Down battle back to set up Division Two final against Antrim after gutsy win over Wexford
Littlewoods Ireland League Division Two semi-final: Down 0-18 Wexford 2-10
THE signs had started to appear just before the first water-break, but it was still difficult to see at that point how Down could turn this league semi-final around and reach a first Division Two final in 23 years.
Wexford were rampant in the opening 10 minutes with Anais Curran hitting three points in the first three minutes and then she set Katrina Parrock up for the opening goal and a 1-4 to 0-1 lead after only seven minutes.
Down did well to stop the rot before the water-break and trailed by 1-6 to 0-3. Paula O'Hagan and Amy Cardiff exchanged points on the restart before Down took over. The Mourne girls hit the next 10 points to take a lead of 0-14 to 1-7 by the 38th minute.
There were goal scares for Down and a penalty save from Catherine McGourty in first half injury time, goal opportunities for Anna Rogan and Niamh Mallon at the other end and some glorious long range scores from Mallon, Sorcha McCartan and Aimee McAleenan.
Down, however, had control of Curran and Parrock, were dominant now at the back and had built up a head of steam. Eventually Curran pointed two frees before the second water-break only for Paula O'Hagan to cancel them on the restart.
However, suddenly the game went right back into the melting pot in the 53rd minute when some excellent interchange play ended up with substitute Mags Byrne finding the net for Wexford from close range. That levelled the game.
But Down refused to fold and Sara Louise Graffin fielded brilliantly to put them ahead again, only for another substitute Emma Walsh to land a great point for the equaliser.
In a tense final few minutes, Paula O'Hagan pointed a long range free from tight on the sideline and then was handed an easy score when the Wexford goalie took a quick puck-out. It was too quick according to the referee who awarded a 30-metre free to give Down the breathing space to hold on for a dramatic victory.
Down manager Derek Dunne hailed it as the best performance of the season.
“We were caught by the pace of the game. Wexford are a Division One team, a senior team and they brought that pace to the opening stages of the game," he said.
“In fairness to the girls they upped the pace. There were goal chances we missed, a couple of great saves from Catherine (McGourty) in goals, a huge effort from everyone and it took it all for us to get through.
“We started the league with a game against Antrim and it is going to finish with a final against Antrim. It tells you a lot about the two teams.”
Down: C McGourty; C Caldwell, D Magee, E Rafferty; B Fitzpatrick, P O'Hagan (0-9, 0-7 frees), K McMullan; A Keown, D Savage; A McAleenan (0-2), SL Graffin (0-1), S McCartan (0-2); A Rogan, N Mallon (0-5), C Fitzpatrick (0-1)
Subs: L Clarke for C Fitzpatrick (h-t), C Cowan for A McAleenan (46), D Harrison for A Rogan (52).
Wexford: L Brennan; L O'Leaery, Á Lacey, M Sinnott; E Dempsey, S O'Connor, L Dempsey; C O'Connor (0-1), Amy Cardiff (0-1), K Kirwan, J Dillon (0-1), Anais Curran (0-6, 0-3 frees), E Roche, A Guiney, K Parrock (1-0).
Subs: O Sinnott for E Roche (39), M Byrne (1-0) for L Dempsey (39), A Hennessey for Á Lacey (39), C Frost for A Guiney (44), E Walsh (0-1) for K Kirwan (58).