Leitrim’s dreams of TG4 All-Ireland Intermediate Championship glory were ruthlessly shredded by an impressive Waterford last Sunday afternoon in St. Brendan’s pitch, Birr as the Munster women turned on the style in the second half.
Waterford’s victory was every bit as comprehensive as the score-line suggested and were it not for a series of outstanding saves from Michelle Guckian, some improbable misses from the Waterford forwards and the Munster women taking points instead of going for goals, it could have been much, much worse.
The gulf between Division 2 Waterford and Division 3 Leitrim was painfully exposed as Waterford’s strength in key positions was simply too much for a Ladies team who, no more than the Men’s team, have suffered some devastating player losses this year.
The loss of key players like Sarah McLoughlin and Anna Conlan has devastated the Leitrim defence in particular and player of the match, Elaine Power, and her Waterford team-mates took huge advantage as they charged through the middle time and time again.
Allied with quick and incisive long kick passing that pulled the Leitrim defence all over the field, Waterford’s Grainne Kenneally did a masterful job in negating the considerable threat of Aine Tighe.
With Leitrim struggling to gain meaningful possession out the field, Kenneally’s task was made easier but despite being dwarfed by the Kiltubrid forward, her speed and tenacity stopped the Leitrim star from having the impact her team so desperately needed.
But just as the men’s team have displayed this year, the Leitrim Ladies are nothing if not tenacious and spirited and after a wind-aided Waterford dominated the first half, Leitrim improbably cut a six point gap to three points early in the second half.
Suddenly Leitrim were full of running, full of spirit but once the Green & Gold ladies threatened to get back into contention, the Munster women went in to over-drive, scoring two goals in the space of two minutes as Waterford out-scored Leitrim 2-8 to 0-4 for the remainder of the contest.
Michelle Guckian was outstanding in goal as she single-handedly kept Leitrim in the game while Aine Tighe and Roisin Fowley were dangerous once they got the right sort of supply but with Waterford dominating the middle of the field, the two forwards were starved of possession.
You couldn’t fault the work-rate or commitment of so many of the Leitrim players but unfortunately, they found the Waterford women just far too strong in too many sectors of the field.
It was a disappointing end for a season that promised so much earlier in the year – reaching the Division 3 Final suggested that success was around the corner but the wheels started to come off after the defeat to Sligo in the Connacht Championship.
Regrouping next year from this loss will be tough as Leitrim will need to retain all their players and perhaps get a few more back if they are to push for All-Ireland glory once more.
Both teams threatened early goals, Michelle Guckian making a great save to deny Aileen Wall while Sinead Fowley hit a terrible wide when clean through on goal after good work from Kiara Keegan. Waterford were, however, on top with Elaine Power charging through the centre to score.
Good points from Aine Tighe and Roisin Fowley, both set up by Lorraine Brennan, kept Leitrim in touch after a Michelle Ryan free but Waterford found their range with four unanswered points from Aileen & Mairead Wall, Power and Ryan.
Shona Curran blasted a goal chance wide after a free came off the post while Aine Tighe appealed for a penalty as she lost the ball under pressure from the superb Grainne Kenneally. Ryan and Tighe swapped points before Wall added another point.
Michelle Guckian kept Leitrim in touch with a one-handed save to deny Aileen Wall while Curran had a shout for a penalty as she was tackled by two Leitrim defenders as she bore down on goal on 28 minutes.
The half ended with another Waterford point, this time Linda Wall, as the Munster women led 0-9 to 0-3 at the break and they continued where they left off with Mags Revins pointing after Elaine Power cracked a shot off the Leitrim cross-bar in the first minute.
Leitrim tried to get back into the game and sub Erin Farrell saw a promising shot blocked but luck shone on Leitrim on three minutes when Roisin Fowley’s long ball went straight to the net as Aine Tighe, perhaps in the square early, distracted the Waterford keeper.
Tighe immediately added a free on four minutes to cut the Waterford lead to three points but the Munster women put the foot on the accelerator. Aileen Wall drove over the bar before Michelle Ryan drove the ball to the net from a tight angle on nine minutes, wiping out Leitrim’s gain.
Two minutes later, Power’s long delivery into sub Trish Fitzgerald saw the ball worked back to another sub Hannah Landers who drilled the ball to the net, killing off the game at a stroke. Waterford almost had a third goal only for a defender to block Landers’ shot.
Ryan, Landers, Linda Wall (2) and Power all tagged on points with two Aine Tighe points in reply but despite late scores from Roisin Fowley and Aine Tighe, Waterford remained comfortable throughout with further points from Landers and Ryan sealing the win.
Michelle Guckian, Patricia Forde, Enya McWeeney, Mary Farrell, Kirby Gilgunn, Mairead Stenson, Lisa McWeeney, Niamh Tighe, Deirdre Ward, Sinead Fowley, Lorraine Brennan, Kiara Keegan, Ann Marie Gallagher, Roisin Fowley (1-2), Aine Tighe (0-6). Subs: Erin Farrell for Gallagher (29 mins), Sinead Tighe for Forde (47 mins), Shauna Clancy for Keegan (50 mins), Ciara Gaffney for Ward (57 mins).
Aimee Jordan, Aoife Landers, Grainne Kenneally, Nora Dunphy, Roisin Tobin, Grainne Enright, Karen McGrath, Mags Revins (0-1), Elaine Power (0-3), Michelle McGrath, Mairead Wall (0-1), Linda Wall (0-4), Aileen Wall (0-2), Shona Curran, Michelle Ryan (1-5). Subs: Trish Fitzgerald for Revins (34 mins), Hannah Landers (1-2) for M. Wall (38 mins), Fiona Morrissey for Curran (52 mins).
Referee: Garryowen McMahon (Dublin).