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Tuesday 19 November 2019

Parrock goal seals the deal to make youths best women's team in Ireland

Continental Tyres Women's FAI Cup Final: Wexford Youths 1 Peamount United 0

Rianna Jarrett, Orlaith Conlon and Lauren Dwyer with the spoils of success. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Rianna Jarrett, Orlaith Conlon and Lauren Dwyer with the spoils of success. Photo by Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Dean Goodison in the Aviva Stadium

Katrina Parrock's 35th-minute goal ensured Wexford Youths ended the season as the undisputed best in the land, with a Continental Tyres Women's FAI Cup trophy sitting pretty with league and shield honours.

It was fitting too. If anyone has flown under the radar on an unassuming team that makes winning a habit far away from the lights of the big city clubs, it's Parrock.

Coming from where she has, with successful teams in a different game, she was the right woman for the big moment in the Aviva Stadium on Sunday, just as she has been before.

It's a strange old game. You can finish nine points behind a side, lose two of the last three match-ups against the same opposition, but end the season in flashy fashion against a weak team with nothing to play for and suddenly you become cup final favourites.

To see Youths priced up as underdogs and hear so many pundits pick their opponents to win, it must have grated a little bit within the Wexford ranks. Just given the bare stats, it was bizarre, but for anyone who has watched the four meetings between the sides this season, it was mind-boggling.

Women's sport cries out for respect but does the best team in this country, in the biggest sport in the world, even get the respect they deserve within their own game? It doesn't seem that way, whether it's for all the winning they do, or all the international recognition they don't get.

There's an interesting quote that comes to mind from Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy. In 2010 he was fed up with the perception of his team and coined the phrase, 'we're nobody's underdog'; it feels perfectly apt for this group of Youths.

This team can't be under the radar any more, this team has to assume the mantle of favourites going into next season, continue to treat opponents with the respect they deserve, but at the same time find the swagger of champions.

To some it might be hard to make sense of it all. Look at Doireann Fahey, preferred to Becky Cassin - someone who has come in at different times in a couple of positions and rarely put a foot wrong.

Fahey is not only the poster girl for Tom Elmes' regime but also a shining example of what can be achieved when real veteran leadership and youthful hunger collide. The 17-year-old was raw coming in from Peamount, there's no doubt about it.

But the Dublin side had no real interest in making her better. In Wexford she has learned, learned to play her position, to stop diving into tackles (usually), and learned to contribute to a team ethos that's about more than just winning, it's about winning the right way.

Wexford won this cup final the right way. They won it not only with good, hard honest graft but with the class to pick their moments and manufacture their chances. They are patient in an era when patience is more than a virtue; they know one great chance is better that ten half-chances if you make it count.

Peamount didn't have patience, and they gave up trying to prise open the Youths defence quite early on. In fact, the longer this season and games between the two have gone on, the more desperate they have become in the Wexford half of the field.

This is the first clean sheet for Wexford against this side this season, and it's got to the point where Peamount simply don't know how to break them down. There is no way through, around or over, this rearguard, and they looked completely lost, devoid of the belief to even form ideas in the second-half.

In a sporting environment that lauds attacking play and goals and often forgets the beauty that lies at the other end of the field, how Wexford strangled the life out of Shelbourne and Peamount at different times this season is a purist's dream.

The only time Wexford blinked a little for a sustained period was in the opening quarter. Maybe somewhat surprisingly, Youths looked a little more on edge than Peamount, as they just couldn't settle on the ball and knock it around like they can.

At that stage they needed their goalkeeper. Manager Elmes talked about his expectations for Sophie Lenehan a little after the game. He was adamant that she should make those saves but Wexford 'keepers haven't always made those stops.

They are ones the Wexford stopper would expect to make herself but there has been a clear shift in Lenehan in the last couple of months. Technically she is improving - straight arm up rather than swiping- and her reading of the game and sharpness off her line was probably the best it has ever been in this game.

But it's Lenehan's confidence that feeds into the team's confidence, as if she's not dominant in everything she does, how can her team believe it? It's in this area that she has made huge leaps and her contribution to this season should not be overlooked.

The save from O'Gorman was particularly sweet as her fingertips grazed across the ball and pushed it over as Peamount threatened early. At the other end everything was a little untidy in the first 30 minutes; the passes in the final third were off and they just needed to settle.

