Bryan Keane/INPHO Heather O'Reilly scored the winning goal just four minutes in.

O'Reilly goal and Budden heroics steer Shelbourne to famous Champions League win

Noel King’s side secured an incredible result away to Slovenian outfit ZNK Pomurje.

ZNK Pomurje 0

Shelbourne 1

IT JUST HAD to be.

A USA legend, and now unquestionably a Shelbourne one, this is what Heather O’Reilly came here for.

She came out of retirement to play Champions League football. You know the story by now: Arsene Wenger the catalyst, Shels the team at which she could finally realise her dream.

Four minutes into their Round One semi-final away to Slovenian side ZNK Pomurje, the 37-year-old mother-of-two put Noel King’s side 1-0 up; the fairytale Champions League debut following a multitude of Olympic and World Cup wins, and 231 US caps.

O’Reilly’s first goal in her fourth game for the Reds would prove the winner, crucial at the Fazanerija Stadium alongside a sensational performance from goalkeeper Amanda Budden and key contributions from the ever-impressive Shels stalwarts.

The scenes at the final whistle said it all, the Women’s National League champions enjoying a monumental European triumph — they’re the first Irish team to win a game in the competition in three years — alongside a welcome, vocal group of travelling support.

The Reds march on, facing Iceland kingpins Valur — who saw off FC Hayasa (Armenia) — in Sunday’s Round One final with their group-stage hopes more alive than ever.

It was a rollercoaster start for Shelbourne in the blistering heat: a missed penalty and then a goal, before the game was even five-minutes-old.

They roared out of the blocks, and were awarded a spot kick after just 46 seconds. Danish referee Fredrikke Lydia Sokjaer adjudged an infringement in the box off the back of a Noelle Murray corner. Maja Dimitrijevic was yellow-carded for the incident involving Pearl Slattery, and Murray lined up the subsequent penalty.

Iva Kocijan denied her the dream start, but the Shels veteran soon shook off the disappointment. The visitors took control of the game early on, and it was 1-0 with four minutes on the clock. And who else would get them off the mark?

O’Reilly sent a looping header into the back of the net after getting on the end of a Keeva Keenan delivery, which broke in the box.

With the wind in their sails, Shels powered on. They forced a number of corners; Murray rattling the crossbar, just that and Kocijan’s fingertips keeping her out on 10 minutes; while Jessie Stapleton drew a good save shortly afterwards.

Pomurje grew into the game, but Budden was at her brilliant best, keeping them out time and time again. The hosts had a few penalty calls in the latter stages of the first half, one against Keenan, another against the excellent Emma Starr, but the referee waved play on.

Shels lost Jess Gargan just before half time, the right-back appearing to sustain an ankle injury and attempting to play on, before limping off in tears.

The second half brought more injury concerns, and was a more stop-start affair.

Always one to play on the edge, Slattery came out the worst of a crunching challenge, but managed to continue leading the charge for her side. O’Reilly made way in the 53rd minute after a successful days’ work, King’s substitutes keeping the foot on the pedal.

Budden produced several more brilliant saves, as Pomurje chased an equaliser, but Abbie Larkin was lively for the visitors at the other end, herself and Murray hard to stop at times — unless cynically so.

It was a professional second half performance from the Irish crew, hanging on at times but holding firm at all costs to see out an famous 1-0 win.

Pomurje had their chances, but they were kept out, a nail-biting seven minutes’ injury time successfully navigated to seal the deal, and an incredible result.

Shelbourne: Amanda Budden; Jess Gargan (Leah Doyle 46), Pearl Slattery, Shauna Fox, Keeva Keenan; Rachel Graham (Alex Kavanagh 72), Jessie Stapleton, Emma Starr; Heather O’Reilly (Abbie Larkin, 53), Jemma Quinn (Megan Smyth Lynch 80), Noelle Murray (Lia O’Leary 80).

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