Shelbourne manager Noel King. Tom Maher/INPHO
UEFA Women's Champions League

A tale of two cities: Shelbourne up against familiar Irish faces as they fly the flag in Europe

Noel King’s side face Glasgow City tomorrow morning.

A BIG TEST lies ahead as Shelbourne fly the flag in Europe tomorrow.

Noel King’s side are in Uefa Women’s Champions League action against Glasgow City in Lithuania [KO 10am Irish time, watch live for €5 on]. 

Šiauliai Central Stadium hosts the showdown, with the winners facing FC Gintra or Cardiff City at the same venue on Saturday. The victors of that tie prevail, while a third/fourth place play-off will also take place.

The reigning Women’s National League and FAI Cup champions will be hoping to go one further than last year’s European adventure — and their 2017 tilt.

Shels won their opening qualifier against ZNK Pomurje in Slovenia a little over 12 months ago, with USA legend Heather O’Reilly bagging the decisive goal. But Icelandic side Valur ended the Dubliners’ dream of a place in the group stages a few days later.

Peamount United fell short in other recent campaigns, indeed suffering a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Glasgow City in 2021.

City are the Scottish Women’s Premier League holders, having won 15 of the last 16 titles. Just Rangers, in 2021/22, have interrupted their reign of terror.

There’s no shortage of familiarity and crossover with the club. Former Shelbourne striker Emily Whelan should play a key role for City tomorrow, along with fellow Republic of Ireland international duo Claire Walsh and Aoife Colvill.

Glasgow have a huge affinity with Irish players: Shels pair Noelle Murray and Keeva Keenan will come up against their former side, while Katie McCabe, Clare Shine, Niamh Farrelly and Tyler Toland are others to have been on the club’s books through the years. Interim Ireland WNT manager and FAI Head of Girls and Women’s Football Eileen Gleeson also enjoyed a spell at the helm.

Domestically, the Reds are currently second to Peamount. King’s charges have returned from the mid-season break with a league win and an off weekend, as well as a bye in the first round of the FAI Cup.

They lost star teenager Jessie Stapleton to West Ham during the hiatus, but continue to impress despite significant departures. Jamie Finn, Saoirse Noonan, Chloe Mustaki, Jess Ziu, Izzy Atkinson and Ciara Grant are others to have set sail for England in recent years, while five key players — Abbie Larkin, Jess Gargan, Amanda Budden, Lia O’Leary and Shauna Fox — joined Shamrock Rovers in the off-season.

pearl-slattery-and-rebecca-devereux-celebrate-after-the-game Pearl Slattery captains Shelbourne. Tom Maher / INPHO Tom Maher / INPHO / INPHO

No shortage of experience and talent remains, and Shels have the perfect blend between stalwarts like captain Pearl Slattery, Rachel Graham and Murray, and rising stars such as Hannah Healy, Rebecca Devereux and Kate McCarn. Keenan, Alex Kavanagh, Megan Smyth-Lynch and Jemma Quinn are other standout players.

An interesting challenge lies ahead. City are defensively solid and hard to break down, having only conceded two goals in their first five games of the new season, while Shels generally like to play a possession-based game. The temperature is forecast at 24°C, with scattered showers expected, so the weather may not be as significant as first thought.

There’s Irish interest elsewhere in Europe tomorrow, with Arsenal’s meeting with Linköping of Sweden among the headline acts. Katie McCabe, who once played at Shels herself, will feature for the Londoners. Cliftonville Ladies meet Benfica, while Debroah Anne De La Harpe’s HB Køge play KuPS. FC Zürich, now home to Diane Caldwell, are already through to the weekend action.

But all eyes will be on Shelbourne as they fly the flag, having travelled to Riga and onwards to Šiauliai, via London, on Monday.

Damien Duff, manager of the Tolka Park men’s outfit, perhaps put it best in a brilliant send-off video.

“Hi Ladies, Duffer here. Just a quick message for Pearlo, Noelle The Great and the rest of the squad. I hope you’ve sobered up from that day I bumped into yiz down near Grafton Street – ye weren’t in great shape, not that I was either!

“On a more serious note, ye have been leading the way for this club for many years now. You’re an inspiration to us all and we’re all striving to catch yiz. Keep it going, all the very best with the Champions League qualifiers. We’ll be cheering you on and I’m sure you’ll go and do the business.

“All the very best. You’ll never walk alone. We’re with ya!”

Shelbourne UWCL squad

Goalkeepers: Courtney Maguire, Amanda McQuillan

Defenders: Keeva Keenan, Maggie Pierce, Pearl Slattery, Leah Riley, Lucy O’Rourke, Catherine Graversen, Taylor White, Leah Doyle

Midfielders: Alex Kavanagh, Rachel Graham, Megan Smyth-Lynch, Kerri Letmon, Sophie Watters, Nadine Clare, Hannah Healy, Elizabeth Moore, Kate O’Dowd

Forwards: Noelle Murray, Jemma Quinn, Christie Gray, Rebecca Devereux, Morgan Rees, Natasha Shirazi, Katie McCarn.

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