Leinster joy as Wicklow beat Meath
Wicklow 2-17 Meath 2-15
What a game of football! Absolutely superb stuff from two capable teams with the game turning on the impact of two Wicklow substitutions that drove the Garden County side on to a sweet victory against the women of Meath in the Leinster Intermediate football championship in Roundwood last Sunday afternoon.
Writing off this Wicklow team is a very dangerous and downright stupid activity and it's about time it stopped happening because this is a massively talented group of footballers who are superbly coached, well managed and unbreakably united by the looks of things from the outside and it's anyone's guess as to where they will go from here given the potential within their ranks and the confidence oozing from their play.
First the tale of the tape. Meath travelled to Roundwood as reigning Leinster champions and having been defeated by Wexford in the Division 3 league final a number of weeks ago.
Wicklow awaited them as reigning Division 4 champions and with a beautiful unbeaten record to look after.
Wicklow manager Mick O'Rourke and team captain Sarah Hogan made reference to the fact that the league win would have given Wicklow momentum while the defeat would have had to affect Meath and both points are perfectly valid.
However, that shouldn't in any way dilute what was a momentous performance by this Wicklow team on a beautiful day in Roundwood.
Wicklow's work-rate, their hunger, their passion and their ability shone through against a formidable opponent. All over the field they had impressive operators.
It says a lot to a team when your goalkeeper is beaten twice by two rockets (one from a penalty) in the second half and still has the confidence to pull off a superb save and place some vital late kick-outs on to the chests of her colleagues when the pressure is on. Kim Connors did these things and more on Sunday.
Wicklow's full-back line were faced with an immense challenge over the course of the hour with Marion Farrelly, Stacey Grimes and Fiona O'Neill looking constantly dangerous and their return of 2-7 will attest to their abilities and allow Mick O'Rourke utilise the 'lots done, more to do' philosophy at training this week. They were also faced with the appropriately named Vikki Wall in the second half and curtailing the threat of this pure athlete was quite an achievement.
Emily Mulhall and Aoife Gillen were superb at times and Sarah-Jane Winder's by now traditional forays up north brought vital rewards for her team including an Amy Murphy point in the opening half.
Wicklow's half-back line got nothing easy in this game. Captain Sarah Hogan led by example, was always ready for a pass, always seeking to launch an attack, likewise with Alanna Conroy and Lorna Fusciardi with Conroy getting in a vital interception in the opening half and both women putting in serious shifts.
In the engine room, Niamh McGettigan and Sarah Miley worked like trojans. Perhaps the easiest way to reflect on their performances is to use the example of McGettigan's point in the second half. Having worked herself to the bone from the 45-meter line, the Pat's player looked to have squandered possession with a loose hand pass, but she gathered the breaking ball and charged down on the Meath goal, cut inside and lashed over the bar despite the close attentions of Meath's Kate Byrne. It summed up the performance of McGettigan and Miley for this reporter.
Meadhbh Deeney bagged four points in this game, three of them from exceptionally well-struck free-kicks from the ground. Add to that her amazingly selfless covering of ground to defend and attack and you have a serious contender for player of the match.
Her half-back colleague Laurie Ahern was immense and Jackie Kinch worked tirelessly all over the field and scored one of the finest points you'll see in any competition at any level in the opening half.
Marie Kealy was eager for possession until replaced by Claire Walsh and will offer plenty from corner-forward in whatever remains of this wonderful season.
Laura Hogan is a superb target for the Wicklow suppliers and can win plenty of dirty ball. Returned 1-3 on Sunday, her goal a pure peach in the opening half. The Tinahely woman is a vital cog in the Wicklow attack as is her corner-forward colleague Amy Murphy who fired over three points and looked threatening throughout.
That leaves the two substitutions. Kilbride's Claire Walsh entered the fray after 40 minutes with the sides level at 1-11 to Wicklow, 2-8 to Meath, and the Royals very much on the front foot having blasted home from a penalty and rattled the back of Kim Connors' net from the boot of Marion Farrelly.
Following Walsh's entrance, Meath continued their recovery and went two points clear. However, the Irish soccer international was going to have plenty to say about that and she bagged 1-1 within four minutes either side of two further Meath points to leave the score reading 2-12 to 2-12 with 47 minutes gone.
The second change saw Saoirse O'Reilly relieve the hard-working Lorna Fusciardi after 54 minutes and the Leaving Cert student, sitting her exams as you read this report, entered the dramatic closing stages of the game and promptly fired over a marvelous point before winning a free that was converted by Meadhbh Deeney to give Wicklow a two-point advantage at a critical time late on.
Both substitutions were incredibly important to Wicklow's victory.
Talk of this being a mere hurdle Meath were going to easily cross was quickly quieted when Wicklow raced into a 0-3 to 0-00 lead after five minutes thanks to points from Laurie Ahern, Meadhbh Deeney from a free and Amy Murphy. Wicklow's defence had stepped up to the plate early on and were dealing with the Meath attack with aplomb in those early moments.
Fiona O'Neill got the Royals off the mark before Sarah Miley bombed over after eight minutes and Eamonn Murray and his management team of Paul Garrigan, Paddy Dowling and Michelle Grimes knew they had a game on their hands.
