FOR THE most part the sun shone on what was an historic day for camogie at Croke Park yesterday, a memorable one for Wexford but another harrowing experience for Galway.
With the three Gala All-Ireland finals taking place on the one bill for the first time, president Joan O’Flynn had promised a carnival of camogie and the 17,290 who came in through the stiles weren’t disappointed.
Fears that the attendance would drop significantly in the wake of the U21 hurling All-Ireland’s removal proved unfounded and the communications and marketing director of the Camogie Association, Claire Egan was understandably pleased with the turnout.
“Considering that this was the first time in a while that the U21 wasn’t part of the programme and the fact that we retained our previous attendances while adding around 2,000, the response from the camogie public has to be considered as very positive,” said Egan.
In an absorbing senior encounter Wexford deservedly claimed their first title since 2007, although they were made to live on their nerves a little at the end by a resolute Galway.
Three years ago, Mary Leacy captained the side and this time it was her sister Una who was presented with the O’Duffy Cup. Considering their mother Margaret was involved in the county’s other three successes at this level, that particular family’s contribution to Wexford camogie is immense.
“I was delighted for her,” said Mary of her younger sister. “She’s struggled with injuries for the last while with her knees but, to be honest, it didn’t matter to me whether it was Una or Mags (D’Arcy), as long as we went back with the O’Duffy Cup.”
The game ended in a welter of excitement when Aislinn Connolly’s free from under the Hogan Stand right on the hour flew all the way to the corner of the net to leave just two points between the sides.
Try as they might though, Galway could not break down a splendid Wexford rearguard one more time and so their search for a second All-Ireland continues.
The big news was the appearance of Jessica Gill at full-forward for the Tribeswomen. The Athenry star had made a number of substitute appearances in the round-robin stages of the championship as she continued her recovery from a cruciate knee ligament operation but this was her first start.
Veronica Curtin, who had been in flying form on the edge of the square all season, was switched to the corner. But even when Galway got more of a foothold around the middle in the second half, they found it difficult to break down the Wexford defence and only managed three points from play in the entire game.
Corner-back Claire O’Connor maintained her phenomenal record of not conceding a single score in eight championship encounters, Curtin’s sole point coming after she had switched to the opposite corner.
Catherine O’Loughlin was monumental at full-back and Mary Leacy gave another commanding performance in front of her. It was this dominance that laid the platform for Wexford’s victory.
“We were happy to fight it out,” said Mary Leacy. “We didn’t care what kind of game it looked like. We battled it out. There was a lot of hooking and blocking in the second half. We didn’t care if it was one point or 10 points, just to win was our main aim.
“Everyone gave 100%. You could see some tired legs... I was wrecked!”
For Galway though, it was a second defeat at this stage in three years and team captain Therese Maher could not hide the pain.
“There’s absolutely devastation in there now,” said Maher. “No amount of words is going to console anybody. You go to Croke Park to win. Another day over. Another All-Ireland lost.”
Wexford were three points clear by the 19th minute, Una Leacy, Kate Kelly and Katrina Parrock slotting points from play. To be fair to Galway, despite being clearly second best, that was still the margin with half time looming but in the 30th minute, Wexford struck for a crucial goal from Katrina Parrock.
It was Kelly who started the move and she found Una Leacy brilliantly. The skipper beat Ann-Marie Hayes before drawing Regina Glynn and hand-passing to Parrock, who drove low beyond the exposed Susan Earner. Una Jacob added a point and Wexford were full value for their 1-8 to 0-4 advantage.
Galway were a different proposition after the restart though. Wing-back Niamh Kilkenny gave an exhibition for the Maroons but they needed to take every chance that came their way.
They couldn’t do it however, and Gill had a 34th minute penalty that she had won herself saved by Mags D’Arcy. The St Martin’s custodian also advanced quickly off her line to deny Maher and they were to prove critical interventions, especially when Fiona Dwyer somehow hand-passed wide at the other end with the goal gaping.
Still, it looked like the game was meandering to an inevitable conclusion when Connolly was fouled around 35m out. When the Castlegar player’s shot ended in the back of the Wexford net, the Galway supporters erupted in joy and hope. But it wasn’t to be and two minutes later, it was Wexford who were celebrating.
WEXFORD: M D’Arcy; C O’Connor, C O’Loughlin, K Atkinson; N Lambert, M Leacy, A O’Connor; C Murphy, D Codd; K Kelly 0-2, U Leacy 0-1, M O’Leary 0-1; K Parrock 1-2, U Jacob 0-6 (4fs), J Dwyer.
Subs: C Storey for Atkinson inj (14); L Holohan for Codd (53)
GALWAY: S Earner; S Tannian, S Dervan, R Glynn; N Kilkenny, AM Hayes, T Manton; B Hanney, O Kilkenny 0-1; C Murray, T Maher, A Connolly 1-6 (1-4fs, 2 45s); T Rutledge, J Gill 0-1(f), V Curtin 0-1.
Subs: E Kilkelly for Rutledge temp (9-18); L Ryan for Murray (28); Kilkelly 0-1 for Rutledge (ht); H Cooney for Manton (39); J McGrath for Gill (56); A Lynskey for O Kilkenny (60+1).
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