Willow Park women complete double with cup success
Willow Park 3 Ballymackey 1
Willow Park women’s team completed the domestic double when they added the cup to their league title at Leah Victoria Park in Tullamore last Saturday evening.
League newcomers Ballymackey were the opposition and provided a stiff test for the favourites. Willow only pressed home their advantage in the closing stages with the lead goal coming five minutes from the finish. The gloss was eventually put on the victory with a third goal deep in stoppage time.
Ballymackey may only have won once during their league campaign but had improved as the season passed and the cup run had shown the Tipperary girls in a better light. A place in the final after shocking Killeigh in the semi-finals showed the progress that had been made over the course of 2022. Willow were hot favourites to complete the double but were pushed all the way by their plucky opponents.
In perfect playing conditions, the final was just five minutes old when the Tipperary team opened the scoring. Alanna Morris attacked down the left but looked set to be foiled when Niamh Egan came out to block at the edge of the penalty area. Morris though came out on top as she shot to the net from a tight angle.
It was a shock start to proceedings but Willow were not rattled and settled down to the task on hand. The Athlone outfit have had a settled team for most of the campaign and knew what was needed in order to respond. Holly Cassidy has been in fine scoring form all season but was denied firstly by the Ballymackey keeper and then fired wide as Willow looked to level matters.
It proved to be third time lucky for the number ten as she grabbed the equaliser after 14 minutes when finishing off a pass from the left by Yasmin Rodgers. Willow enjoyed the bulk of possession for the remainder of the half but were unable to convert their chances into goals.
Rodgers fired off target from the left while Dara Hughes was denied by the woodwork as her shot hit the bar and went wide. Rodgers had a further chance while a first corner kick after 20 minutes kept up the Willow pressure. Midway through the half, Sharon Mannion sent in a cross which Rodgers failed to finish off at the far post.
A rare chance for Ballymackey saw Morris fire wide from the left but two late corners reflected the overall superiority of Willow without any further reward on the scoreboard. It was still all to play for in the second half.
Having hit the front with the first chance of the game, Ballymackey again had an opportunity to retake the lead from an early chance following the resumption of play. There was just two minutes gone when Aoibhin Delaney released Hazel Cawley but Egan was out quickly to block the shot. At the other end, Cassidy fired over.
The Tipp women were intent on creating a lasting impression in their first final. A corner kick was followed by a goal which was ruled out for offside. Cawley was proving a major threat but should have done better on 56 minutes when shooting at the keeper from a good position.
There were few further chances as the half progressed with extra-time a growing possibility to decide the destiny of the cup. Just after the hour mark, Mollie Ryan was out to deny Cassidy, while Clodagh Daly had a long range effort saved by Willow keeper Egan. Two more corners at either end showed the outcome was very much in the balance.
Just when extra-time looked the most likely outcome, Willow struck for the lead with five minutes remaining. Ballymackey did not deal with a long ball forward and Rodgers took advantage to fire over the keeper from the right edge of the penalty area.
It handed Willow the advantage but Ballymackey were not finished just yet as a corner kick was followed by Daly firing wide.
Willow looked to have survived when Delaney headed a free kick over and the tension was finally eased from the last action of an exciting decider. A Ballymackey free was cleared up field and Cassidy put the gloss on the score with a shot over the keeper from the right edge of the box. It came in the sixth additional minute and the final whistle sounded almost immediately.
It completed a fine season for Willow Park under manager Jenny Madden. The cup was afterwards presented to team captain Anna Grant by William Healy of the Combined Counties Football League.
Player of the match: Rachel Emerson (Willow Park). The Willow number seven got through a lot of unseen work in midfield as Ballymackey were stifled in a crucial sector.
Willow Park: Niamh Egan, Ashley Hellenbrand, Ciara Dunne, Roisin McNamara, Anna Grant, Yasmin Rodgers, Rachel Emerson, Erin Pender, Holly Cassidy, Dara Hughes, Sharon Mannion. Sub: Shania Ward for Pender (81 mins).
Ballymackey FC: Mollie Ryan, Nicole Ryan, Leah McLoughney, Chloe McAuliffe, Zoey Gratton, Kate Cavanagh, Niamh O’Brien, Lisa Toohey, Hazel Cawley, Aoibhin Delaney, Alanna Morris. Sub: Clodagh Daly for N Ryan (half-time).
Referee: Chris McFadden (Offaly).