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Tuesday 31 January 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Evan Treacy/INPHO
# fairytale stuff
'I'll never experience a day like that in football again' - Shels rejoice after dramatic league win
Shelbourne captain Pearl Slattery speaks to Dave Donnelly after her side captured the WNL crown over the weekend.

IT’S MONDAY MORNING and Pearl Slattery apologises for the hoarseness of her voice. The Shelbourne captain is still feeling the effects of the title celebrations nobody planned for.

So unprepared were the Reds’ players for lifting their first title in five years on Saturday night that they didn’t even think to pack a change of clothes to go out.

Instead, they toasted the club’s second Women’s National League crown, in their club tracksuits, until seven in the morning in the Tolka Park bar.

A little under 12 hours earlier, they’d kicked off their final league game at home to Wexford Youths in expectation that they’d once again come up agonisingly short of Peamount United.

The champions have pipped the Drumcondra side for the past two seasons – last year in what was effective a winner-takes-all play-off in their final game – and looked set for a repeat.

So when word filtered through that Peas had blown a 2-0 lead to Galway, and then fell behind, and then further behind… and further behind again, suddenly the unthinkable became reality.

A 5-2 final scoreline in Greenogue meant Shels needed just to win to seal the title but, having seen a 3-0 lead reduced to a single goal, they had a nervy final five minutes. And then elation.

Slattery recalls: “It was bizarre. I was really strong with the girls coming into the game that we had to do our job and win our game, because if we slip up and they slip up, we’d be tormented.

“I think at one point Jessica Ziu said to me it was 2-2 [in Peamount] and I kind of gave out to her, like ‘don’t worry about that game, worry about ours.’

“Midway through the second half, the crowd erupted in Tolka – I’ve never heard anything like it. And I thought, ‘that’s a bid odd, there’s something happening in that other game.’

“Then we went 3-0 up, then it went 3-1, and then at one stage I heard it was 4-2 [in Peamount] and I couldn’t believe it.

“It was like we’d won the league, the cheer. I just knew that Galway were winning from that. No one had told me the score. I just knew because everyone was jumping from their seats

“Then Wexford pulled it back and it was 3-2 with five minutes to go, and Peamount were not going to win, and we just needed to win.

“It’s just the stuff of dreams – I’ll never experience a day like that in football again. I’ve been around long enough and sometimes it’s your time.”

It’s been a trying season for Shelbourne in a number of ways, not least the fact they lost two Irish internationals, in Jamie Finn and Emily Whelan, inside a week in July.

The pair departed mid-season to take up professional deals with English top-flight side Birmingham City, when it was too late to replace them in an already compact squad.

The loss of the two players, and a niggling injury to another international in Jess Ziu, stretched their resources. When they were hammered 5-0 at Peas in September, the league looked gone.

As Slattery says, sometimes it’s your time, and she took the time once the shock had worn off at Tolka Park to text the two exiles in Brum.

“One of first things I did on Saturday night was text Jamie Finn and Emily Whelan to say thanks because we wouldn’t have done it without them.”

“That’s where I’d give the group credit because we lost them very quickly – we found out about Jamie and we were delighted for her, and then a few days later all of a sudden Emily was going.

“It was tough because they were two key players, and then you think ‘can we go on?’ The following week then we were beaten 5-0 by Peamount.

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“But, credit to the group, we never gave up, never let the heads go down. Whenever we lost players to abroad or injuries.

“We just kept going and kept plugging away and if Peamount ever slipped up to make sure we’re there.”

Rialto native Slattery is a UEFA A Licence coach and works full-time with the FAI organising programmes to boost participation among girls at grassroots level.

As co-ordinator for the FAI’s branch of a UEFA programme called Disney Playmakers, her job is to match other sporting organisations in offering girls a route into the game from a young age.

She says: “There’s a big focus on getting girls in younger now. You can see other sports are getting them in at five and six, and we need to start doing that.

“My job is football, so I feel very lucky. It’s a different approach – it’s more based around life skills, fundamental movement, and then football basics into it.

“It’s mainly about getting younger girls in at five to eight, getting that positive experience that they want to play the game for the rest of their life.

“For the last few weeks I’ve been out visiting clubs. When I came into this role I said I want to get out and visit clubs, talk to the people doing the work on the ground.

“For the last few weeks I’ve been out visiting the clubs, and that was a real moment of seeing the programme in real life, and all the work we’ve put in the last few months. It’s great to see.”

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