General football, Ireland, UEFA Women's Champions League, Women's football

Killeen hoping to make the hard yards count in Belfast

As the ear-piercing crescendo of jet engines deafened overhead, Shelbourne Ladies trained at the AUL Complex next to Dublin Airport, ahead of their UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifiers, which begin today. In a way, it’s a cruel location for the players to warm-up, as their normal training venue of the Morton Stadium was sacrificed for the AUL’s artificial surface, as they aimed to mimic match conditions in central Belfast this week. They could have been heading off to sunny Cyprus, Croatia, Montenegro or the Estonian holiday resort of Parnu this week, instead they’re making the short journey north to Belfast and the compact home of Crusanders FC. Football can be cruel at times.

Not so green grass of home

Shels begin their round-robin mini tournament campaign today against group favourites, Medyk Konin, followed by close second favourites, PK-35 Vantaa on Friday, before facing bottom-ranked home side, Linfield on Monday. Flying Shels winger, Siobhán Killeen outlines the difficult task facing her side. “From looking on paper they’re both very experienced (Medyk Konin of Poland and PK-35 Vantaa of Finland), a lot of international players, they’ve played in Champions League a lot, every year they’re expected to do well and get out of the group. I know we’re in for a tough challenge, they’re very physical, technically very gifted, especially PK-35, so I know it’s tough but we’re all capable because we’re a great team and we’re very skilled as well.”

Whilst she is positive about Shels’ footballing chances, she laments the fact that the youthful Dubliner’s won’t be able to strut their stuff on a lush grass surface, as all three of their games will be played on Seaview’s 4G artificial pitch. “That’s probably the thing that’s going to be toughest about the tournament, playing on the 4G pitch because we’re used to playing on grass pitches here in tough weather conditions. You’d probably try and like to get PK-35 or Medyk Konin onto a pitch like that because the 4G will move quick. You just have to try and prepare as best you can, like tonight, that’s why we’re here training on the astro (at the AUL) and we’ve also been training at St Anne’s Park on the astro. It is very different, we just have to try and get used to it.” Shels have had pitch problems already this season. When they arrived for a routine league fixture at The Watershed Sports Centre, in May, Kilkenny’s playing surface issues were clear and present.

Pitch issues

Killeen vented her dissatisfaction by posting photographs on social media during their pre-match inspection, showing the extent of the damage to the dangerous divot-strewn surface. Kilkenny had been using the venue this season, after leaving Buckley Park. The photographs told their own story.  Sand and sods filled ditches at the patchwork sports and leisure centre pitch. “It was shocking to go down there and see the pitch, the state it was in. We are supposed to be the top players in the country. When you are growing up playing football as kids, this is the level you want to try and reach and then you travel down (to see that pitch). A lot of us work weekends and we give up shifts from work, we’re only amateur players, so that was very disappointing.” Kilkenny duly issued a grovelling apology, the FAI ordered the fixture be rescheduled and reversed and Shels doled out an unmerciful 11-0 hammering in Dublin.

Despite any doubts over today’s fast-playing surface, positives in the form of home support will be an added bonus for Shels, as bus loads of supporters and family members make the 160 km journey north. As well as that, the in-camp togetherness and team spirit – which seems evident when Irish underage women travel for tournament football – should be another major plus. “Like on international trips, you could be away for a week or two, away from your family so we are used to staying in that close environment with your teammates, training everyday. So they should be well prepared for it and know what they’re getting themselves in for. There are a good few buses of our underage teams coming up – it will be like a home draw, but when you’re away, you feel like you’re away from all other commitments, so it’s nice. We were hoping for an away game but, Belfast is only up the road, so you feel like you’re not in Dublin, but at least up in Belfast you feel like you’re away, you’re in a camp – if it was in Dublin, some of the girls could work from home.”

Family support

Family support also plays a big role in the women’s game in Ireland, where dedicated relatives make-up large sections of the weekly league attendances, up and down the country. Killeen will be hoping there’s a double celebration, come the final whistle – where her mother will provide support from the stands, as she celebrates a landmark birthday today. “It’s my mam’s birthday, quite a big one as well.  So she’ll come up with my brothers and their families will also come up, so it’ll be nice. It’s only up the road so it’ll be nice.”

