CAMOGIE: Wexford 3-12 Antrim 0-14 (Littlewoods Division 2 Final)
by Kevin Egan at Croke Park (The Wexford team celebrate ©INPHO/Lorraine O’Sullivan)
Three goals inside the first 15 minutes of this evening’s Littlewoods Ireland Camogie League Division Two final left Antrim with too much to do against Wexford, who earned their return to the top tier of league action for the first time since their relegation in 2019.
Just 16 seconds were on the clock when the very first attack of the game saw Aoife Guiney power past Niamh Donnelly and bat the sliothar past the onrushing Caitríona Graham for the game’s only goal, giving Kevin Tattan’s side an early boost.
Antrim looked very sharp around the middle third and moved the ball smartly through the lines with some clever stickwork from the midfield and wing forwards, but the deployment of Maeve Sinnott as a sweeper left them outnumbered close to goal, where Siobhán McKillop and Caitrin Dobbin found it difficult to get the space to work a shot.
Seven minutes had expired when Anais Curran raised the second flag of the day from a free, but a wonderful score on the run from Caoimhe Wright showed that Antrim were adjusting to Wexford’s defensive structure by carving out space for themselves in wider positions.
Mistakes were to prove hugely detrimental to their chances of getting back on terms however, and when Chloe Drain was dispossessed carrying the ball out from her own 20 metre line, Aoife Guiney and Ciara O’Connor combined to set up O’Connor for a simple and easy finish from close range for a second green flag.
Three minutes later, Guiney again turned provider, this time setting up an unmarked Leah Walsh for a handy finish from ten metres out, and Antrim were nine points adrift and with a mountain to climb.
Two points from Róisín McCormack dragged them back into the game somewhat, the second fizzing mere inches over the crossbar as she attempted to strike for goal, but it was significant that throughout the contest, while the Ulster county picked off some highlight reel points, that was to be as close as they came to beating goalkeeper Aoife Mahon.
Their task was made even tougher when Chloe Drain was shown a second yellow card for a shoulder challenge in the penalty area, though Caitríona Graham did what she could to mitigate the damage by producing a superb diving save to push Ciara O’Connor’s penalty around the post.
The St. Martin’s player quickly got over the disappointment to slot the resultant 45 over the bar, and while there was no stage during the remainder of the game where it looked like Antrim were ever going to be over-run by their Leinster opponents, Wexford were content to pick off points and maintain that three goal advantage for most of the contest.
3-6 to 0-6 at half time because 3-9 to 0-7 thanks to another score from Aoife Guiney and two very neat points from Anais Curran.
If the measure of a defensive system is forcing your opponents to go above and beyond to register scores, Wexford will be delighted with this performance.
Áine Magill, Siobhán McKillop and Caoimhe Wright all picked off magnificent scores that were more than worthy of a national final, but the control that the Wexford full back line exerted close to goal meant that the close-range opportunities Antrim needed to really make their opponents sweat never came along.
As Wexford emptied their bench in the latter stages of the game, Róisín McCormick tacked on a number of late points to reduce the gap to seven, and offer further hope to the Saffrons in advance of the championship, though scores of real quality from Sarah and Aoife O’Connor ensured it was nonetheless a comfortable last few minutes for the winners all the same.
SCORERS FOR WEXFORD: A Curran 0-5 (0-2f), C O’Connor 1-2 (0-1 45), A Guiney 1-2, L Walsh 1-1, A O’Connor 0-1, S O’Connor 0-1.
SCORERS FOR ANTRIM: R McCormick 0-6 (0-3f), Á Magill 0-2, C Wright 0-2, S McKillop 0-2, C Dobbin 0-1, N O’Neill 0-1f.
WEXFORD: A Mahon; M Martin, L O’Leary, S Harding Kenny; A Cardiff, S O’Connor, E Walsh; O Sinnott, C O’Connor; A O’Connor, J Quigley, A Curran; M Sinnott, A Guiney, L Walsh.
Subs: J Dillon for Quigley (43), M Byrne for Guiney (45), K Kirwan for L Walsh (49), C Cashe for A O’Connor (56), L Dempsey for Sinnott (59), A Hennessy for Harding Kenny (60), Á Lacey for Martin (60).
ANTRIM: C Graham; C Drain, N Donnelly, M Lynn; C Patterson, C Donlon, L McKenna; L McNaughton, N O’Neill; A Boyle, R McCormick, Á Magill; C Wright, S McKillop, C Dobbin.
Subs: K McKillop for Donnelly (42)
REFEREE: Aaron Hogg (Clare)
“Antrim aren’t a bad team and they worked extremely hard” Wexford manager Kevin Tatton said afterwards.
“But there was definitely an element that we played it a little safer. There were times when we could have transitioned the ball a little bit better and we just cleared it when that extra pass that we could have made could have given us an extra attacking platform”.
“Too often we took the safe option, standing two yards off and defending the score rather than just attacking the ball ourselves, so there’s loads of areas that we can work on”.
“We were desperate to get out of Division Two” Elaine Dowds of Antrim said.
“Our league games did not really challenge us this year, then we got hit with Cork last week and it was the first really challenging game and we were lucky to come through that game. The preparation for the semi-final and final just wasn’t really good enough for us” was how she assessed a campaign that featured a 24-point win over Laois, and a massive 10-goal hail against Kerry.
“Our resilience has always been something I’ve been very proud of” she continued.
“I’m happy enough with 45 minutes of our game, but we need to look at that first 15 minutes, that absolutely killed us. We kept going, kept working at it and heads never dropped. Even with the sending off, we were just always up against it, but take that spell out of it and I’d be very happy with how we played for the rest of the game”.
“Everything happens quicker (in Division One),” added Tatton
“In the brain, in the hurling, in the touches, we understand that from playing senior championship over the last three years.
“We know what that level is and when you’re playing it on a more frequent basis you’re able to adapt to it better. Over the last two years we’ve been playing challenge matches against those teams but obviously it’s not the same. That’s why promotion was so important” he concluded.