capt.), Danielle Burke; Meghan Bourque, Evelyn Daly; Katie McCarthy, Stacey Paul, Saoirse Noonan; Clare Shine. Subs. - Danielle Sheehy for Paul (63), also Angie Carry, Ciara Desmond, Megan Kelleher, Eva Badana.
Referee: Sinéad Forde.