Continental Tyres Women's National League, General football, Ireland, League of Ireland, UEFA Women's Champions League, Women's football

Maher: preparation is key to European success

On a footballing time clock, video analysis, strength and conditioning and nutritional awareness are all relatively new concepts to a game that has existed since the mid-nineteenth century, though it feels like they’ve been around for some time.

These were alien concepts when Shaun Maher made his Bohemians debut in European competition, over twenty one years ago. He recalls, “My first game against Dinamo Minsk, the food was absolutely awful. I don’t think any of us ate anything before the game for two or three days”. When Bohs returned to the Belarussian capital seven years later led by Stephen Kenny, they arrived with their own chef, Irish football was evolving.

Nowadays, those concepts, coupled with logistical planning and meticulous preparation and organisation are key building blocks to European success. Maher’s Shelbourne Ladies players should have no food or preparation problems in central Belfast next week, where they visit to compete in the mini-tournament UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers.

Experience

Reliable footballing centre-half, Shaun Maher is now part of the coaching ticket at Shelbourne Ladies, who make their Champions League bow against Poland’s Medyk Konin on Tuesday on Crusader’s 4G artificial pitch in Seaview. Maher, who is head coach to Mark Leavy’s double champions, has a wealth of experience as a player at Champions League and UEFA Cup (Europa League) level. He competed in European competition with three different League of Ireland clubs, progressing through a round on three out of six occasions – only going out on away goals in his first tie and then losing by a 4-6 aggregate score to a slick-skilled Maritimo side in his final involvement, accounting for two of those exits. A more than decent achievement in League of Ireland terms, especially considering he was part of teams who beat Aberdeen and Kaiserslautern away and ran heavy-weights, Dinamo Kiev oh-so-close.

In reminiscing over European ties against the likes of Maritimo, Aberdeen, Kaiserslautern and Dinamo Kiev, he fondly recalls when a newly full-time Bohs were drawn to play Aberdeen in then UEFA Cup (now Europa League). If you are thinking his recollections are centred around his 81st minute bullet-headed equaliser in the historic away win, you’d be mistaken. Perhaps it is because he’s on the other side of the white wash in the technical area these days, but he recalls Bohs manager Roddy Collins’ approach to that first leg in Scotland.

“He was playing his own mind-games in the press with the Aberdeen manager – Ebbe Skovdahl. If I remember correctly, he was putting advertisements in the Aberdeen Echo looking for players two months beforehand, so you can see how much planning and detail has gone into that. It was a great distraction. It was really intelligent and clever. It took the pressure off the players completely. Thankfully it worked and it helped Bohs progress.”

Fast forward ten years to Maher’s final European game with Sporting Fingal, where preparations were drastically different for their visit to the archipelago of Madeira, located just off the Moroccan coast. “The last game in Madeira against Maritimo, we were there for nearly a week to acclimatise. When I travelled to Minsk with Bohs, it was three planes just to get to Minsk, where as in Mederia you’re in and out. That’s how things improved.”

Preparations

He points to improvements for the women’s double winners, Shelbourne, as they now have modern tools at their disposal to assist in their Champions League preparations.

“There’s a lot more preparation now and things have progressed as time has gone on. That’s not having a go at anyone, that’s just how times have improved through the science of the sport, coaching philosophies and so on. Everyone else was preparing the same way at that time. For instance, nowadays, we’ve got match analysis and we’re able to see match opposition from months ago, to a couple of weeks ago. That wasn’t available back then, they had to make do with what they had.”

Opposition

First up for Shels, they face the fancied Poles in a four-team round-robin group. Medyk Konin rule the roost domestically as they go in search of their fifth consecutive league title, having finished first or second in the last nine seasons. Indeed they hammered Wexford Youths 6-0 when they hosted the round-robin mini tournament at this stage in 2015 and are favourites to progress from this group, ahead of technical Finnish outfit, PK-35 Vantaa. Hosts Linfield complete the quartet.

“Medyk Konin win comfortably domestically most weeks, they’ve got talent all over the pitch, a bit of experience as well and they’re a threat. They’re full-time, they’re strong, they’ve strength in every area, but so have we. When time presents itself, we’ll try and exploit where our strengths are. We don’t want to over-awe the players either, in terms of what they’re facing but at the same time, you’ve got a responsibility to make them aware that things are going to be tough, but as long as we stick together and we stay physically and mentally strong throughout that period.”

