Captain Ryan experienced 'rollercoaster of emotions'
by Daire Walsh
On a day that produced a ‘rollercoaster of emotions’, Athlone Town captain Laurie Ryan praised her team-mates for never losing belief in their quest for a groundbreaking Women’s FAI Cup title at Tallaght Stadium last Sunday.
While the Midlanders had led for large stretches of their showpiece encounter with Shelbourne as a result of Dana Scheriff’s 33rd minute, they were staring down the barrel of a second successive final defeat to the Dublin side after Jemma Quinn’s second goal moved Noel King’s side 2-1 in front at the midway stage in extra-time. However, Athlone simply refused to give in and Gillian Keenan’s stunning equaliser meant that penalties were required to determine a winner.
The Town had already edged shootouts against Galway United and Peamount United in previous rounds of the competition – as well as in the FAI President’s Cup final showdown with Shels at the beginning of the year – and it once again went the way of Athlone on a scoreline of 4-3 in Tallaght.
“2-1 down in extra-time is not a nice place to be. I felt like we responded really well to it and I thought we created some chances and it was more about settling the ship. We knew that we had the ability to score. It was always if we get one chance, all we have to do is take that,” a jubilant Ryan explained in the aftermath of the game.
“I think we actually had three or four chances, so one of them was bound to go in! When Gillian's went in, you’ll see I was crying running down to celebrate with her! It was just a rollercoaster of emotions today.”
To do so once is a honourable feat in itself, but to come through no fewer than four penalty shootouts in the same calendar year is nothing short of extraordinary. Though the stress of them can be unbearable at times, Ryan – who watched this period of the game from the sidelines after being withdrawn at half-time in extra-time – revealed that their spot-kick successes are a case of practice making perfect.
“To be fair, you never know what will happen in a penalty shootout. We have something special in Katie [Keane, Athlone goalkeeper]. We know that and the girls that are brave enough step up. We’ve worked on them and we know we have the ability to win them.
“I think that’s our fourth penalty shootout we’ve won this year between the President’s Cup, Galway, Peamount and now today. If I don’t see one again, I won’t be sorry! We would have taken your hand off when we were at half-time in extra-time, you’d take anything at that point. We were delighted to get that opportunity to have that penalty shootout.”
When Ryan led her troops into last year’s final in the same ground, it was Tommy Hewitt who was the main man in the Athlone dugout. He certainly made great strides with his hometown club, but Hewitt ultimately vacated the managerial post in June after a difficult run of results.
Into the breach then stepped former League of Ireland stalwart Ciaran Kilduff and despite a significant overhaul of the squad, the Kildare man expertly steadied the ship and got them back to the level of consistency that was previously seen in 2022. Ryan admits it wasn’t easy for Kilduff to take over from Hewitt midway through the season, but the Clare woman has been extremely impressed with the way the ex-Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk striker has gone about his business.
“It's been brilliant. When he came in, it was not an easy place to come. We all had great faith in Tommy [Hewitt], so that was a hard changeover and he knew that. He didn't try to step on anyone's toes, he was so respectful to everyone. He really made an effort to get to know us all,” Ryan added.
“That probably is the smallest thing in the world, but it made the biggest difference. Even with me, he obviously came in when I was in an All-Ireland final with Clare. He had to trust in me that I wasn't lying to him when I said that I always go to training and I don't usually miss it!
“He's been fantastic and Ken [Kiernan] as well with him, and Dylan [McGoey], they've brought the standard on to the next level. They've given up so much to help us and I just want them to know that we really appreciate it all as well.”