Clare await Garden County in All-Ireland final on August 3
The wonderful Wicklow Minors will take on Clare in the ZuCar All-Ireland Minor ‘C’ football championship final on August 3 after they put Leitrim to the sword in Ashbourne on Wednesday evening.
The Banner County got the better of Armagh in Longford in the other last-four battle at the same time, comfortably seeing off the Orchard by 5-5 to 0-12 and setting up what will hopefully be a memorable occasion at a venue to be confirmed.
Some improvement is needed in certain sectors ahead of that decider for the Garden County side with the defence exposed to the lethal threat of Leitrim attacker Hannah Clancy who bagged 4-5 over the course of this game, while a sobering wide count of 22 (three goal chances) from Dominic Leech’s talented side will have to be addressed.
But as been said many times over the years, semi-finals have to be won whatever way possible, the how is largely irrelevant, getting to the final is all that matters, and team captain Emily Rose O’Toole and her colleagues were still very impressive in parts as they put 4-17 past their opponents in front of a really supportive Wicklow support at the Co. Meath venue.
This was one of those game where despite one team being significantly stronger in most areas of the field, that difference in quality didn’t show on the scoreboard for much of the game, but a massive positive for Wicklow to take was that they created the chances they missed and on another evening, hopefully the evening of August 3, those few inches here and there and those couple of feet to the wrong side of an upright won’t be a feature of the game.
Key to this victory was Wicklow’s half-forward line. They were simply superb. Aobha Harmon, Laci Jane Shannon and Siofra Adams are three of the most selfless, skilful, hard-working young footballers you’re likely to see on any team. All three are effortlessly at ease when running hard at defences and all three will work back and defend with all their might. They finished with eight points of the total tally of 4-17, six of them from the ruthlessly reliable boot of Tinahely’s Harmon who is a joy to watch.
Full-forward Sadhbh Fisher, while not her usual commanding self, still finished with 1-9 and drove Wicklow to a safe position after the break by scoring six points as Leitrim struggled to contain the Garden County side.
A cheeky little breeze was always going to be a feature of this game. There’s a definite sense of a slight fall towards the scoreboard end in the Ashbourne venue and Leitrim had that and the breeze in the first half. This enabled them to launch long balls from midfield into a vast open space between Wicklow’s full-back line and goalkeeper Sophie Lacey. Collecting the ball for Leitrim on the majority of occasions was Hannah Clancy, and the Dromahair player was lethal with ball in hand.
Realistically, though, the game should have been almost out of Leitrim’s reach by the time Clancy grabbed her first major after 12 minutes. By that time, Wicklow led 2-3 to 0-1 with goals from An Tóchar’s Abby Magee and Blessington’s Fisher along with points from Fisher and two from the free-flowing Aobha Harmon.
But Wicklow also spurned three goal chances in that time with Harmon, Magee and Siofra Adams all blazing wide after Wicklow had cut Leitrim apart with some superb running and passing as Lizzie Bourke and Eimear O’Sullivan were lording in around the middle.
Clancy’s opening goal was fortuitous as her poorly struck effort slipped through Sophie Lacey’s hands. There’s not a goalkeeper in the country who hasn’t had a similar moment or two, but the major seemed to lift Leitrim slightly and they started to get on more ball around the middle.
A long ball to Clancy saw her fairly collide with Lacey before firing home to the bottom corner with 14 gone.
Wicklow had a shot at goal blocked at the other end before Harmon got on the end of a sweet move to make it 2-4 to 2-0 after 15.
Dominic Leech introduced Holly Wright for Lacey after 17 while they had already made a defensive switch to counter the threat of Clancy.
Wicklow were still the stronger of the sides, however, with Harmon, Shannon, Adams, Bourke and O’Sullivan all rampaging up the field at will. It was the last pass or the shot selection at the end of the passing movement that left a lot to be desired at times.
For example, after another Aobha Harmon point after 17, Wicklow struck three wides on the trot before Sadhbh Fisher converted a class free after 23 to make it 2-6 to 2-1.
Another Fisher free was followed by two more wides and Leitrim finished strongly with two points, both serious goal chances if Clancy had decided to take on her marker, to leave it 2-7 to 2-5 at the break.
Wicklow had the wind and that slight fall in the second half, and they were never going to lose this game. Fisher, Siofra Adams and Aobha Harmon combined to make it 2-13 to 2-5 by the time Wicklow introduced Charlotte Nagle from Kilcoole and what a start she made to this game when collecting a Lizzie Bourke rocket that careered off the crossbar before finishing home superbly to the back of the Leitrim net.
Leitrim were trying to work the ball up the field to Clancy, but Ciara O’Brien, Emily Rose O’Toole and Grace Murphy were working hard to prevent this as were Zara Fennell, Orlaith Ní Ghallchobhair and substitute Emer Cullen.
She still scored 2-1 in that second half, the first goal a strike no goalkeeper would have stopped and the second coming after a fantastic Holly Wright save from the initial shot.
Nagle’s golden touch continued when she popped up brilliantly at the end of a sweeping Wicklow move to fire home her second goal from almost as many touches and with Fisher, Harmon and Adams all registering points Wicklow would run out convincing winners by 4-17 to 4-6 to set up a tantalising All-Ireland final clash with Clare on August 3.
Make no mistake about it, this was a fine victory by a very capable team who have several more gears available to them in terms of accuracy and tenacity.
Wicklow: Sophie Lacey (Newtown); Zara Fennell (AGB), Orlaith Ní Ghallchobhair (Blessington), Grainne Flynn (AGB); Grace Murphy (Kilcoole), Emily Rose O’Toole (Blessington), Ciara O’Brien (Tinahely); Lizzie Bourke (AGB), Eimear O’Sullivan (Tinahely); Aobha Harmon (0-6) (Tinahely), Laci Jane Shannon (Tinahely), Siofra Adams (0-2) (Baltinglass); Poppie Rose Cullen Dunne (Valleymount), Sadhbh Fisher (1-9, 6f) (Blessington), Abby Magee (1-0) (An Tóchar). Subs: Holly Wright (St Nicholas) for S Lacey (17), Emer Cullen for G Flynn (H/T), Charlotte Nagle (2-0) for P R Cullen Dunne (41), Hannah O’Shea (Barndarrig) for O Ní Ghallchobhair (53), Lia Arnold O’Reilly (Baltinglass) for S Fisher (58).
Leitrim: Lizzie O’Connell; Aoife Toner, Joeleen Clancy, Aoibhe McGrath; Rachel Dolan, Emma Honeyman, Millie Keane; Anna Devaney, Brigid O’Reilly; Kayla Maguire, Shona Wynne (0-1), Laoise McGirl; Hannah Clancy (4-5), Laura McGuire, Roisin Kelleher. Subs: Roisin Williams for L McGirl (58), Ava McMorrow for S Wynne (60).
Referee: Paul Burke (Louth)