Wexford's power of three
CAMOGIE ALL-IRELAND SENIOR FINAL: AT THE end, it was like somebody pulled a plug from a sinkhole in the middle of the pitch sucking everyone in a purple and gold jersey towards it. A swirling, jigging Wexford vortex of three-in-a-row joy, danced on the back of a 3-13 to 3-6 victory over Cork in front of 15,900 paying guests at Croke Park. After winning only three senior All-Irelands in 74 years, this was their fourth in six summers – they earned every spring, step and bounce of that jig.
But even in that one supreme moment of shared delirium, one player stood out. Ursula Jacob was about to go join the fray when out of the corner of her eye, she saw the match ball lying on the ground a few yards away. Instinct had served her well all afternoon, the 2-7 against her name at the end a word-perfect translation of her effect on the game. Her instinct now was to go gather up the sliotar for a keepsake. “I thought I might as well hang on to it if nobody else was going to,” she said afterwards. “My sister has it now, she’ll keep it safe and sound for me.”
So for anyone keeping score, Jacob left Croke Park last night with a fourth All-Ireland medal, a nailed-on third All Star, a second All-Ireland final player-of-the-game award and a smuggled sliotar for posterity. Nobody would begrudge her a bit of it either.
On a day when Wexford had to shake pretty vigorously to loosen Cork’s grip on them, Jacob was the one who made the difference. She top-scored for Wexford for the third final in a row, her two goals in three minutes midway through the second half finally ending the resistance of a Cork team that had kept them honest through every single step. After a lot of bending, Jacob’s second goal broke them at last and they only managed a single point in the last 15 minutes.
“I think it’s getting better every year,” said Jacob afterwards, “because you just want it so much and every team is just pushing really hard. I think the challenge is there and you’re wanting to get better and better. I don’t think you take it for granted getting to All-Irelands, we really want to win them. That’s the thing with this group of girls – we want to win so much. I think we showed that today.
“Honestly, coming into this game we weren’t really thinking about the three-in-a-row. You can only win one All-Ireland at a time, you can’t really win three. We just were focusing on getting back to Croke Park. After the game you kind of reflect on these things but I still can’t believe it’s three-in-a-row. It’s kind of surreal at the moment.”
Surreal but golden all the same. It’s like that when you have to work so hard to dig one out. Wexford had sprinted from the blocks and eased into a 1-5 to 0-2 lead inside the opening 20 minutes without an awful lot of fuss. Jacob and full forward Katrina Parrock were hurling the Cork full back line into oblivion and it looked like the day’s business might be done and dusted before half-time. But goals from Aoife Murray (a penalty) and Síle Burns hauled Cork back into it and the team went for their tea level.
“We’ve so many leaders in the dressingroom,” said Wexford manager JJ Doyle, “and there was things said in there at half-time that wouldn’t be going out before the watershed. But I mean, that’s what it is. That’s what passion is about and that’s what winning All-Irelands is about. It’s not done easy. Wexford have only won seven All-Irelands in the history of camogie and this crowd have won four of them. That shows you what we have. We have winners in that dressingroom and we weren’t losing that, no way.”
Despite scoring the opening two points of the second half, they still couldn’t wriggle free of Cork. Even when Jacob batted home her first goal on 46 minutes, the champions from 2008 and 2009 replied with a goal of their own inside 30 seconds. It was only when Jacob planted her second two minutes later – a stunning strike off the ground at an angle that flew into the top corner – that Wexford forged clear.
“The big players stand up on the big days,” said Doyle. “Not on days when you’re getting it handy. I’ve seen players in our team over the last three years, in games where we’ve been expected to win in the middle of March, only doing enough to win when people say we should be hammering teams. But it’s on days like this that characters stand up. That’s when real winners come about and our team is full of real winners.”
None more deserving than the one with the souvenir sliotar in her gearbag.