Wicklow will meet Leitrim in an All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship relegation play-off, after James Kelly’s brave and spirited outfit were overcome by a classy Tipperary side on Sunday afternoon.
The Garden side knew that an unlikely win over a prolific Tipperary was needed in order to keep their championship hopes alive, and found themselves narrowly in front at the break through goals from Marie Kealy and Maedhbh Deeney.
Tipp, who were relegated from the senior football championship in 2018, showed their resolve and title credentials in a thrilling second-half; scoring three goals to condemn Wicklow to a dramatic defeat.
Wicklow welcomed the intermediate championship favourites to Dunlavin on a scenic Sunday afternoon, knowing that they would have to be at their best to keep the visitor’s at bay. Megan Dunne, lining out in goals in the place of Kim Connors, was made to work hard against an incisive Premier forward line.
After Laura Hogan had put James Kelly’s team in front with two minutes on the clock, Dunne was on hand to deny Orla O’Dwyer the first goal of the day. Wicklow extended their lead out to two through Sarah Delahunt and Jackie Kinch, before an Elaine Fitzpatrick point, sandwiched between two Laura Dillon points, turned the game around for Tipp.
The visiting side had scored 13 goals in their previous two championship matches thus far, and made it 14 in as the first quarter of the game ticked over. A loose Megan Dunne kick-out was collected by Dillon, who squared the ball across for O’Dwyer to put into the back of the net.
All of a sudden, having been two points in front five minutes prior, Wicklow found themselves four points down against the most deadly side they have faced all year. To the credit of Wicklow, they did not allow Tipperary’s reputation to get in the way of their gameplan, and within two minutes, the sides were level pegging.
Marie Kealy kicked things off with a point, before Jessican Nolan Byrne teed up Meadhbh Deeney for Wicklow’s first goal of the day. 1-04 to 1-04.
Laura Dillon grabbed the initiative back for Tipperary, but Wicklow were well on their stride. Amy Murphy intercepted a sloppy pass from one of the Tipp half-backs, and initiated a move that resulted in Kealy, who partnered Deeney in a two-person full-forward line for Wicklow, putting the ball past Lauren Fitzpatrick in the Tipperary goal.
Megan Dunne denied O’Dwyer once again as the half came to a close, and Wicklow went into the break with the minimum lead at 2-05 to 1-07.
James Kelly issued a half-time war-cry to spur his troops on in the second-half, but it was Tipperary who would kick on stronger in the final half-hour through class and ruthless finishing.
Meadhbh Deeney collected a great ball over the top from Marie Kealy to push Wicklow’s lead out to two, before Tipp reclaimed their lead; Laura Dillon feeding Angela McGuigan for their second goal of the game. Dillon pushed the gap out to two with a free, but Tipp were unable to shake the blue and yellow Wicklow monster on their backs.
Laura Hogan stepped up to the plate with a trio of quick-fire frees to give Wicklow the lead back; the fifth occasion of the advantage switching sides in the game up to that point.
As the half continued to play out, both teams could separate themselves from the other. Deeney put Wicklow in front with a well-taken point wide on the left-hand side, only for Ava Fennessy to equalise. Finally, with 10 minutes left in a game that was perched on a knife-edge, Aisling McCarthy gave Tipperary a lead that they would not let go of.
Aishling Moloney made it 2-11 to 2-13 moments later, before Laura Hogan twisted, turned, and saw a goalbound shot cannon off of opposition captain Samantha Lambert. Tipp made no mistake up the other end. Róisin Daly drove down the right-hand side, before shifting the ball onto Moloney, who strode past Doyle and rolled the ball into the back of the empty net.
Moloney split the posts soon thereafter to make it 2-11 to 3-14; six points in the difference, with five minutes left on the clock.
Sensing the light at the end of the tunnel fading before their eyes, Wicklow charged back through a Marie Kealy point and a clinical lobbed goal from Meadhbh Deeney to reduce the gap to a goal. Tipperary kept their heads, however, and showcased why they are considered the favourites to lift the All-Ireland Intermediate Football Championship.
Points from McCarthy and Moloney made the gap five points, leaving substitute Anna Carey to capitalise on a Daly shot that had been blocked off the line by Aoife Gillen, and seal the points with Tipp’s fourth goal of the day, and 17th of the championship campaign.
Wicklow won’t have long to rebound from such a disappointing defeat, as they meet Leitrim in a relegation play-off on the 11th of August.
WicklowNews Player of the Match: Laura Dillon (Tipperary/Ardfinnan).
Wicklow scorers: M. Deeney (2-02), M. Kealy (1-02), L. Hogan (0-05; 0-04f), A. Murphy (0-01), J. Kinch (0-01), S. Delahunt (0-01).
Tipperary scorers: A. Moloney (1-03), L. Dillon (0-06; 0-03f), A. Carey (1-00), A. McGuigan (1-00), O. O’Dwyer (1-00), A. McCarthy (0-03), E. Fitzpatrick (0-02), A. Fennessy (0-01), C. Condon (0-01), O. Winston (0-01).