By Jackie Cahill
Wicklow 4-17 - Louth 2-8: A hat-trick of goals from Marie Kealy and a dominant performance across the middle third of the field powered Wicklow to a comfortable victory in the Lidl Ladies National League Division 4 final at St. Brendan’s Park in Birr on Monday afternoon.
A five-point win for Wicklow when the sides met at Stabannon suggested a tight game was in store at the Offaly venue but Wicklow, beaten finalists last year, produced a devastating display, firing 2-6 without reply at one stage in the third quarter to put the result beyond doubt.
From the very start of the tie, Louth were working with a small share of possession, struggling to hang on to the coat-tails of their dominant opponents.
Kate Flood looked capable of scoring with any sort of delivery and she picked off a couple of excellent early scores, but once Laurie Ahern set up Kealy for the game’s first goal after 12 minutes, Wicklow had established a lead that they would never relinquish.
Nine first half wides prevented them from pulling clear too quickly, but the energetic running and purposeful deliveries of players like Niamh McGettigan and Meadhbh Deeney ensured a steady supply of chances and Kealy, Laura Hogan and Jackie Kinch were all on target as Wicklow edged further ahead.
The real hammer blow came with the last play of the first half, when a driving run from Hogan opened up the Louth defence and once she laid the ball off to Deeney, an immaculate finish from the Éire Óg player picked out the bottom corner of the net.
A goal for Louth at the start of the second half, toe poked in by Flood after Rebecca Carr’s initial shot rebounded off the crossbar, hinted at a comeback.
Instead. Wicklow rallied in spectacular fashion and two goals from player of the match Kealy, not to mention a brace of fine points from Jackie Kinch, pushed their lead out to 18 points at one stage.
A late consolation goal from Lauren Boyle trimmed the gap somewhat but Wicklow continued to look sharp going forward, firmly establishing their credentials as potential dark horses for the upcoming Leinster Intermediate championship.
Wicklow were beaten finalists against Longford last year but victory this time ensures Division 3 football for the Garden County in 2019.
Scorers for Wicklow: M Kealy 3-3, M Deeney 1-3 (0-1f), J Kinch 0-5, A Murphy 0-2, L Hogan, C Fox, L Fusciardi, N Baker 0-1 each.
Scorers for Louth: K Flood 1-3 (0-1f), L Boyle 1-2 (0-1f), M McArdle, S Byrne & C McGlew 0-1 each.
Wicklow: K Connors; E Mulhall, SJ Winder, L Fusciardi; L Ahern, S Hogan, A Conroy; N McGettigan, S Miley; A Murphy, J Kinch, M Deeney; C Fox, M Kealy, L Hogan.
Subs: A Gorman for Fox (47), A Gillen for Fusciardi (52), S O’Connor for Deeney (54), N Baker for Miley (58), R Fagan for Mulhall (60+1).
Louth: U Pearson; E Singleton, R Kane, S McLoughlin; C Nolan, D Osborne, B McGrane; S Woods, R Carr; P Murray, S Byrne, A Russell; L Boyle, K Flood, M McArdle.
Subs: M McMahon for Russell (25), Á Breen for Woods (36), E Hand for Singleton (41), C McGlew for McArdle (41), S Englishby for Osborne (49)
Referee: Gerry Carmody (Mayo)