Lidl Ladies National League Division Three Relegation Play Off
Louth 2-7 Wicklow 0-5
Report by Patrick Flaherty (Dundalk Democrat). Photos by Craic-a-Smile Photography.
A Niamh Rice master class late in the first half was the difference in Abbottstown, as the Louth sealed their place in Division 3 of the Lidl Ladies National League for another year.
Having not scored in the opening 20 minutes, supporters at the Dublin venue may have feared the worse, but Wayne Freeman’s troops only found themselves two points down as Wicklow missed plenty of chances to build up an early cushion.
They were then punished for their attacking frailties, Rice grabbing 2-1 in quick succession to build up a lead they never scuppered, as the reigning Junior Champions were sent packing pack to Division Four.
This first half was a real war of attrition, with the Wee County Girls kept to just one scoring opportunity early on. They had some spells of possession, but Wicklow were defending well, leaving nobody free and forcing the Louth attack into errors.
Meanwhile The Garden County had the lion’s share of the ball, taking the lead within seconds of the throw in courtesy of a fine effort from Clodagh Fox. It was wave after wave of attack, piercing solo runs being their main weapon.
They also showed great patience, as was seen in their second score on nine minutes where they moved the ball from one sideline to the other and back again for over 90 seconds before one of those piercing runs by Aoife Gorman resulted in a free from close range which was easily taken by Marie Kealy.
But despite their dominance, their shooting boots were a major let down. Wicklow won numerous frees throughout the first half but took few of their chances. They finished the half with eight wides, half of which were from missed frees.
At the first water break Louth trailed by 0-2 to 0-0, but they stepped it up a gear from the stoppage and their clinical edge in the final few minutes ultimately won them the contest.
Kate Flood got them on the board courtesy of a free won by Roisin Kavanagh on 20 minutes. Shortly afterwards Niamh Rice would get her first real taste of action, but her goal chance following a fine run from Ciara Woods was blocked down.
With more ball into Rice came vital scores and in the last four minutes of action, the Cooley forward notched 2-1 to put the Wee County into the ascendancy.
A lovely solo run from the wing by Ceire Nolan saw her find some rare space to kick a long ball, from the resulting pass she found Rice who turned her marker and blasted it into the net on 29 minutes.
She went on to hit 1-1 in 60 seconds, another high ball into the forwards seeing her put the ball over the bar, before a kick out turnover won by Jenny McCourt allowed Rice the opportunity to again fire a bullet past Jackie Kinch in the Wicklow net. At half time they led by 2-2 to 0-3.
Now having a strong breeze to back them up, Wayne Freeman’s troops could better utilise their full forward line and the high ball was a threat Wicklow really struggled with in the second half. Now it was the Girls in Red dictating the pace and they were keeping the Garden County at bay.
Rice was front and centre once more as Louth looked to kill the game on 35 minutes, winning another ball under pressure before laying it off for the awaiting Laura Collins. Her attempt from close range was brilliantly saved by Kinch but Louth recycled possession with Flood bagging a point.
The misses continued to pile up for the team in Blue, another three wides registered in the first 15 minutes alone as the extra pressure from the Louth defence left them taking the tougher options in search of scores.
Their only saving grace was substitute Meadbh Deeney, who against the breeze bagged two fine frees, this after Kealy had knocked four attempts from placed balls wide. The fact she took them from the ground making them all the more impressive.
Trailing by six, their chances were dented hugely when Sinead McGettigan was sent to the bin for a foul on Ceire Nolan and from here they rarely looked like ever clawing back the deficit, further scores from Rebecca Carr, Collins and Rice sealing a deserved eight point win.
Yet there is plenty for Freeman to work on before the championship. He will know if playing a more clinical team, then they really could have been in trouble. They will need to stop giving away so many frees.
Long periods without a score, as was the case again today, is another thing that needs to tackled head on as the stronger teams at Intermediate level could have a tie home and hosed during a barren spell of this length.
But what matters is their future is secured. They have been a tough opponent throughout the 2022 league and will be eager to get a long run in the championship now, with the feelings being they have enough firepower to take on any defence.
Louth: Rebecca Lambe Fagan; Sarah Quinn, Eilis Hand, Holy Lambe Sally; Jenifer McCourt, Shannen McLaughlin, Ceire Nolan; Aoife Halligan, Aoife Russell; Roisin Kavanagh, Kate Flood (0-2, 0-1 free), Rebecca Carr (0-2, 0-1 free); Laura Collins (0-1), Niamh Rice (2-2), Ciara Woods. Subs: Abi Keenan for Ciara Woods (41), Seoda Matthews for Jenifer McCourt (46), Aoife Byrne for Kate Flood (49).
Wicklow: Jackie Kinch; Lucy Dunne, Sarah Jane Winders, Sarah Hogan; Shannagh Goetelan, Jessica Nolan Byrne, Lorna Fusciardi; Aoife Gorman, Anna Vasilieva; Emily Mulhall, Sinead McGettigan, Niamh Cullen (0-1); Marie Kealy (0-1 free), Sarah Delahunt, Clodagh Fox (0-1). Subs: Meadbh Deeney (0-2 frees) for Sarah Delahunt (HT), Rioghna McGettigan for Emily Mulhall (39), Niamh McGettigan for Lorna Fusciardi (39), Siorfa Adams for Anna Vasilieva (58)
Referee: Patrick Smith (Waterford)