Build-up

The excitement in the Shels camp is palpable, with young squad members milling about the AUL Complex ahead of their training preparations on the all-weather surface near Dublin Airport. “The build-up is still very exciting. It’s new to all of the players and it’s new to me as a coach because I’ve been involved in European competitions as a player, but as a coach, it’s slightly different. There’s a lot more responsibility on you as opposed to a player where you are focused on yourself in your own role in the team. As a coach, with the rest of the staff, you’re trying to think of everybody and everything. Every box is ticked and every angle is covered. So there’s a lot more involved and it’s different. It’s not the same as a player, it’s a lot more enjoyable as a player, I wish I was a player, I wish I was still out there, but unfortunately that’s not going to happen.”

Enjoy it

Whether Shels manage to progress or not, it won’t be for the lack of effort or preparation in a sport that’s underfunded and underdeveloped in comparison to some of their opponents next week. “I remember Derek Swan saying to me on my European debut, ‘Enjoy it, because it goes like that…’. That quick and if you don’t enjoy these opportunities, you’ll always regret it because they don’t come around every week or even every year.”

Shaun Maher may not be able to power home a bullet header or make a goal-saving tackle and you probably won’t see him place advertisements in the Belfast Telegraph looking for players. However, he may find that he’ll get more enjoyment through success of the players, having laid the foundations in their preparations, as Shelbourne Ladies look to conquer Belfast next week.

Andy Donlan

UEFA Women’s Champions League Qualifying Group 4 kicks off on Tuesday 22 August at 14:00 in Seaview, Belfast when Shelbourne Ladies play Medyk Konin [view full fixture list].

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Continental Tyres Women's National League, General football, Ireland, Women's football

Noelle Murray: “I was highly praised, he’s the play-maker”

The name Noelle is derived from a Latin word, meaning, “birthday (of the Lord)”. So it’s no surprise then to learn that Noelle Murray was born on Christmas Day. Statistically, aside from 29 February, it is considered out of the ordinary to be born on Christmas Day. However, there has been nothing ordinary about Murray’s talent or her displays in helping Shelbourne to the double last season. What’s seldom is wonderful.

Murray’s high performance levels in the red of Shelbourne have been wonderful and anything but seldom. From slotting home from the penalty spot in balmy August – scoring Shels’ first home goal of the season – to stylishly lobbing-in [view goal] the league-clincher against near-rivals UCD Waves on a freezing late-November night. It has been an unforgettable season for the three-time league and five-time FAI Cup winner.

Departure

Murray won’t compete in the Women’s National League next season for the first time since its’ inception, having signed for Glasgow City last week. In a thoroughly deserved move to full-time football, the Dubliner bucks the recent trend that has seen, mainly youngsters move away. Indeed, Savannah McCarthy, Katie McCabe and Jamie Finn – who have recently departed these shores for greener pastures and the lure of professional football – have all done so prior to their 21st birthdays. Murray leaves at 27.

Number One Award

She delayed her departure for Scotland’s vibrant second city, to attend last week’s Continental Tyre’s Women’s National League Awards 2016 in the Guinness Storehouse, where she was nominated for Player of the Year. “I meant to go already, but I delayed it a bit for the awards. I’m just dying to get over now and see what it has in store for me and get to know the girls. I’m dying to get over and just get going now.”
This award clearly meant a lot to her to win and you could see why. It was decided by popular ballot among her peers. There was stiff competition too. Teen goal-scoring sensation and cup final hat-trick hero, Leanne Kiernan and Karen Duggan – whose awards-laden sideboard must be creaking under the strain of innumerable gongs – completed the nominees. Murray’s name was deservedly pulled out of the envelop and she was named Continental Tyres Women’s National League Player of the Year for the truncated 2016 season.

Putting it into perspective, Murray says, “It’s definitely my number one award to date, especially because all of the girls in the other teams voted. It’s a privilege to know that all of the girls are giving you the vote, as they only get to vote for one person and it’s nice to know that they are giving you their vote to win it. We had a great season. You can never do something without your teammates.”

Character

The award comes off the back of a scintillating season with Shelbourne. They completed the league and FAI Cup double – wrestling both trophies back from arch-rivals Wexford Youths, who lorded it over them the previous year. She admits with satisfaction, “doing the double, I think after winning the league and then losing it and then to fight back, it was just brilliant”. Indeed, in the controversial 2015 FAI Cup final shootout, Murray stepped up first and missed, handing the opening initiative to Wexford Youths. Then against the same opposition in the 2016 decider, she missed again, this time in regulation time. However, showing the character that no doubt persuaded Glasgow, she recovered to hook-in the opening goal of the game. She then proceeded to dictate the remainder of the game, providing a platform for her red-hot team-mates to savage a poor Wexford side. Something perhaps Glasgow wouldn’t get from an inexperienced pre-21 youngster? Murray admits the miss gave her, “a kick up the butt to get me going into the final”.

