Galway United Women claim first national trophy

Slick attack and defensive defiance deliver deserved celebration

Galway United captain Lynsey McKey lifts the cup after winning the 2023 Avenir Sports All-Island Cup over Cliftonville at The Showgrounds in Sligo. Photo:  Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

Galway United captain Lynsey McKey lifts the cup after winning the 2023 Avenir Sports All-Island Cup over Cliftonville at The Showgrounds in Sligo. Photo: Michael P Ryan/Sportsfile

Gemma McGuinness entered the illustrious company of Paul 'Ski' McGee, Fergal Coleman and Johnny Glynn by scoring the winner for Galway United in a national final in Sligo on Sunday.

Amid wild scenes of jubilation at full time, United celebrated a famous 1-0 victory over Cliftonville that crowned United as the winners of the inaugural Avenir Sports All-Island Cup. It was just reward for a United side that was excellent in the first half and dogged in the second.

After seven minutes, McGuinness clipped the side of the post after good work by Aislinn Meaney and Aoibheann Costello had created the opening.

The famous goal came five minutes later. Costello delivered long into space on the left. Cliftonville keeper Rachael Norney rushed from her line to clear, but it landed at the feet of McGuinness who still had plenty to do. She controlled and curled beautifully over desperate defenders from 25-yards out to send the sizeable Galway crowd into raptures.

The goal buoyed the Galway women, and McGuinness and Meaney continued to combine and create havoc. There was another chance in the 20th minute as Meaney was sent through on goal, but a marginal offside call spared the Northern side.

Captain Lynsey McKey pulled the strings behind the powerful and pacy front pair, flashing a shot across goal after 25 minutes as United pressed to increase their lead.

However, Cliftonville, a side littered with Northern Ireland internationals, maintained a threat with long balls in the channels between the centre-halves and full-backs with Caitlin McGuinness and Danielle Maxwell both producing decent efforts before the half-hour mark.

United still looked the more likely to prevail when McKey slipped Meaney through again in the 37th minute. The striker hit the byline and delivered a dangerous cross that was just cut-out by Cliftonville in a phase that typified the positive play of the Galway side in the first half.

Yet, despite their verve going forward, United had to survive to some scary moments on the stroke of half-time when Caitlin McGuinness and Victoria Carleton both spurned good opportunities to equalise.

United began the second half positively. Aislinn Meaney had a shot well saved by Norney after the break, while Dossen caused problems after a McKey corner, but the Cliftonville keeper, who grew into the game after her early mistake, managed to collapse on the ball.

As time progressed Cliftonville enjoyed more possession and territory. Jessica Berlin was commanding at the back. She dealt well with a shot from Toni-Leigh Finnegan on the hour-mark and snuffed out the danger after Hannah Doherty delivered a challenging ball into the box. Her compatriot Isabella Beletic was instrumental also and made a telling interception in the 75th minute as United retreated to protect their advantage. Maxwell had perhaps the pick of the Belfast side’s chances two minutes later, but her header flashed wide.

United sub Rola Olusola made a telling contribution upon her introduction. Her strong running and hold-up play allowed United to press up the pitch, aided by young midfielders Kate Thompson and Jenna Slattery.

But if the first half was characterised by the slick attacking play of McKey, Meaney and McGuinness, it was the defiance of Jamie Erickson and Eve Dossen that will be remembered from the second.

A dangerous moment in the 68th minute symbolised their bravery and appetite. Erickson failed to clear a long ball from the back and it trickled through to the pacy Caitlin McGuinness. Eve Dossen made a great sliding tackle to stop her in her tracks, but the ball squirmed free to a queue of attackers at the edge of the box. However, Erickson heroically recovered to launch herself at the resulting rebound to maintain the advantage.

The continued heroics at the back, which included the efforts of Costello and Therese Kinnevey, who marshalled dangerous wingers admirably meant United’s confidence grew after surviving Cliftonville’s purple patch.

They re-asserted their dominance and saw out the closing minutes comfortably for a victory that seals their immortality in the history of Galway football.

 

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