General football, Ireland, WFAI Cup, Women's football

Underdogs Wexford are top dogs

Underdogs Wexford Youths claimed the 2019 Women’s FAI Cup with a determined win over favourites Peamount United. The showpiece was a repeat of last year’s tense decider, however this year there were goals and chances aplenty.

Youth’s laid the foundations for this victory nearly a month ago – in the semi-final victory over Galway. On that occasion, they came from behind to book their place in the decider. Here, Youth’s took an early lead and although pegged back twice, their experience helped them to see the game out and secure back-to-back Women’s FAI Cup victories.

So Wexford

Double goal scoring hero, Lauren Kelly revealed the foundation plan. “For the semi-final, we were thinking of how we could change it up. They’re going to be expecting Rianna up top. It’s so Wexford, it has been going on for years. (The change of tactics) worked out really well against Galway so he decided we’d play like that again against Shels and it just worked out for the last few matches.”

Manager Tom Elms explained, “playing two up top, we knew that Rianna was going to take a lot of attention. I think they would have planned to put their two centre halves on her and we knew that was going to free up that second striker and you could see that with the first goal – the space that Lauren (Kelly) had. With the space we had it meant that we could begin on the front foot and get early support.”

Sea of green

Peamount had matched Wexford for most of this game, however, a 64th minute run by substitute McKenna Davidson setup the winner. Her run pulled centre half, Louise Corrigan out of position and created the space for captain Kylie Murphy to run onto and finish Rianna Jarrett’s layoff. It was harsh on Corrigan who had been commanding to that point. Murphy also reiterated the change in formation went some way to deciding the cup. “I really felt it hurt them, it felt like every time we went up the pitch, it felt like we were going to score. It wasn’t just turning around and looking up and seeing Rianna (Jarrett) in a sea of green, Lauren was there and I was joining in and think Tom got it spot on.”

Off script

Such was the day, even when Youth’s went off script, the ball ended up in the back of the net. Lauren Kelly revealed her lobbed finish in the 34th minute – to put Wexford back in front – shouldn’t have been, due to a prior meeting with Peamount’s goalkeeper. “We played Peamount a few weeks ago and usually Naoisha (McAloon) would play in goal, but Niamh (Reid-Burke) played that day. We were in on goal about three times and we tried to lob it over, but she’s just the type of goalkeeper you can’t lob. So, we went into the match, I was walking out with the girls, ‘shots go low, shots go low’ and then I lobbed it. I don’t know why I did that. It bounced awkwardly and hit it on the volley and thankfully it went in.”

Dreaming

It has been quite a few months for Kelly. In July, she netted a blockbuster of a strike for Ireland to defeat Brazil on the way to a fourth-place finish at the World University Games. Then in August, she scored in Youth’s Champions League campaign, where they won two out of their three games. “This whole year has been great for me, especially in Italy at the World Games, scoring against Brazil, stuff like that you dream of when you’re younger. Scoring in the Champions League as well, they’re things you dream of when you’re younger. It has been a really good year for me personally.”

Respect

Kelly couldn’t hide her delight at netting against Peamount, a club she spent three years with – only leaving to get game-time. However, you get the feeling there’s huge respect amongst the players, particularly when rivalries are put to one side and they pull on the green jersey for the likes of the University Games. “I have all the respect in the world for Peamount. I loved my time there, but when you’re not getting a game, you have to look after yourself. To go back and score against them, you’ve proved yourself in a way.” That respect carries through to her manager, Tom Elms and Wexford Youths, who she credits for taking her in and having faith. “Since I’ve come to Wexford, Tom has been very patient with me. I’m so grateful for Tom giving me a chance and having faith in me. It’s good to re-pay him and the girls as well, they’ve been so nice since I came to Wexford.”

Consistent Peamount had won 18 of their 21 league games this season but couldn’t shake the dogged underdogs. While Wexford built from the front with a little faith in their ex-Pea.

Andy Donlan.

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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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