Eviston wary of Aviva 'stage fright' as star-studded Raheny chase cup glory
TOMORROW sees the return of the Women's FAI Cup final to Lansdowne Road after an eight-year absence, with holders Raheny United highly fancied to prevail against Castlebar Celtic.
Evidence of the strength within the ranks of the reigning league and cup champions is provided by the presence of two players just back from representing Ireland in the 3-0 win over Slovenia on Thursday.
One of the duo, full-back Seana Cooke (right) will be particularly keen to sign off today with another cup medal in her pocket. The former Arsenal trainee heads to England once again next week on a full-time contract with Women's Super League outfit Durham WFC.
Skipper Rachel Graham is sure to provide a calming influence on the big occasion in midfield, while experienced pair Noelle Murray and Caroline Thorpe have shown their match-winning calibre in previous cup deciders.
Another figurehead with an excellent cup pedigree, Terry Eviston, has taken over as boss this season in succession to Sean Byrne and, before him, Ger McDermott, who was snapped up by Liam Buckley as strength and conditioning coach for his title-winning St Patrick's Athletic squad.
For all their star quality, Raheny are expecting to be seriously tested by the girls from the west.
It might be Castlebar's first national final but they can take inspiration from the Mayo league's feat of 2006, when UCD were scalped in one of the biggest shocks in the competition's history.
"I'm very much aware that the occasion can pass you by, depending on the personality of the players," said Eviston, who played in four FAI Cup finals over a glittering League of Ireland career during the '70s and '80s.
"Some players love featuring on the higher stage, while others get stage fright. There's nothing worse than somebody getting to that stage and not showing what they can do.
"Castlebar manager Adrian Carberry played for me when I managed Athlone Town. I know he'll have his team ready for us."
It will be an emotional day for Castlebar's players, most of whom played under Jeremy Dee, who died tragically in a car accident a year ago this month.
"This final is something all the players will remember for the rest of their lives," Carberry said.
"We know Raheny are the favourites but look at Wigan in the FA Cup final against Manchester City last season – you always have a chance.
"We're fine with being the underdogs."
Raheny Utd v Castlebar Celtic,
Live, tomorrow, RTE2, 12.20