U/14 Girls SFAI Cup Final
ON Sunday Portlaoise U/14 Girls will line up against Greystones in the SFAI Cup final. The achievement that this is for an underage football team cannot be overstated.
This is the first underage team from the Portlaoise club to reach a national final. They are also the first team from the Midlands Schoolboys/Girls League (MSL) to reach a national final in 20 years. The MSL would have an average of about 200 teams registered in any given year, so the numbers show how rare it is for a MSL team to get to this stage of a national competition. This really is a momentous occasion for Portlaoise Football Club and underage soccer in the midlands.
The path to the final started last October with an away fixture in Ballinahown. A cold and breezy day led to tough conditions for both sides, but Portlaoise were just too strong on the day. Goals from Ciara Breslin, Emma Francis and Maisie Kerry saw Portlaoise come out the right side of a 4-1 victory.
Real Swans in round two was another away day. The rain came on cue, right at the start of the game, and so did Maisie Kerry after just one minute to put Portlaosie 1-0 up. Keelin Moore had a fantastic game and grabbed two goals. Emily Flynn also bagged two goals from centre-forward, one of which was an excellent counter-attack. It was 5-1 by half time. The Portlaoise girls kept their foot down and in a good all-round performance, the goals flew in. Emma Francis had a commanding performance in the centre of midfield.
A South Leinster Regional Final was the reward, with another away day. This time the opposition was Sallins. Portlaoise had a quick start with a goal from Niamh Dundon and ran out winners in dominant fashion ending with a 5-1 victory.
A bye in the round of 32 meant that Portlaoise welcomed Callan to the Leisure Centre in Portlaoise for the last 16 game. If there had been any doubt that the standards of the teams that they would be facing was increasing, it was quickly dispelled by Callan. In what ended up being a somewhat bruising affair, that tested the squad’s strength in depth, the team managed to come out on the right side of a 1-0 score line.
The reward for this hard-fought victory was a quarter-final against Clonee. The team hit the road to the capital and once again raised their standards when the occasion called for it. Clonee started like a freight train and their slick passing and movement had the Portlaoise girls under real pressure for the opening 10 minutes. For the first time in the competition Portlaoise went behind to a very well taken Clonee goal. This was a real test of attitude, and they did not come up short. Two goals, from Ciara Breslin and Saoirse Connell-Carroll turned the score line around. A combination of stout defending and hard graft in the middle of the park saw Portlaoise come through deserved winners.
As luck would have it another trip to the capital was required for the semi-final. This time the team had the daunting prospect of playing Shelbourne, one of the biggest clubs in the country. Again, the standard went up. Portlaoise started much better this time round and, despite playing into a stiff breeze, had the better of the opening exchanges. A brace of goals by Ciara Breslin either side of half time and third drilled into the bottom corner by Maisie Kerry saw Portlaoise run out winners. The score line looked comfortable, but until the third goal Shelbourne had been right in it.
The matches that the team have played on the way to the final only show a portion of the route taken. The team came together through the very disrupted season during the Covid pandemic. They have kept plugging away and working hard over the past two years and really earned the chance that awaits them in the Cup Final.
In the background the coaching team of Dave McCall, Conall Breslin and Raj Bawa have done a huge amount of unseen work in preparing the team for matches and training. The full squad have all made contributions on the way to this final and fully deserve their shot at glory.
Greystones have their own story to tell, which also includes some great victories on the road, and will provide the Portlaoise team with their biggest challenge to date.
This is also a major milestone for Portlaoise AFC. The first competitive game played by an underage girls team representing Portlaoise AFC was only in October 2015. The club now has three teams, U/19, U/16 and U/14 with many younger girls coming through the academy. Hopefully, with teams at different age groups, girls can progress through the club ranks and we can look forward to more success in the future. For now though we can enjoy the moment and hopefully seen this group bring home a national title.
PORTLAOISE SQUAD: Doireann Brennan, Niamh Dundon, Holly Murphy, Emily Flynn, Aoibheann Bourke, Sally Morgan, Emma Francis, Leah Brennan, Leah Brophy, Keelin Moore, Saoirse Connell-Carrol, Ava Donovan, Anna Keegan, Ciara Breslin, Maisie Kerry, Moya Ramsbottom, Lucy Moran, Aoibheann Moran, Emily Bawa, Elizabeth O’Connor, Lily O’Meara, Layla McGonnell