Wednesday 17 January 2018

Glory for the leading ladies

O'Riordan double wins the title for Wexford Youths

Dean Goodison

Wexford Youths celebrate after winning the Continental Tyres Women's National League title
Wexford Youths celebrate after winning the Continental Tyres Women's National League title
Claire O'Riordan with her player of the match award
Claire O'Riordan celebrates after scoring the winning goal
Linda Douglas of Wexford Youth holds off the challenge of Siobhan Kileen of Shelbourne

Hollywood doesn't write scripts like this, the whole story is just way too unbelievable.

Wexford Youths 2 Shelbourne 1

Your goalkeeper tears her ACL in the Cup final, you still win. Then your star striker shreds hers for the third time on international duty. Your best left sided played rips hers a few weeks later playing for the college. Surely that's the end of it.

Still you cling to the top of the table, racking up big win after big win. You can seal the title with victory in the second to last game of the season in Galway but you fall behind, your holding midfielder tears her ACL and you can only draw.

Your best defender is ruled out of the title decider against Shelbourne because of a concussion when you just need a point. You take the lead only to be done by a series of horrible refereeing decisions.

In midfield, your star signing sits, weeping, disconsolate, broken. Her knee is heavily strapped and has been for a couple of months. She's clearly not one hundred per cent but has soldiered on, giving her side everything she has and more and now she's crestfallen.

You need to lift yourself for a playoff but with the bare bones left, against a team who has scored seven times against you in the previous two games it must be hard. It looks hard as you struggle to get going. They score.

Then, that star defender sustains another injury and is forced off. Your 1-0 down, your depleted, you feel the sporting gods are against you but you have heart. You have spirit. You have the current buzzword - character - in abundance.

Then the magic happens, the imperfect perfection of the fairytale, the story that Walt Disney couldn't make kids believe.

In fifty years time, when they meet for the reunion on zimmer frames and walking sticks but maybe without all the crutches, the ladies of Wexford Youths will hardly be able to explain how they won this Continental Tyres Women's National League title In Tallaght Stadium. Embellishment won't be necessary, that's for sure.

To say it took resolve doesn't come close. There was a sense that something special was on the horizon when Claire O'Riordan headed in a Linda Douglas cross from the right wing in the 42nd minute. When Niamh Walsh slipped and O'Riordan hared away to net again there was only one winner.

While some have not been able to finish the season, others have stepped up. Every player in that squad deserves huge credit for how the season has panned out but others have really been particularly immense in recent weeks.

When the threat through the centre has been blunted, the wingers, Linda Douglas and Aisling Frawley have been immense. In many ways their seasons have mirrored each other with the duo at their most effective as the pitches have dried out.

The back four was excellent on Sunday, before and after Gleeson's injury. However, Lauren Dwyer was the pick of them and must surely have been closest, with Douglas, to Claire O'Riordan when the 'Player of the Game' was being contemplated.

Led by Kylie Murphy as her usual self, the midfield squared up to the most talented segment of their opponents side and did a fantastic job of nullifying their involvement. And what can be said about O'Riordan that hasn't been said, a striker who saved her best for when it was needed most.

Huge credit also has to go to Will Doyle and his backroom team. To switch to four at the back when the title was on the line in the last two games took immense belief and that decision paid dividends as it's questionable whether his side would have held up with a back three.

Maybe the unusual formation was one of the reasons it took Youths a while to settle. Emma Hansberry had a couple of right wing crosses that came to nothing but her side were struggling to make an impact.

Wexford were given a warning when Noelle Murray headed Rebecca Creagh's free-kick at Tamara Furlong but it wasn't heeded. In the 15th minute Shelbourne took the lead. A long Keeva Keenan dead ball was glanced past the Youths 'stopper by Pearl Slattery.

Murray had a pot-shot from 30 yards that Furlong easily saved before Wexford created their first opening. It came from a Hansberry corner that Nicola Sinnott worked back into the danger area. Kylie Murphy helped it towards goal but Ruth Fahy just missed a telling connection on the bicycle-kick in the six yard box.

When Gleeson went down and was unable to continued, Youths were hit with a massive blow. There could have been a knockout one two minutes later when Murray's two-footed tackle left Fahy in pain. Luckily for Wexford, the Galway native recovered and was able to continue.

Wexford sprung to life and out of their rut as the game moved towards the interval. Linda Douglas had three attempted crosses blocked but when she took on and beat Annie Timoney with ease and sent the perfect cross to the front post, O'Riordan was on hand to head Youths level.

Timoney didn't make it past the half-time interval but Dearbhaile Bernie failed to do any better on the driven Douglas.

Seven minutes after the break Hansberry fed across to Wexford's in-form winger, she squared to O'Riordan but the Limerick native shot just wide from the edge of the box.

A nice one-two between Murray and Creagh ended with the former shooting wide under pressure from Douglas. Back up the other end it was Douglas again feeding O'Riordan but her control let her down on the edge of the six yard box and Shelbourne were able to clear.

Between that chance in the 60th minute and second goal, Shelbourne's management made a hugely questionable call.

They took off Creagh for Alex Kavanagh and it didn't really work. When Claire O'Riordan ran onto her own header shortly after, Niamh Walsh slipped and the striker hared away to slot calmly past McQuillan.

It was pretty much all Shelbourne after that as Wexford clung to what they had. A couple of frees were well dealt with by Furlong as the game ticked into the last ten minutes. Murray, already book, somehow stayed on the pitch after a reckless tackle from behind on Douglas.

Slattery then headed a Siobhan Killeen corner wide. Just after the board for four minutes of added time went up, Leanne Kiernan got to the byline, crossed for Walsh whose header was saved diving to her left by an inspired Furlong.

After Keenan clattered into Amy Walsh in the fourth minute of added time, the Shelbourne defender was dismissed and the Youths sub needed to come off. Ten players each, referee Alan Carey still managed to magic up another four minutes but Youths survived.

Captain Kylie Murphy collected the Continental Tyres WNL trophy on behalf of her elated side. Youths have now qualified for the 2016/17 UEFA Women's Champions League, those tie will be played in August after a well-earned summer break.

WEXFORD YOUTHS: Tamara Furlong; Nicola Sinnott, Lauren Dwyer, Jessica Gleeson, Orlaith Conlon; Ruth Fahy, Kylie Murphy (capt); Linda Douglas, Emma Hansberry, Aisling Frawley; Claire O'Riordan. Subs. - Becky Cassin for Gleeson, inj (36), Aoibhín Webb for O'Riordan (90), Amy Walsh for Douglas (90+4), also, Meghan Whitty, Rachel Hutchinson, Shauna Wall.

SHELBOURNE: Amanda McQuillan; Keeva Keenan, Pearl Slattery (capt), Niamh Walsh, Annie Timoney; Rachel Graham, Noelle Murray; Siobhan Killeen, Rebecca Creagh, Dearbhaile Bernie; Leanne Kiernan. Subs. - Sophie Watters for Timoney (46), Alex Kavanagh for Creagh (65), also, Niamh Reid Burke, Niamh Barnes, Megan Lynch, Shauna Newman, Kim Turner.

REFEREE: Alan Carey.

Wexford People

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