The key moment to that settling came in the 30th minute. Nicola Sinnott popped off a throw to Emma Hansberry - playing wide on the right with Frawley through the middle.

She fed Kylie Murphy right of goal, 25 metres out, and the captain set the tone with a fizzing shot that flew narrowly wide.

Wexford kept pressing and had the ball in the net in the 33rd minute. First things first, Edel Kennedy was lucky to get the free-kick in the build-up, but Peamount were just as lucky that the lineswoman ruled out her goal from Hansberry's free-kick after Rianna Jarrett's slight nudge on the defender.

Jarrett was a surprise starter for Wexford, coming off her fractured foot injury. She certainly wasn't fully fit and any game other than the cup final she probably wouldn't have played, but her presence alone gave Youths a different dynamic.

She was involved again when flicking on Emma Hansberry's right wing cross in the 35th minute. Control in these situations is one aspect of the game Parrock needed to work on coming into top level soccer last season.

And her improvement was there to see as she cushioned the ball brilliantly, turned and poked past Naoisha McAloon to open the scoring.

Just when things looked settled for half-time, player of the year nominee Lauren Dwyer found herself a little high up the field, leaving Amber Barrett one-on-one with Orlaith Conlon, and the Donegal native broke into the box and went to ground under pressure from the Youths defender.

It's an interesting one as the general consensus seems to be that it was a penalty. What is also clear is that the Peamount forward glanced at Conlon, eased into her path, and the Wexford defender put out a token effort boot with minimal contact that Barrett lapped up.

The problem that the Peamount striker has is that she has a growing reputation for initiating contact while simultaneously losing control of her legs and crumbling to the ground.

That said, Conlon needed to not bite on the bait, so it's one that could have gone either way.

Wexford came out after the interval and looked by far the more composed side and were able to control the game and play it at their own pace. Emma Hansberry's ball was flopped towards goal by Kennedy but lacked the force to beat the Peamount 'keeper.

Youths weren't creating much but neither were their opponents. Potshots came at the Wexford goal from Karen Duggan, from Barrett and from O'Gorman, but Lenehan was never really troubled.

After throwing Conlon into her goalkeeper earlier, Barrett flung herself to the ground with almost zero contact in the box again as the half wore on, but once more referee Vicki McEnery was unmoved.

Things all looked good for Wexford until the loudspeaker announced that there would be four minutes of added time.

Then Wexford completely lost the plot, which was strange because they have closed out games in masterly manner all season. Rather than keeping possession, or heading to the corner, it all got desperate and Peamount sensed the nervousness.

It all came to a head with a mad scramble in the box, as Barrett turned across the edge of the area and Lauren Dwyer dived in with a crazy tackle. Two things went in the Youths defender's favour: her opponent's history and the fact that once again Barrett was on her way to the ground before contact was made.

If the Peamount and Ireland forward just ran through the tackle and went over, the referee probably would have seen the contact creating the fall, but from McEnery's viewpoint the legs collapsed before Dwyer connected and it must have left her with doubt about the badly mistimed tackle.

Wexford still had to scramble the ball clear but they just about managed it, wrapping up their second FAI Cup in four years to go with their four league titles, two shields and a league cup success.

Wexford Youths - nobody's underdog; not any longer anyway.

Wexford Youths: Sophie Lenehan; Nicola Sinnott, Lauren Dwyer, Orlaith Conlon, Doireann Fahey; Kylie Murphy (capt.); Emma Hansberry, Edel Kennedy, Aisling Frawley, Katrina Parrock; Rianna Jarrett. Subs. - Orla Casey for Jarrett (72), McKenna Davidson for Parrock (79), also Ciamh Dollard, Ciara Delaney, Aoife Slattery, Becky Cassin, Rachel Hutchinson.

Peamount United: Naoisha McAloon; Lauryn O'Callaghan, Louise Corrigan (capt.), Chloe Moloney, Lucy McCartin; Karen Duggan, Niamh Farrelly; Áine O'Gorman, Eleanor Ryan-Doyle, Megan Lynch-Smith; Amber Barrett. Subs. - Claire Walsh for McCartan (55), Dearbhaile Beirne for Smyth-Lynch (64), Louise Masterson for O'Callaghan (90), also Sarah McKevitt, Niamh Barnes, Lauren Kealy, Jade Reddy.

Referee: Vicki McEnery (Westmeath).

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