Winning's what it's about for Wexford
All-Ireland camogie final:A HECTIC finish managed to save the Gala All-Ireland camogie final from itself yesterday. The match, as a spectacle, may have disappointed, and a crowd of 17,290 cannot be considered a decent return for their now established slot on the second Sunday in September.
But the thrilling end game and unvarnished celebrations that followed made it all worthwhile as the Wexford women did their sporting impression of Lazarus by coming again.
In 2007, they momentarily loosened Cork’s grip on the O’Duffy Cup to clinch a long-overdue All-Ireland under the captaincy of Mary Leacy, while yesterday it was her younger sister Una who became just the fifth Wexford woman to climb the Hogan steps.
The 1-12 to 1-10 defeat proved crushing for Galway but, really, they would have been fortunate champions as they only came close to snatching the spoils due to a perfect strike from Aislinn Connolly in the last minute.
The negatives from camogie’s showpiece event (dour games and poor turnout) were offset by the bullish manner in which Wexford survived, followed by the clarity of thought with which the Leacy sisters garnished the victory in their post-match comments.
The start of the match was delayed, presumably due to television, leaving referee Karl O’Brien stalling over the throw-in, with his head twisted towards the sideline awaiting instructions. The four midfielders patiently waited without so much as a hint of aggression until the sliotar was in play.
Now, imagine the four rabid dogs from Tipperary and Kilkenny being denied their slab of meat in similar circumstances eight days ago? The flying splinters could have taken an eye out.
Camogie may be less barbaric or thrilling viewing, but to say the commitment and discipline is absent would be a disservice to these athletes.
“People don’t realise camogie players, like footballers and hurlers, we train six nights a week,” Mary Leacy told us. “We play club championship in between the All-Ireland semi-final and the final. We have no life! Absolutely no life other than camogie.
“The last two years have been hard and tiresome years – I’m not going to lie. But this year the new management brought a fresh touch to it, new trainers, and I think it worked out very good.”
Galway’s failing lay in their struggle to rediscover the performance that ended Cork’s era of dominance in the semi-final replay.
A goal from Wexford corner forward Katrina Parrock in first-half injury time proved to be a seminal moment. It came from determined and cohesive build-up where Michele O’Leary, Kate Kelly and Una Leacy all contributed.
Importantly, it left an already stuttering Galway with a six-point mountain to scale against opponents who were aided by the priceless experience of having already won an All-Ireland.
Wexford had 30 minutes to cling on and they were more than willing to get dirt under their fingernails.
Forget the insulting “Chicks with Sticks” slogan – this was raw, sudden-death sport.
“We didn’t care what kind of game it looked like, we battled it out,” said Leacy. “A lot of hooking and blocking in the second-half. We didn’t care if we won by one point or 10 points – just the win was the main aim.
“It was body, head, legs, everything was going in. I think everyone gave 100 percent.”
That was the second half in a nutshell. A scrappy, messy brawl where Wexford goalkeeper Mags D’Arcy was heroic in saving Jessica Gill’s penalty. She was also flawless as high balls plummeted into her square.
Galway refused to go quietly, and when O’Brien felt obliged to punish dissent by bringing forward a late free 10 metres, and also improving the angle considerably, Connolly let fly the purest of shots that finished in the top of D’Arcy’s net.
But Wexford wanted it more. No, they needed it more, and their tenacity guided them home.
Afterwards, the importance of this day was impressively summed up by Mary Leacy.
“The Wexford supporters, they really do follow the women. I think women’s sport in general, whether it’s camogie, even rugby, swimming or soccer, is not thought the same (as men’s) by people in general. Even women don’t follow women’s sport.
“But just to see the whole Hogan – they are the best supporters in the country.
“Camogie is a fantastic game, no offence to football, but you need a lot of skill to play camogie and it is such a commitment. The sacrifice we make. For women it is harder. Some women are getting married, having children – we lost two players this year who got pregnant.”
Point is, they have had to force the respect from the public that sportsmen take for granted.
Yesterday, they impressively achieved that feat.
Not that it was a perfect day for Wexford, as Offaly beat them in the intermediate final, while the Junior decider between Antrim and Waterford ended in stalemate.