After a number of years with no representation the Midlands Schoolboys/girls League (MSL) made a welcome return to the U-14 Girls Gaynor Cup.
This competition sees 18 league representative sides from all over Ireland come together for a weekend of football thus enabling the provincial and Irish U-15 team managers and coaches to view the best players in Ireland in action.
The Midland squad was selected following a series of trials in late February early March. This process provided the 29 players who formed the emerging talent panel. All these girls then participated in a coaching programme for 10 weeks before the final 20 girls to travel to University of Limerick were selected.
All the girls in the emerging talent squad performed exceptionally well and leaving an extremely difficult task for the management team which consisted of Manager Trevor Thompson, his assistant John Owens and coaches Richelle O’Neill, Peter Redmond and Eanna Gowran.
The team gathered on Friday afternoon in Tullamore Court Hotel looking fantastic in their new kit and a big thank you must go out to everyone who sponsored the girls.
The tournament started early Saturday morning and the girl’s first game was a very tough encounter against Drogheda & District League. Two very evenly matched teams battled out a scoreless draw, with the Midlands girls having fine performances from Grace Raleigh, Ashling Fox, Lucy McCartan, Orla Gorman and Rachael Bryant.
Next up was the pick of Cork and the Midlands team began the game at a blistering pace. After five minutes a corner from the right was punched clear by the Cork keeper but it fell to Cliona Owens who, with a tremendous volley from 25 yards out, rattled the back of the net. On eight minutes a free kick on the left hand side of the box was expertly struck by Rebecca Ennis to put the girls 2-0 up. It was a fantastic team performance with excellent displays by Roisin Finn, Sarah Bracken, Orlaith Redmond and Jenny Lynch and two wonderful goals by Becky and Cliona.
The last game on Saturday saw the ladies take on Limerick county in another very tough game with tiredness creeping in. The central defensive partnership of Emma Murtagh and Caoimhe O’Brien were excellent throughout and were ably assisted by Emily Bailey, Rachel Thompson and Alana Roddy. With only two minutes left on the clock Limerick struck for the all important goal and left the midlands ladies a bit deflated after a very tough day.
Sunday began with the Tipperary League providing the first obstacle. Tipperary were quick out of the blocks and after 10 minutes took the lead. This seemed to spur the Midlands into action and all the girls now raised their level of performance. The second half saw the girls lay siege to the Tipperary goal and after 12 minutes they got their just reward when Honor McNamara was taken down in the box. Becky Ennis stepped up and dispatched the penalty to the net. Five minutes later Becky volleyed home from the edge of the box to leave the score 2–1.
The final group game was against Mayo and what a match we had. The group was extremely tight with Mayo on eight points, the Midlands, Limerick and Cork all on seven points. The Midlands girls played the game of their lives battling for every ball and playing some fabulous football. Holly Ravenhill and Emily Bailey were outstanding and were ably assisted in midfield by Orla Gorman, Lucy McCartan and Cliona Owens. Up front Honor McNamara and Rachael Bryant combined well and it was this duo that gave Midlands the lead on 20 minutes with Honor playing a through ball for Rachael to run onto and she calmly slotted past the onrushing Mayo keeper.
This result meant the girls finished level on points with Limerick, but just failed to get a top four spot on goal difference.
They drew Wexford in the Plate semi-final. They had an early start on Monday morning and it was another fantastic game with all the girls giving it their best. They were two very evenly matched teams with the sides level at half time. Eabha Walsh gave an exhibition of shot stopping to keep the girls in it.
Early in the second half Wexford took the lead with a wonder strike from their centre forward. With her back to goal and on the edge of the box she met a cross from the right and with an overhead bicycle kick gave Eabha no chance. The MSL pressed hard for an equaliser but just could not make the break through.
That meant they hd one last game in the 7th/8th place playoff against Mayo again. The girls gave a display of football which was a joy to watch. Sinead Farrell tormented Mayo down the left flank and saw her shot cannon off the post after beating three players. Orla Gorman then gave an inch perfect pass to Honor to latch onto and score her first goal of the tournament. Within minutes Honor went on a solo run and dispatched goal number two. In the second half an excellent bit of footwork by Jenny Lynch in the box left Sinead with a simple tap in. And so it ended 3-0.
Great credit must go to all 20 players who represented the League, their Clubs, their families and most of all themselves with distinction, pride and lots of fun throughout the tournament and emerging talent programme, memories they will treasure forever.
Special mention to Anna/Chef, Emer/Physio, Catherine, Paula, Debs and Cindy (Mammies) who all helped in no small way to make the weekend so special. To all the parents, family and friends who came to support the girls and help to make the occasion so memorable. Thanks from the management team to the Midlands Schoolboys/girls League for all their assistance and providing top class facilities for the girls at all times.
MSL Squad: Emily Bailey, Sarah Bracken, Rachael Bryant, Rebecca Ennis, Sinead Farrell, Roisin Finn, Ashling Fox, Orla Gorman, Jenny Lynch, Lucy McCartan, Honor McNamara, Emma Murtagh, Caoimhe O’Brien, Cliona Owens, Grace Raleigh, Holly Ravenhill, Orlaith Redmond, Alana Roddy, Rachael Thompson, Eabha Walsh.