Laura Hogan and Amy Murphy made it 0-6 to 0-1 and then Meath rattled over two quick scores before Laura Hogan blasted to the back of the net after 20 minutes to the delight of the very healthy following that had made the journey to Roundwood.
Meath were always looking dangerous on the attack and brought it back to 1-6 to 0-5 after 22 minutes before Meadhbh Deeney grabbed her second score of the game after good work from Laura Hogan. Sarah Hogan was picking up the formidable Vikki Wall at this stage while Alanna Conroy was proving a match for Meath captain Niamh O'Sullivan.
Fiona O'Neill and the aforementioned Wall reduced the lead to three points after 27 minutes but a strong finish to the half brought points from Jackie Kinch and Amy Murphy to leave Wicklow in a strong position at the break at 1-9 to 0-7 but knowing full well that Meath were going to bring a monstrous challenge down the hill in the second half.
That challenge materialised almost immediate after the restart. Centre back Shauna Ennis charged down on the Wicklow goal and hit the deck due to a combination of pressure from Jackie Kinch and the unmovable figure of Sarah-Jane Winder. Stacey Grimes blasted home to the top corner of Kim Connors' net.
When you need a big score, you need a big player and Niamh McGettigan seemed to take on the whole world as she charged up the field and eventually fired over a screamer to return the lead to three points.
But Meath could smell blood and Marion Farrelly profited from an error in defence by Wicklow and blasted home to the roof of the net, sides level in a heartbeat. You couldn't take your eyes off this game.
Meath led shortly afterwards through a Grimes free but Laurie Ahern struck back for Wicklow and Mick O'Rourke sent Claire Walsh in to help Wicklow regain their footing.
Meath led by two within a few moments although Vikki Wall should have been blown for overcarrying for the second of those two scores.
Claire Walsh opened her account with a wicked score having ran half the pitch to get into that position. The Kilbride woman's running and carrying transformed the game for Wicklow and served to deflate the Meath confidence.
Two Fiona O'Neill points left Meath ahead by three at 2-12 to 1-12 after 46 minutes and then Walsh sprinted towards goal and walloped home to the back of the net off Monica McGuirk. Level!
Meadhbh Deeney swept over a free on 49, Vikki Wall struck back after another generous allowance of steps. Laura Hogan pushed Wicklow ahead before Fiona O'Neill raised a white flag that would have been a green only for the heroics of Kim Connors who deflected the rocket of a shot over the bar, 52 gone.
In comes Saoirse O'Reilly. Laura Hogan goes wide from play. Niamh Gallogly gallops up the field for Meath but also proves wayward with her shooting.
O'Reilly gathers possession in the next Wicklow attack. Will she recycle? Will she go for it? Will she what? Off she sets, around a burly Meath defender and slots over a monster score to push Wicklow back to the front.
Wicklow attack again. O'Reilly wins a free. Up steps Deeney, tricky angle for a right-footed player. You hear the roar before the ball crosses over for a point, Wicklow lead by two.
Stacey Grimes pulls it back to a one-point game, dangerous lead. Laura Hogan goes wide. Wicklow attack again, the ball is won by Laura Hogan, she steadies, looks for options, finds Amy Murphy, she goes for goal, blocked, won by Saoirse O'Reilly, returned to Murphy who blasts over for the insurance score. Game over. Wicklow win by two. Absolutely epic!
Mick O'Rourke's side will travel to Longford to face the home side on June 16. Longford finished second from bottom in Division 3 so will present a difficult challenge to Wicklow but if O'Rourke's charges play like they played overall on Sunday, if they tidy up some of their passing and show the energy and passion they have done all season, they will be hard stopped.
Scorers - Laura Hogan 1-3 (1f), Claire Walsh 1-1, Meadhbh Deeney 0-4 (3f), Amy Murphy 0-3, Laurie Ahern 0-2, Sarah Miley 0-1, Jackie Kinch 0-1, Niamh McGettigan 0-1, Saoirse O'Reilly 0-1.
Meath: Stacey Grimes 1-2 (pen, 2f), Fiona O'Neill 0-5, Marion Farrelly 1-2, Vikki Wall 0-2, Niamh O'Sullivan 0-2, Aoibhin Cleary 0-1, Kate Byrne 0-1.
Wicklow: Kim Connors; Emily Mulhall, Sarah-Jane Winder, Aoife Gillen; Alanna Conroy, Sarah Hogan, Lorna Fusciardi; Niamh McGettigan, Sarah Miley; Meadhbh Deeney, Jackie Kinch, Laurie Ahern; Marie Kealy, Laura Hogan, Amy Murphy. Subs: Claire Walsh for M Kealy (40min), Saoirse O'Reilly for L Fusciardi (54min).
Meath: Monica McGuirk; Michelle Peel, Orlagh Lally, Sarah Powderly; Aoibhin Cleary, Shauna Ennis, Niamh Gallogly; Maire O'Shaughnessy, Kate Byrne; Megan Thynne, Niamh O'Sullivan, Vikki Wall; Marion Farrelly, Stacey Grimes, Fiona O'Neill. Subs: Emma White for M Thynne (50min).
Referee: Des McEnery (Westmeath)