Shelbourne Ladies FC were able to avenge their loss in last year’s Continental Tyres FAI Cup Final, demolishing League leaders Wexford FC 5-0 in last week’s Women’s FAI Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium.
Wexford boss Gary Hunt, speaking before the game, noted that they were missing some key players for the final, including the suspended captain Kylie Murphy, and Irish International Lauren Dwyer, who wasn’t able to pass a late fitness test before the final. Right back Amy Walsh was also a concern, but was able to play for most of the game. Shels weren’t without selection issues, as Rebecca Creagh and Aoife Lennon both missed the crucial cup tie. Hunt hoped that a win for Wexford would raise the spirits of the club, as the men’s senior team were relegated from the Premier Division the previous week.
As Amhrán na bhFiann rang out in an almost entirely empty Aviva, and the teams lined up, one is struck by the varying age-range on display, with youth team players standing shoulder-to-shoulder with veterans, surely a good sign for the ongoing development of ladies football in Ireland. The youngest player on the pitch was Alex Kavanagh of Shelbourne, aged only 16.
Wexford got the game underway in a kit reminiscent of Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, while Shels contested the game in their traditional red & white strip. Shelbourne started off well, successfully containing the frenetic attack of Wexford and passing well between themselves, effectively building pressure and exerting it then on the Wexford back line. Wexford were not given much reprieve in the opening minutes, with several set-pieces being fired across the goal by Shels, with Jess Gleeson having to stretch to put one of the efforts over the line for a corner.
One could tell that the changes in formation & strategy imposed on Wexford caused problems for the players, as Shels looked the more capable team at almost every point. Noelle Murray put a great early ball through to Gloria Douglas, who showed fantastic skill and strength to weave through the Wexford defense, but her effort was well blocked in the end.
Wexford were able to test the Shels goal on occasion, with keeper Amanda McQuillan looking nervous in spots early on, though nothing would come of it. Just after the 15 minute mark defender Nicola Sinnott was adjudged to have brought 17 year-old forward Leanne Kiernan down in the penalty area, with referee Deirdre Nolan pointing to the spot. Shades of last year’s final, as Noelle Murray stepped up to take the penalty, but didn’t strike the ball properly, allowing keeper Sophie Lenehan to easily gather up the ball with a quick dive to her left. Replays of the challenge that lead to the penalty showed there was very little contact, if any, which may explain why Sinnott was only given a yellow card, despite fouling an ‘in-on-goal’ Kiernan.
Wexford could only keep Shels at bay for another 15 minutes, when Noelle Murray capitalised on the confusion caused by a deflected Courtney Higgins free kick, slotting home the first goal of the day with a well-aimed volley. It would only take 3 minutes until Douglas put a beautiful pass through for Leanne Kiernan, whose first touch took it around the charging keeper, allowing her to easily put it away for Shelbourne’s second goal. Wexford were nearly able to drag one back before the halftime break, as Nicola Sinnott’s curled shot forced a one-hand stretching save from the Shelbourne keeper, who did well to not palm it to any of the three unmarked Wexford players in the penalty area. As injury time ticked away, Wexford Youths surely thought they would only have a two goal deficit to deal with in the second half, but a beautiful move from Shels, including a good long seeking pass from the back, a casual back-heel in midfield and a fantastic through-ball, the latter of which found venerable wunderkind Leanne Kiernan, who calmly put the ball past Lenehan to score her second goal of the day, and Shel’s third.
Despite playing like Accrington Stanley during a dairy farmer strike in the first half, Wexford looked to emulate the Liverpool team of Ataturk fame in the second half by overturning their 3-goal deficit; indeed, they started off well, with some promising chances from set-pieces in the opening minutes. Wexford had a claim for a penalty turned away, as Maria Delahunty’s volley struck a Shelbourne arm, however it was clear that the contact was unintentional.
Wexford could only hold Shels back for 19 minutes this time, with Noelle Murray continuing her outrageously good form in putting Siobhán Killeen through in the corner, who then put a great ball in to Gloria Douglas, whose header ricocheted off the crossbar only to be turned into the goal by keeper Lenehan.
Second-half substitutions could do nothing to save Wexford Youths, as Shelbourne soon had their fifth goal from a Leanne Kiernan penalty, which also bagged a hattrick for the 17-year old forward. The call for the penalty was, again, quite questionable, as Jess Gleeson’s challenge on Siobhan Killeen looked to contain no real contact. Regardless, Shels now had five goals with only 12 minutes to go. Wexford looked to get a consolation goal as Aoibheann Webb put Claire O’Riordan through on goal, but her shot was expertly saved by McQuillan.
Shelbourne simply outclassed Wexford Youths, with the latter clearly showing the loss of several players through injury and suspension, and with the former having two star performances from Leanne Kiernan and Noelle Murray. At present Shels sit top of the Continental Tyres League, 4 points ahead of Wexford in the 3rd, with 5 games left to play.
Wexford Youths WFC – Lenehan (GK), Sinnott (C), Gleeson, Conlon, A. Walsh (sub: Hutchinson), Frawley, Delahunty (sub: Snell), Hansberry, L. Douglas, Webb, O’Riordan.
Shelbourne – McQuillan (GK), Graham (sub: Craven), N. Walsh, Cooke, Higgins, Kavanagh, Slattery (C), Murray, Killeen (sub: Donnelly), G. Douglas, Kiernan (sub: Watters).
Referee – Deirdre Nolan.