Women surrender title on miserable day
Shelbourne strike five goals to reverse the outcome of last year's decider
Wexford Youths were shredded by a rampant Shelbourne in the Continental Tyres Women's Senior Cup final at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
Shelbourne 5 Wexford Youths 0
The north Dublin club were in irresistible form from the off, slicing Wexford apart with way too much regularity and ease. Shelbourne were favourites coming into the game but surely not even they can believe how easy it proved to be.
The defending league and cup champions never really got going. They were edgy from the start and stood off their opponents, allowing them to completely dictate the game in the middle of the park.
Manager Gary Hunt surprisingly omitted both Becky Cassin and Rachel Hutchinson from the starting line-up in favour of a centre midfield duo of Emma Hansberry and Maria Delahunty, the latter having played in the Munster Intermediate Club ladies' football final less than 24 hours earlier.
Things went wrong early and often with Wexford unable to stop the Shelbourne midfield playing. The winners didn't care, as they picked deep passes from in front of the Youths midfield and drifted between the lines untracked to pressure the Wexford defence.
Noelle Murray a talented nettle of a player, but has never had as much of an impact against Youths as she was allowed on Sunday. Nobody put their foot in, nobody pressed her, so she did as she wanted and looked like a world-beater in the process.
With little to no protection, the Wexford defence struggled too. Shelbourne's front three of Leanne Kiernan, Siobhán Killeen and Gloria Douglas are superb but Youths' high line, and the ample space they were afforded, made it easier for the trio than it needed to be.
Much is made of Kiernan's pace but the addition of American Douglas, in particular, has added a silky wrinkle to the Shels attack that they didn't possess previously. Their gameplan is simple enough: get it to the forward players early and in space and let them win you the game.
They didn't even need to do it themselves in the second minute when a misplaced ball out of defence by Sophie Lenehan was picked up by Siobhán Killeen. The Shelbourne winger played a one-two with Douglas but her ball across goal towards Kiernan was blocked behind by Jess Gleeson.
There was more good work in the space between midfield and defence by Murray, who slipped Douglas away in the seventh minute. The Shelbourne attacker had a shot charged down, and it rebounded to Leanne Kiernan but her strike was blocked too.
Wexford's first proper foray forward saw Delahunty feed Frawley down the right wing, and the Waterford native crossed to the centre but Niamh Walsh hooked away. Hansberry then tried a 40-metre free that drifted harmlessly wide of the goal.
After scouring the bargain bin for match officials again, it was fortunate for the W.F.A.I. that the game wasn't close enough to be decided by their ineptitude. The first to look foolish was the linesperson Emma Cleary, flagging Aisling Frawley offside when her cross was headed back into her path by a Shelbourne defender.
Dublin referee Deirdre Nolan, daughter of Noel King, the Irish Under-21 manager, gave the Dublin side a soft penalty when Kiernan cut across Nicola Sinnott and flopped to the floor with minimal contact. Sophie Lenehan guessed correctly, diving to her left to save Murray's weak spot-kick.
A big moment for Wexford came and went in the 24th minute. After swapping sides, Linda Douglas broke away on the right and swung over a dangerous cross. The ball flew all the way to Frawley at the back post but the winger snatched at her shot and fired over.
Shelbourne took the lead in the 31st minute when Courtney Higgins' free-kick into the area wasn't properly dealt with. Murray's initial volley was blocked by Delahunty but she buried the rebound in the top corner.
Moments later, Delahunty saw a shot deflected into the side-netting from the edge of the area. From the resulting, pre-rehearsed, corner, Orlaith Conlon sent a half-volley wide from Hansberry's cross.
Gloria Douglas split Wexford open eleven minutes before the break. Leanne Kiernan, now on the right, sprinted clear, beat Sophie Lenehan to the ball, sidestepped the Youths 'keeper and flashed to the empty net.
Down 2-0, and looking a little unsure of themselves, Wexford defenders had a couple of half chances. Jess Gleeson stepped out of the back four with the ball but drilled her shot wide. In the 43rd minute, Nicola Sinnott did likewise, testing Amanda McQuillan for the first time with a left foot strike.
Any morsel of confidence gained after a break from defending evaporated in first-half added time when Douglas flicked off to Murray who slid Kiernan away on the inside right, and the Irish Under-19 international calmly slotted past Lenehan.
In an Istanbul-type predicament, Wexford needed the first goal of the second-half and they went about getting it almost immediately. Linda Douglas was fouled on the right, and Amy Walsh whipped in the dead-ball.
Delahunty gained possession and fed Aoibhín Webb but her shot was saved behind by McQuillan. Claire O'Riordan nodded the resulting Hansberry corner wide.
Siobhán Killeen cut in from the right wing and fired, left-footed, wide of Lenehan's goal in the 56th minute. At the other end, Linda Douglas jinked past two defenders but her final ball lacked accuracy and Shelbourne cleared.
The game was put to bed in the 64th minute. Killeen crossed from the right wing for Douglas, and the attacker met it with a powerful header that crashed off the bar. As she turned around to curse her luck, the ball looped up into the air and beyond Lenehan to the net.
Delahunty tested McQuillan with a long range free-kick, and moments later the Waterford footballer found O'Riordan in the penalty area but her shot was saved by the Shelbourne 'keeper's foot. Roles were reversed six minutes later when Delahunty smashed over.
Hansberry's raking pass sent Linda Douglas haring away on the right, and she cut in but thumped off target. Lenehan stopped a Gloria Douglas header from Killeen's cross, and then Kiernan fired wide as Shelbourne attempted to exploit Youths' move to three at the back.
There's else little that needs to be said about Jess Gleeson's good, strong tackle on Killeen that referee Nolan decided warranted a penalty. Kiernan crashed the spot-kick in off the underside of the crossbar.
Delahunty and O'Riordan both had shots saved in the final ten minutes as the game drifted to an end. Orlaith Conlon also flashed over the crossbar from Hansberry's corner but that elusive goal, that wouldn't have provided much consolation, didn't materialise.
Wexford don't have long to lick their wounds. They are back in league action on Saturday in Ferrycarrig Park (7.30 p.m.) against Galway United before another meeting with Shelbourne follows seven days later.
Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Jess Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon, Amy Walsh; Emma Hansberry, Maria Delahunty; Aisling Frawley, Aoibhín Webb, Linda Douglas; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Rachel Hutchinson for Walsh (68), Chelsee Snell for Delahunty (84), also Tamara Furlong, Becky Cassin, Aoife Prendergast, Leanne Tumelty, Sinéad Gaynor.
Shelbourne: Amanda McQuillan; Rachel Graham, Niamh Walsh, Seána Cooke, Courtney Higgins; Pearl Slattery, Alex Kavanagh; Siobhán Killeen, Noelle Murray, Leanne Kiernan; Gloria Douglas. Subs. - Lynn Craven for Higgins (80), Fiona Donnelly for Killeen (84), Sophie Watters for Kiernan (84), also Niamh Reid-Burke, Shauna Newman, Sarah Rowe, Grace Murray.
Referee: Deirdre Nolan (Dublin).