Training four nights a week in the lashings of rain

There is a quiet confidence about Siobhán Killeen and you get the sense that she truly believes in the synergy of Shelbourne’s star underage individuals. “The girls have all succeeded at underage level with Ireland, so they’ll be hoping to repeat some of that, but with their teammates who they’re training with four nights a week in the lashings of rain, so it’ll be nice for them.”

The self-assured attacker and her teammates will need the mother of all performances to advance as group winners or as best runners-up in this campaign. They’ll hope that their bond and togetherness, mixed in with a little help from the weather – in the form of the tail-end of Hurricane Gert – and some family support can see them through. If the virtuous side of football prevails, then the young Shelbourne players can afford to look skywards and wonder which country they’ll be flying to in the first round of the UEFA Women’s Champions League in October.

Andy Donlan

UEFA Women’s Champions League Qualifying Group 4 kicks off on at 14:00 today in Seaview, Belfast when Shelbourne Ladies play Medyk Konin and continues through to Monday 28 August [view full fixture list].

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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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WFAI Cup, Women's football

WFAI Cup final – post match reaction

In a cold, grey tunnel, in the bowels of the Aviva Stadium, a radiant figure stood amongst the various officials, reporters and players. The figure was that of victorious Raheny United captain, Rebecca Creagh, both of her hands were clasped tightly around the treasured prize in her possession – the Women’s FAI Cup.
After a third successive WFAI Cup triumph the attacker beamed, “It’s unbelievable, hard to put into words to be honest with you. I think it’s the sweetest one as well. It was an unbelievable occasion. This year there was a bit of a better buzz to be honest with you, as the atmosphere has been unbelievable in the squad, coming off the back of a Champions League’s campaign. We’ll look back in years to come and cherish it.”

Cruel
Last Sunday’s decider ebbed and flowed and eventually required extra time to establish a winner. Unfortunately the game was decided by a goalkeeping error, a Siobhan Killeen shot squirming through the grasp of UCD Waves goalkeeper Monica McGuirk. McGuirk’s manager, Eileen Gleeson admitted it was a cruel way to lose a cup final, but she was pragmatic in her assessment of the situation. “It’s hard for the player that makes the mistake, it’s hard to lose the game on a mistake, but that’s part of being in a team, you win, you lose, you draw together. Unfortunately for ‘keepers if they make an individual mistake it ends up in the back of the net, they don’t have any security behind them, but we have to take it as a team and move forwards as a team.”
McGuirk’s teammate, Julie Ann Russell cut a devastated figure after the game, honestly explaining, “It is just heart breaking to lose any final, but the FAI Cup, for it to go into extra time and then for a soft goal that could have really been preventable.” When quizzed as to preparations for other eventualities, she replied, “To be honest I had a gut feeling that we’d score, I didn’t really think about penalties, I just wanted to win it.”

“It’s about time”
Indeed it was Russell’s crafty wing work that helped light up this exciting final. As a spectacle, she remarked, “It was brilliant that it was televised; it’s about time to be honest. The standard is improving year-on-year. Hopefully people enjoyed it today and to the fans that came, they were brilliant as well. Hopefully we’ll see more games televised and not just the cup final.”

“I enjoy playing against them”
While Russell may want to move on quickly from Sunday’s game, one player who’ll look back favourably on the match will be Raheny’s Katie McCabe. McCabe’s stunning long range free set them on their way and when asked of her memories of the goal, the infectious striker said, “I saw it dipping and once it hit the top corner I was delighted. I think that’s up there with one of my better ones”, she smiled. McCabe – who can look forward to a big future in the game – also had some praise for the opposition, extolling, “UCD Waves are a very very good side. They move the ball well, sharp, they play off the centre forwards. I enjoy playing against them because you’re playing against a very good team, at a top level. Not saying that the other teams aren’t good sides but there’s always that bit more hunger in these games.”

Top two
Creagh finishes, “There has been a lot of build up to the game, UCD, Raheny – the top two in the country – so people are saying. This one is very very sweet.

With one point between the sides and both scheduled to meet again in the league on 29 November in the more conventional surroundings of Jackson Park, expect any pleasantries to be waived once both sides cross the white line.

