Kayleigh Shine of Athlone Town pictured during the media day at Tallaght Stadium, ahead of the Sports Direct Women's FAI Cup final between Athlone Town and Shelbourne. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Local star Kayleigh glad to be part of Athlone adventure

By Daire Walsh

As one of the team’s local stars, Kayleigh Shine knows as well as anyone what it means for Athlone Town to be on the brink of competing in their second consecutive Women’s FAI Cup final on Sunday (kick-off 3pm).

From Drum just a few kilometres west of Athlone, Kayleigh was part of ‘The Town’ squad that featured in the inaugural Under-17 Women’s National League in 2018 and when Athlone joined the senior Women’s National League three years later, the talented defender was part of the set-up.

When they faced Shelbourne in last year’s Cup showpiece at Tallaght Stadium, Shine appeared off the bench as the Midlanders ultimately fell to a 2-0 defeat.

Fast forward 12 months and Shine is set for a starting role at the heart of the Athlone rearguard against Shels in the same venue this weekend.

“To be where we are and the position that we’ve been in, for such a small town, it’s just such an honour to be able to play for them.

“To be where we are today, it’s so good that it’s so close to home,” Shine said.

“I was with Bealnamulla [a local club in Athlone] for a couple of years and then I went into Athlone Town the minute they had a ladies team even to start up, because they had only a men’s team club. I went in and I’ve been playing there ever since.”

Gaelic football was also a major passion for Shine back in those days and having played at club level for Clann na nGael, she was part of a Roscommon side that lost out to Longford in an All-Ireland Minor ‘B’ Championship final in 2019.

Yet in the same year, her soccer career started to blossom and she picked up two caps for the Republic of Ireland U19s in European Championship qualifiers.

It was around this time that she started to consider picking one sporting code over the other and after speaking to her mother Mary, Shine ultimately came to a decision that worked best for her.

“I was always pulling from both sides to see which to pick. It was getting very serious with the Gaelic and the soccer. I’d be gone Monday straight to Sunday, from leaving straight from school to training, if not training to matches.

“It was hard to decide, but then I sat down and had a few conversations with my mam and she encouraged me to go with the soccer. Just to see what it’s like.

“Ever since that, we’ve been up where we are now. I’ve no regrets with my decision. It’s such a reward to be where we are now.”

Despite the result not going their way, the sizable contingent of Athlone supporters ensured that last year’s showpiece meeting with Shelbourne was still a day to remember for the club. Shine’s family came out in their droves in 2022 and with a big crowd expected to descend upon Tallaght once again, she knows that there will be plenty of encouragement from the stands this Sunday.

“There’s a lot of support from Athlone. My own family last year had a 52-seater bus and they’ve another one going this year! From just one family alone to the rest of the girls’ families, the whole of Athlone has always had great support,” Shine said.

“Even when at the President’s Cup match was held in Athlone, we had a big crowd down there. All the young girls from the neighbouring clubs around the town, they always come down to support us and we’d go down to a few training sessions with them. It’s amazing down here,” Kayleigh added.

*See here for an interview with Athlone Town captain Laurie Ryan.