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Wexford Youths took a critical step toward retaining the Women's National League title in their all-important league match against Galway on Saturday night.  Galway have had a very strong showing throughout the season.  They were relatively uneffected by the large number of postponements, and so stood at the top of the league table for a number of months.  Wexford Youths went into the game knowing that a win would return them to the top of the table after a lengthy absence, with the benefit of no less than two games in hand.
 
 
The Youths were still missing a number of key players through long-term injury - Rianna Jarrett, Mary-Rose Kelly, Ciara Rossiter and Clare Conlon all still out of the squad.  Galway were missing one key name - Ellerose O'Flaherty, their top scorer in the league, was not named in the squad.   The Youths started with their usual three at the back, and flooded the midfield with Ruth Fahy, Edel Kennedy, Kylie Murphy and Emma Hansberry all linking up well throughout the game.  This control of the midfield proved a huge advantage as the game progressed.
 
Galway's best spell came at the very start of the game, as it looked like it could be quite a worrying night for Wexford.  Galway initially looked quite fresh, and made some good in-roads down the left through Lynsey McKey.  However, McKey failed to link up with Jess Nolan in the centre for Galway, and as a result Tamara Furlong in the Youths goal was rarely tested.  Galway looked to be just about on top but it was Wexford who would open the scoring, somewhat against the run of play.  The Youths won a free kick in their own half which was initially dealt with by the Galway back four.  They sent it back to Edel Kennedy who played an excellent through ball to Emma Hansberry, who perfectly executed a lob over the head of Tina Hughes for 1-0 to Wexford Youths.  
 
Wexford Youths dominated the game for a good hour after the goal, Galway looking decent in defence but couldn't figure a way to play the ball forward to their front three of Jess Nolan, Lynsey McKey and Aisling Meaney.  On 25 minutes, Kylie Murphy made a superb effort from distance, which was parried by Hughes.  The Youths had a good number of set pieces inside the Galway half and the delivery from Emma Hansberry were simply stunning, a constant threat for the Galway back line to deal with.  The Youths went into the half a goal up, controlling the game extremely well but looking for the second goal to make things comfortable.
 
The Youths continued their territorial domination in the second half as Galway failed to threaten the Youths back 3, an equalizer never really looking likely for them.  On 50 minutes, Claire O'Riordan looked ready to pounce on a slack back pass from Galway, and was hauled down just outside the box.  The resulting free kick, taken by Hansberry, had Tina Hughes scampering across the goal line to palm it around the post for a corner.
 
On the hour mark Aisling Frawley made an excellent run into the box on the left, and got the cross away to the feet of Claire O'Riordan in front of goal.  Unfortunately it was an uncharacteristic swing and a miss for O'Riordan, any touch at all would have stuck it into the back of the Galway net.  The game was wrapped up around at around 80 minutes, again Aisling Frawley linking up well.  Over the course of the game Frawley gradually got the better of Galway full-back Aoife Walshe, and Frawley was imperious in working the ball in for the Youths' second goal.  She cut well inside and with her back to goal, flicked it around Walshe and latched onto it again herself and played the cross in for O'Riordan, who had the simple tap-in to make 2-0 to Wexford, wrapping up all 3 points for the home side.  
 
It was a really notable performance for Wexford who have simply dominated women's football this year, but this performance was the best this reporter has seen.  Long-time league leaders Galway were penned deep in their own half for long periods of the game, and 50-cap Irish international Meabh de Burca was no threat to Wexford's control.  Wexford remain unbeaten this season, and did not show any sign of weakness on this occasion.
 
The Youths' mood remains quite cautious, knowing that the heavy fixture congestion in the run-in will not make things easy for them.  After the game, Edel Kennedy had this to say: "It Was a great team performance. Felt we controlled the game throughout and minimised Galway's efforts on goal.
We Got the three points we needed to keep our chances in the league alive. We now have to focus on the league Cup semi final Wednesday night against Shelbourne. With a lot of tough games coming up we are lucky to have such a strong united squad."
 
Emma Hansberry echoed Edel's thoughts, knowing that while their performance was top-notch, playing 5 games in 2 weeks will major challenge to Will Doyle's squad: "Tonight was a very professional performance from the team I thought. We managed the game in the best way that we could. After going a goal up we kept the ball and made the most of possession. A great relief to get the 3 points but we still have a lot of tough games to come in the league."
 
Wexford Youths: Tamara Furlong; Nicola Sinnott, Jess Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon; Edel Kennedy, Ruth Fahy, Kylie Murphy, Emma Hansberry, Aisling Frawley, Linda Douglas; Claire O'Riordan
 
Subs: Shauna Wall, Becky Cassin, Rachel Hutchinson, Amy Walsh, Lauren Dwyer, Aoibhinn Webb, Meghan Whitty
 
Galway: Tina Hughes, Shauna Fox, Meabh de Burca, Aoife Walshe, Lucy Hannon, Therese Hartley, Lynsey McKey, Kiera Cormican, Chloe Maloney, Jess Nolan, Aisling Meaney
 
Subs: Sorcha ni Broichean, Carol Mannion, Caroline Carter, Alanna Moran
 
Author: Ronan McCarthy

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