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'I don't think many would have said we'd be in the knockout stages' - Wexford hoping to take down Cats
A place in the All-Ireland semi-final is up for grabs this Saturday evening in Páirc Uí Chaoimh.

JUST OVER FOUR years ago, Wexford were on the receiving end of one of the most stunning results in modern camogie.

launch-of-the-2021-camogie-association-knockout-stages-of-the-all-ireland-camogie-championships-with-charity-partner-ispcc-childline Tommy Dickson / INPHO There are two quarter-finals down for decision this weekend. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

A 1-16 to 0-12 victory saw Dublin progress to their first All-Ireland senior semi-final in 27 years while a defeated Wexford was left bruised by the outcome.

Two years later, the county found itself at the centre of controversy during the league, when they conceded a walkover to Cork in Division 1. This coincided with the news of their then-manager Martin Carey stepping down from the position.

A 45-point defeat to Galway shortly followed for a side that had famously completed an All-Ireland three-in-a-row between 2010 and 2012. Wexford suffered relegation to Division 2 that year while narrowly avoiding the drop to intermediate after a play-off victory over Meath.

The 2021 edition of Wexford camogie is in a much healthier state. The Premier Juniors are through to the All-Ireland semi-finals while their senior squad have quarter-final business on the horizon this weekend against reigning champions Kilkenny.

They also have Cork native, Kevin Tattan at the helm, who took over the team last year having previously worked in the backroom team for the Cork ladies under Ephie Fitzgerald.

Their progression is heartening for senior player, Anais Curran.

“Positive so far,” she begins. “If you had asked anyone at the start of the year would we be here, I don’t think many would have said we’d be in the knockout stages.

“It’s going well so far. The Junior girls are doing really as well, so I think the depth is there for Wexford camogie and it gives a little boost to us. If we were going by the league, I don’t think we performed as well as we could have and that was a bit of a shock to a lot of people as well, so we had to lift it come championship.

“I think so far, so good but we haven’t hit our stride yet. We’re still working on things but it takes time.

“I think the more time we have, the better we become. That’s likewise with the football as well, they’re flying it at the minute. It’s all going well here in Wexford.”

“It’s tough when you have people that are not in with the team saying things. We know that it’s not overnight that this success happens. I takes time but I can see where we are now and how far we’ve come and it’s brilliant.”

Allied to Wexford’s improvements is the return of four-time All-Ireland winner, and three-time All-Star, Katrina Parrock. 

Parrock stepped away from the panel in 2017, going on to enjoy FAI Cup success with Wexford Youths.

Wexford’s younger players, Curran says, are benefiting from Parrock’s experience and match cunning.

“I suppose [her] experience in matches is what pulls you through as well. She has been in that situation so many times and I think her success speaks for itself so it’s brilliant having her back.

“And I think just the set-up is going really well, the bond between everyone is just something that has been missing for a long time.

“She’s probably the most experienced in the team. I think what she has been through as well as a player will definitely stand to us as a team.

katrina-parrock Cathal Noonan / INPHO Cathal Noonan / INPHO / INPHO

“She has an abundance of skill and that rubs off on everyone around her and when you’re training with someone who has experienced the highs and is starting again from the bottom and is willing to put the work in to get back to the top, we’re just delighted to have her back.”

Waiting for Wexford on the other side of the line in Páirc Uí Chaoimh this Saturday evening are Kilkenny.

Brian Dowling’s side added the Division 1 title this year to their All-Ireland crown from last December, defeating Galway on both occasions.

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siobhan-mcgrath-and-claire-phelan James Crombie / INPHO Claire Phelan coming out with the ball during last year's All-Ireland final. James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

Drawn in Group 3 for the 2021 championship, Kilkenny found themselves tagged against familiar opposition from the west in the hunt for qualification to the knockout stages.

Their clash effectively decided who would be topping the group, with 14-player Galway edging the fiery encounter to progress directly to the semi-finals.

“We probably sat back a bit too much,” says defender Claire Phelan about that one-point loss which puts them in the quarter-finals. “We had an extra player and decided to sit back and we let Galway run at us.

“But look, without a shadow of a doubt, there were the better team on the day. They absolutely worked their socks off. They ran at us and put us under serious pressure. But we still hung in there right up to the end. The ball fell to me which is probably the wrong person to have the last shot of the game.

“But it’s always a good battle against Galway so we might meet them later on in the year yet.”

Phelan had some hamstring trouble earlier this year but is back motoring again ahead of the showdown with Wexford on Saturday. The favourites tag is firmly in the Kilkenny corner who have the unusual title of defending champions, rather than being in the chasing pack.

“It’s a nice way to be coming into it, we’ve been coming in on the opposite side of it for long enough so it’s a great way to be coming into championship.

“It was a great year last year but it’s a memory now. We’ve to leave that there and focus on what’s in front of us. It’s definitely a different way to be facing into championship but one I think we’re looking forward to and we’re happy to be in this position.

“Playing Wexford, no doubt it’s going to be a tough game. We’re going to need our biggest performance of the year against them. They’re always a tough physical, hurling county so we know we’re going to have a big battle ahead but we’re looking forward to it.”

Wexford’s Anais Curran and Claire Phelan of Kilkenny were speaking at the launch of the 2021 knockout stages of the All-Ireland camogie championships with charity partner ISPCC Childline

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