A hat trick of goals from Wicklows Laurie Ahern, kept the Garden county on track to reach their first all Ireland junior semi-final since 1990, when they over came Offaly in what was a ‘workman’ like performance in Blessington on Sunday last.
Ahern hit the back of the Offaly net in the fifth and the fifteenth minute of the first half to keep the home side in the driving seat and the Eire Og club player was on hand to convert a spot kick in the twenty second minute of the second period of the game to put a total of five goals between the sides (5-6 to 0-6) going in to the final minutes of the game.
Wicklow’s next opponents in the All Ireland semi-final will be last years beaten All Ireland finalists, London. The girls from the English capital, who have Deirdre O’Riordan from Kilbride (Wicklow) among their ranks, had a convincing win over Louth (2-10 to 0-10) in their group ‘A’ quarter final game last weekend.
At times on Sunday last the Wicklow side were a little lack lustre, and if they are to progress to the All Ireland final where they could meet either Derry or Antrim they must step it up a gear or two in the semi-final against a London side that will be still licking their wounds over their defeat to Kilkenny by a single goal (3-5 to 2-5) in last years All Ireland final.
Wicklow came into this quarter final game unbeaten in the championship, however in their last encounter against this Offaly team in the Leinster championship semi-final, only three points separated the sides (3-11 to 3-8) in Wicklow favour.
On Sunday last the faithful county were first off the mark when Mairead Kavanagh converted the first point of the game, after striking the upright with her first attempt in the fourth minute.
Wicklow playing with a slight wind advantage, got off the mark with a well work goal, corner forward Laurie Ahern collected the ball out on the right wing, cut through the Offaly defence to fire an unstoppable shot to the roof of Michelle Claffey’s net.
Over the next couple of minutes, Claffey was equal to the efforts of Wicklow’s Caoilfhionn Deeney and Monica Lynch who were unlucky not to raise the green flag on at least two occasions.
Wicklow stepped it up a gear, with Kathryn Kavanagh and Julie Fitzmaurice taking control of the midfield Area, with Lisa Brady and Aoife Heffernan coming forward to support, Nichola Donohue, Mikeala Shelly, Laurie Ahern and Geraldine Norton, Norton notched up her first point of the game in the seventh minute, followed by a well worked point from corner back Aoife Heffernan, Heffernan was on target with a point in the eleventh minute after Deeney and Lynch combined to clear the way for Heffernan to put four points between the sides ( 1-2 to 0-1).
Offaly were relying too much on their right corner forward Mairead Kavanagh, Kavanagh notched up a personal tally of 1-7 when these two sides last met in June, however on this occassion Wicklows back-line of Helen Hurley, Jill Heatley and Aoife Heffernan, Lisa Brady, Caitriona Byrne and Lorna Fuisciardi were all on top of their game and well aware of how dangerous Kavanagh could be, the Offaly number thirteen was reduced to just five points, two from play for the game.
Wicklow continued to apply the pressure, with corner forward Laurie Ahern tagging on her second goal, and once again the hard working Monica Lynch was the provider.
Wicklow took their foot of the gas in the second quarter, and the visitors took advantage, converting two points to put two scores between the sides (2-3 to 0-3), Wicklow had lady luck on their side after Geraldine Norton tagged on her third point of the game, the Wicklow full forward was awarded a free 30metres out on the left of the Offaly goals, Nortons shot dropped short into the crowded Offaly goal mouth, and the ball was tipped over the Offaly net minder by her number four Serena Keena, Wicklow’s Caoilfhionn Deeney followed up with a point to bring the half to an end with the score board reading Wicklow 3-5, Offaly 0-3.
Offaly had a mountain to climb if they were to over turn the home side, and in fairness they started the second half in the right frame of mind, with Mairead Kavanagh and Amy Kerrigan firing over a point apiece within two minutes of the restart, but unfortunately they slid back to base camp in the third minute, when the Offaly keeper misjudged the bounce of Aimie Byrne’s lobbed shot, and the An Tochar player was quickest to respond to the rebound, toe poking the ball past the out stretch Claffey to register Wicklows third goal of the game, Claffey redeemed herself minutes later with an excellent diving save to deny Monica lynch.
From the seventh to the twenty second minute both sides cancelled each other out, neither side raising the green or white flag, Wicklow made a number of changes in personnel during the lull, Helen Hurley, Geraldine Norton, and Lorna Fuisciardi were called ashore and replaced by Marie Kavanagh, Aisling O’hAnnaidh and Aine Byrne.
The final twist of the knife for Offaly came eight minutes from the end when referee Michael Ryan awarded Wicklow a penalty, the home sides sharp shooter Laurie Ahern stepped up to the mark and dispatch the ball low to the left of the Offaly keeper to register her hat trick of goals.
Happy with her tally, Ahern then clocked out to make way for the experienced Eadaoine Lenihan, Offaly’s Ciara Dunican and Sinead Taylor added two consolation points five minutes from time before the Wicklow girls finished the scoring with Deeney, Lynch, and Julie Fitzmaurice scoring one apiece to bring the curtain down on their All Ireland quarter final game.
Wicklow scorers: Laurie Ahern 3-0, Geraldine Norton 1-4(2f), Keelan Deeney 0-2 (1f), Aoife Heffernan 0-1, Monica Lynch 0-1, Aimie Byrne 1-0, Julie Fitzmaurice 0-1.
Offaly scorers; Amy Kerrigan 0-1, Mairead Kavanagh 0-5 (3f), Sinead Taylor 0-1, Ciara Dunican 0-1.
Wicklow team: Emer Miley Capt (Blessington), Helen Hurley (AGB), Jill Heatley (Blessington), Aoife Heffernan (Bray Emmets), Lisa Brady (Bray Emmets), Caitriona Byrne (AGB), Lorna Fuisciardi (Eire Og), Julie Fitzmaurice (Blessington), Kathryn Kavanagh (Valleymount), Caoilfhionn Deeney (Eire Og), Nicole Donohue (Kilbride), Mikeala Shelly (Bray Emmets), Laurie Ahern (Eire Og), Geraldine Norton (Baltinglass), Monica Lynch (An Tochar. Subs: Aimie Byrne (An Tochar) for Mikeala Shelly, Marie Kavanagh (Blessington) for Helen Hurley, Aine Byrne (AGB) for Lorna Fuisciardi, Aisling O’hAnnaidh (Bray Emmets) for Geraldine Norton, Eadoine Lenihan (Bray Emmets) for Laurie Ahern.
Offaly team: Michelle Claffey (Doon/Shannon Bridge), Jennifer Kennaney (Shamrocks), Patrice Stapleton (St. Vincents), Serena Keena (Ferbane), Onnagh Mulligan Capt. (Rhode), Emma Dalton (Rhode), Aine Maguire (Rhode), Orlagh Heavey (Rhode), Amy Kerrigan ( Shamrocks), Berni Walsh (Shamrocks), Lisa Flaherty (Shamrocks), Niamh Malone (Rhode), Mairead Kavanagh (Edenderry), Sarah Maloney (Rhode), Sinead Taylor (Edenderry). Subs: Ciara Dunican (Shamrocks), Mairead Kelly (St. Rynagh’s), Justine Walsh (Killeigh).
Referee: Michael Ryan ( Meath)

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