The Play-maker

This central role and mature range of passing in the 2016 cup final caught the eye of ex-Bray Wanderers and Shamrock Rovers manager, Trevor Croly, who was applying the co-commentary analysis for the live televised game. The clearly impressed, Croly drew comparisons of Murray’s display with that of Ireland midfield play-maker, Wes Hoolahan – such was the level of her performance. High praise indeed.

Murray on the comparison, “It was recorded at home and I watched it back afterwards. I was highly praised on the commentary which I was delighted to hear, to be named along with Wes Hoolahan – he’s the play-maker.” Her deeper role on the day allowed her to dictate the play, utilising the pace of Siobhan Killeen, the direct running of Leanne Kiernan and the power of Gloria Douglas to exploit every inch of the vast open spaces of the Lansdowne Road pitch. She admits, “I definitely think I prefer to play in the ten now – just behind the forward – I feel I’m more involved in the game. I feel like I can drop back and help what’s going on behind and then help what’s in front of me as well”.

Future

Put to her that her departure and that of other high-profile names will leave the Women’s National League a poorer place, she instantly replied. “No there’s quality all over the league in fairness. There’s still quality here. The younger ones who are coming up are going to bring it on. It’s going to change over the years, but it’s just going to get better and better, I can see it.”

When speaking about the future direction of the women’s game in Ireland, Murray is confident of a rise in standards and increased professionalism – which is making progress in all areas but the pay packet, or lack thereof. She explains, “People put the effort in, the time and effort people give to football teams is unbelievable, so to get something back out of it is always nice at the end of it.”
She now embarks on her Scottish journey and her first professional contract, earned through effort, hard-work, ability and experience. What’s seldom is wonderful.

Andy Donlan

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Continental Tyres Women's National League, General football, Women's football

Waves sail home

UCD Waves 4-1 Cork City Women’s FC (Nolan 5’, 28’, O’Gorman 23’, Berrill 70’; Desmond 63’)

After enduring 126 days of frustration, the players of UCD Waves finally crossed the white-wash for a league fixture at their home base of Jackson Park – their first of the season. Even more incredibly, it’s almost 10 months since they hosted Peamount United in a home league game at the tail-end of the 2014/15 season. On this occasion they took their frustration out on a hard-working Cork City side, who had no match for Waves’ midfield creativity or guile going forward.

Waves, and indeed the others in the Continental Tyres Women’s National League must face-up to a fixtures backlog, with time running out to complete the 2015/16 league campaign. Their manager, Eileen Gleeson, speaking in the aftermath of their 4-1 victory over Cork City spoke of the difficulties that lie ahead. “The back fixtures will definitely affect us. There’ll be three games per week, which will be hard to sustain for the girls.” She also seemed to pour cold water over the possibility of extending the league season, were it an option. “I wouldn’t think they’ll extend the league, as we have a lot of students with exams, so we can’t afford to extend it because we wouldn’t have the players available. I think it will be tough for everyone. People will have back matches, teams will be travelling mid-week, will they have players available? I think it will change the landscape of the league.” She is adamant though, that following the lead of the men’s game in Ireland is the only logical step for this fledgling league. “I think that’s what’s coming (a switch to summer football). You couldn’t go through another season like this – three months without a game. It’s nobody’s fault but I think a switch would be positive.”

In the match, midfielder Orlagh Nolan helped herself to a brace inside 28 minutes to put this game to bed early. Her first after 5 minutes, was a well-taken effort from a left wing cross, with the second arriving just before the 30 minute mark, aided by a deflection. Sandwiched in between those goals was a typically tidy lob from skipper Áine O’Gorman, as UCD played into the wind in the first half. O’Gorman might have made it four before the break, but she shanked Chloe Mustaki’s cross over the bar when well-placed. Cork City found it hard to live with the incisive passing of Julie Ann Russell, Caroline Thorpe and Jetta Berrill – the latter linking up well with the former in constant raids down the right flank.

Cork briefly rallied in the second half, pulling a goal back through Ciara Desmond, when her rasping shot dropped under the bar and over the line at the back post via Monika McGuirk’s gloves. That goal failed to take the wind out of Waves’ sails though, as a superb Thorpe pass laid-on a fourth for the home side. The Cork City management team – headed up by Frank Kelleher for the first time – must have been pulling their collective hair out. A mix-up in defence following Thorpe’s pass allowed Jetta Berrill to steal in between goalkeeper and defenders, to coolly slot the ball into the bottom corner for 4-1. Berrill then stung the palms of the over-worked Trish Fennelly on 71, while the Cork stopper kept out Thorpe at the near post on 80, before further denying O’Gorman with a smart stop with her foot in injury time.