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WFAI Cup, Women's football

Raheny Surf Tidal Wave to Cup Glory

UCD Waves 1-2 Raheny United AET (O’Gorman 40’; McCabe 20’, Killeen 95’)

This all-conquering Raheny United team refused to be swept away by a UCD wave in this end-to-end Cup final at Lansdowne Road. Raheny United’s recent dominance of the domestic game is staggering. They have now won the Women’s FAI Cup in each of the last three seasons, while they’ve won the National League twice in that period.
In the end it was an unfortunate defensive error that decided the game, as it took extra time to split these close rivals. Five minutes into extra time a loose clearance found its way to Siobhan Killeen on the left wing 35 yards from goal. As she advanced clear into the UCD box, she managed to get a shot away which squirmed under the body of goalkeeper McGuirk and agonisingly crept over the line. It was harsh on the UCD net-minder as she looked solid throughout.

Something special
In truth, there was nothing between these sides and it took something straight out of the top drawer to open the scoring on 20 minutes. 19-year old Katie McCabe’s 30 yard free kick sailed past UCD goalkeeper, Monica McGuirk into the top corner of the net. It was a dream-like strike from the Raheny attacker, whose effort was somewhat aided by referee Michelle O’Neill. The Wexford whistler blew up for a foul on McCabe after here silky skills took her away from several UCD players, when advantage should have been played. However, no little skill was used in applying the finish, which was McCabe’s fourth goal against UCD Waves in two games. On the biggest day in the Women’s footballing calendar, it was a goal befitting of the occasion.
It was almost 2-0 two minutes later as a Raheny free kick wasn’t properly cleared, but the lively Siobhan Killeen couldn’t find a way past Monica McGuirk. UCD decided to change tack, with wingers Russell and Berrill swapping sides. It seemed to work, as the industrious O’Gorman, ploughing a lone furrow upfront, dropped into the right channel more frequently to link-up with Julie Ann Russell. Indeed it was that duo who managed to link-up – via the crossbar – to create UCD’s equalising score on 40 minutes. Russell picked up the ball in midfield, nutmegged Clare Conlon and thrust a shot from 20 yards which smacked off the bar. The sound of the crossbar rattling was still echoing around the vast bowl-shaped arena when the alert Áine O’Gorman expertly turned home the rebound. Game on.

Second half UCD wave
The opening exchanges in the second half provided a continuation of the end-to-end first period. Julie Ann Russell still out on the right wing was having more of an impact on the game with her incisive dribbling. Although it wasn’t until the 73rd minute when her play contributed to an opening. She passed to Áine O’Gorman who fed Jetta Berrill whose shot was deflected wide for a corner. From the resultant corner the ball came to UCD’s Dora Gorman outside the box, but her effort struck the apex of bar and post. UCD were now riding the crest of a wave and two minutes later Áine O’Gorman was brilliantly denied by the Raheny goalkeeper, one-on-one, after she found space between two defenders. It looked destined she’d score.

Late chances
There were two further chances for Raheny in this exciting decider. First UCD’s Rebekah Carroll cleared to the edge of her own box, straight to Katie McCabe, but the plucky forward couldn’t dance her way through when well placed. Then one minute later UCD’s defensive rock – Ciara Grant – made a superb tackle to deny a winner as Raheny turned the screw.
As both teams settled into two periods of 10 minutes’ extra time, a cruel error awarded Raheny with the lead goal. They almost made it more in the dying embers as Noelle Murray thumped the crossbar twice.
In the end Raheny United went on to win and are on-course for a triple domestic double. The only shame was the fact that there had to be a loser on the day and moreover, that 99% of the seats in the Aviva Stadium lay empty.

UCD Waves: McGuirk; Carroll; Duggan; Grant; McCarthy; Gorman; Russell; Thorpe; Ryan (55’ Nolan); O’Gorman; Berrill (77’ Cahill).
Subs not used: O’Reilly (GK); Brien; Mustaki.

Raheny United: Reid-Burke; Keenan (95’ Newman); Walsh; Dwyer; Conlon (63’ O’Farrelly); Slattery; Creagh; Graham; McCabe; Murray; Killeen.
Subs not used: Houldsworth (GK); Barnes; Cronin; Sheehy; Brierley.

Player of the Match: Noelle Murray (Raheny United).

Attendance: 400 (estimate).

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