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Magic of Ellen Molloy can inspire Wexford to give Youth its chance in women’s Cup final


Flying form: Shelbourne's Jessie Stapleton

Flying form: Shelbourne's Jessie Stapleton

Flying form: Shelbourne's Jessie Stapleton

A Shelbourne supporter based in Australia recently reported to friends back home that the club’s hiring of Damien Duff to take charge of the men’s senior team next year was headline news around Melbourne.

It will take time for Noel King’s senior women’s team to make the same sort of splash, but the Reds have it in their grasp to make history at least and finish off a head-spinning week (and end a remarkable season) tomorrow by landing the FAI Cup to add to the league title secured in such dramatic circumstances last week.

The buzz around Irish football can ebb and flow, hence the disappointing crowd for the last two home U-21 internationals, but ticket sales are high for the men’s FAI Cup final on Sunday week, while Shels have sold out their allocation for tomorrow’s final in Tallaght. With Shels-obsessed artist For Those I Love selling out the Olympia Theatre in midweek, a night of Shels flag-waving, it’s rarely been as popular to be a Red.

Value for money is never guaranteed, but that crowd can expect entertainment tomorrow: despite the six-point gap between champions Shels and third-placed Wexford, the final is a clash of two top sides.

Finals are hard to call. The men’s final, though, has been so predictable in the last decade that the ref may as well save everyone the bother and go straight to extra-time and penalties, but the women’s affair can throw up some one-sided affairs.

A 5-0 win for Shels over Wexford in the 2016 final was a record winning margin in the modern era of the competition, and last year’s decider was a rout, Peamount inflicting a 6-0 win on Cork City.

Tomorrow will be nothing of the sort as these two teams are evenly balanced. Even a glance at Vera Pauw’s squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers hints at that. Two players from each club are named in her squad, Wexford midfielders Ellen Molloy and Aoibheann Clancy along with Reds players Saoirse Noonan and Ciara Grant.

The paper-thin divide is also evident in their league form: in May, Wexford were on a five-game winning streak, scoring 21 goals in that spell, when they were held to a 0-0 draw by Shels.

At their next encounter, Wexford coped with the loss, to a red card, of key player Kylie Murphy, to beat Shels 1-0, Lynn Marie Grant the hero that day, a result which appeared to have damaged the Reds’ title hopes.

Of course, the title would be decided by the two finalists. A final-day loss for Peamount, combined with Shels’ 3-2 win at home to Wexford, gave them the league.  

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Winning the title has, of course, given Shels a massive psychological boost ahead of what would be their first-ever double. Midfield will be key, and the clash of international team-mates Ellen Molloy and Ciara Grant will dictate how the evening pans out. Molloy had an up-and-down season, but her form is peaking at the right time and she’s a player with the ability to single-handedly turn the tie.

But there are other clashes to relish, too: Jessie Stapleton plays with a level of quality where it’s hard to believe she’s still only 16, a deserved winner of the most recent player of the month award. Edel Kennedy is at the other end of her career, this her tenth season, but Stapleton will be tasked by King to keep Wicklow native Kennedy reasonably quiet tomorrow.

Kennedy spoke in pre-season about the hurt of Wexford’s failure to land a trophy last season and that hunger will be a factor in the final. Wexford’s squad have more experience of Cup final day drama than Shels, who are playing in their first final since 2016.

And it’s that final-day experience, coupled with the match-winning potential of Molloy, that tips the scales in favour of Wexford, who can end their trophy drought. 

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