UCD will need to tighten-up at the back ahead of next weekend’s visit of Wexford Youths in the League Cup, as they coughed up a few second half chances to Cork – who look a distance off their opponents. They’ll want to avoid a repeat of their league defeat in Wexford earlier this month, where they shipped four goals, Gleeson admitted, “Four mistakes lead to four goals”.

UCD Waves: McGuirk; Berrill; Cahill; Hackett; Prior; Mustaki; Nolan; Thorpe; Cronin; Russell; O’Gorman.
Subs not used: 2 (unknown).

Cork City Womens FC: Fennelly; O’Donovan; Murphy; O’Brien; Duncliffe; Kelleher; Carroll (69’ Hurley); B.O’Connell (59’ Carry); Desmond; Daly; R.O’Connell.
Subs not used: O’Reilly; McNamara; McCarthy.

Attendance: 30 (estimate)

Andy Donlan

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Continental Tyres Women's National League, Women's football

Mother’s Day Misery at Morton for Raheny

Raheny United 2-3 UCD Waves (Creagh 32′, 77′; O’Gorman 17′, Nolan 42′, Reid-Burke OG 57′)

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UCD Waves advance on Wexford Youths at the top

If they say a week is a long time in football, then 819 days must seem like an eternity. Raheny United’s unbeaten league era was ended by Wexford Youths in February, after a 27 month unbeaten league period. Now they’ve lost two games in 21 days and look like relinquishing their hold on the Women’s National League trophy. This victory for UCD keeps the title race wide open approaching the final hurdle, with both Raheny United and UCD Waves still to face pole sitters Wexford Youths in an intriguing league climax.

UCD Waves defeated Raheny United at the fourth time of asking this season with a fully deserved victory on a bitterly cold Mother’s Day fixture at the Morton Stadium in Santry. Captain Áine O’Gorman led the way for Waves with the mother of all strikes, beating Ireland goalkeeper Niamh Reid-Burke with a pile driver from 30-yards. There wasn’t a lot on for O’Gorman when she received Orlagh Nolan’s pass, however advancing towards goal, the hard-working striker unleased an unstoppable shot into Reid-Burke’s top right hand corner. It was a strike that Stephanie Roche would struggle to better and it laid the foundations for Waves’ advance on Wexford Youths at the summit. One wonders what might have come to pass for Raheny had they had their full complement for 90 minutes. On the hour mark, Pearl Slattery was red-carded for something she said to the referee. Slattery protested and walked from the pitch, but later re-emerged onto the field at full-time and approached the match officials – a move that is sure to land her in hot water with the authorities.

On the pitch, Raheny United captain, Rebecca Creagh bravely equalised O’Gorman’s sizzler with a header, after Niamh Walsh’s overhead kick struck the underside of the bar following a corner on 32. However Waves were to surf into the half time break in the lead, as they made a set piece of their own pay. The ubiquitous O’Gorman took it and Orlagh Nolan supplied the free header to give her side the lead.

Twelve minutes into the second half Raheny found themselves further behind. Having attacked down the right wing, O’Gorman’s hard work won a corner off Niamh Walsh. O’Gorman dusted herself down and swerved a dangerous set piece into the six yard box, which Raheny goalkeeper, Reid-Burke palmed into her own net amongst a crowded penalty area. Reid-Burke was fresh from her penalty heroics during Ireland’s victory over Costa Rica in the Istria Cup last week. Pearl Slattery’s red card was to follow minutes later, compounding Raheny’s Mothers Day misery. But United weren’t out of it, as in the energetic Katie McCabe and Siobhan Killeen, they had a constant threat. On 77 minutes the latter was to make an impact, as Killeen went down in the box. Captain Creagh reduced the deficit to 3-2 from the spot. There were further half chances for both sides, but Raheny couldn’t further breach the UCD rear-guard, which was well marshalled by young Savanagh McCarthy.

Waves have now crept to within 5 points of leaders, Youths and you wouldn’t bet against final day drama, when Wexford travel to meet UCD Waves next month.

Raheny United: Reid-Burke; Newman; Keenan; Dwyer; Barnes (74′ Shine); Walsh; Slattery; Creagh; Rowe (74′ Brierley); Killeen; McCabe.

UCD Waves: McGuirk; Grant; McCarthy; Brien; Carroll; Thorpe (79′ Mustaki); Duggan; Nolan; Russell; Berrill (65’ Maguire); O’Gorman.

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