Peamount's Karen Duggan and Lauren Kelly of Wexford Youths. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
aviva fever

'A great spectacle for women's football' - Wexford's FAI Cup-winning boss

Tom Elmes says his players would rather play in an empty Aviva Stadium than a smaller venue on the biggest day of the year.

WEXFORD YOUTHS’ FAI Cup-winning captain and manager were both pleased with the spectacle at the Aviva Stadium yesterday as they defended their title against Peamount United.

The Lansdowne Road venue played host to a five-goal thriller, in which Tom Elmes’ Slaneysiders — captained by Kylie Murphy — were victorious. 

Murphy slotted home the winning goal in the 63rd minute, while Player of the Match Lauren Kelly produced two excellent finishes in the first half, with all three ultimately cancelling out Karen Duggan and Eleanor Ryan-Doyle’s superb efforts for Peas.

It was a really colourful affair, shown live on RTÉ and staged ahead of the men’s cup final meeting of Shamrock Rovers and Dundalk FC — and was a much, much better spectacle than the 2018 edition between the two sides.

“I can’t wait to watch it back, but I think it was a good game to watch, was it?” Murphy asked reporters for reassurance afterwards. But she trusted her own gut instinct.

“Even when we came in to sit down at half time, I was like, ‘There’s been three goals already,’ and for the fans and the younger girls out there…. last year was one goal, a toe-poke in and there were very little chances.

I think that was a good game and it’s great for Ireland and women’s soccer and women’s sport in general. Hopefully we did put on a bit of a show today.

“We don’t get too many opportunities to put it on the live stage,” she added.

“For it to be on national tely, you’re in your national stadium with all the supporters, friends and family coming up — they’re making that trip. They can sit at home and watch it on tely but they don’t, they make that trip. The amount of people out there today was incredible.

“These games are happening week in, week out in the National League and you’re getting maybe 30, 40, 50 people at them. When you get such a volume of people to actually see what ye can do, you really want to go out and do it.

“I felt like that was two good teams going at it today.”

Elmes, a former Youths striker himself and in his second year managing the side, also noted that it was difficult to fully judge the display in the moment, but was confident the sides produced an entertaining encounter. 

“It’s always hard from where I am, I’m concentrating on my team but I think it was a great spectacle for women’s football,” the Birmingham native said in his post-match press conference.

“An excellent final, plenty of goals. The standard of the players out there on the pitch, there were current and ex-international players, players being considered for international representation… it’s great to have that quality on the pitch.

lauren-dwyer-celebrates-with-the-trophy-after-the-game Lauren Dwyer celebrating. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“Even our own team going out in Champions League, they’re really competing with teams that train on a full-time basis. We were able to do that with the resources that we have in the league. There’s a big push behind women’s football, we want to improve those areas. The level of competition we have is increasing.

From my point of view, it was a really, really good game. A really close competitive game. It’s a cup final, sometimes there’s going to be nice bits of football played, other times it’s going to be ugly as well. It had everything today.

That it did. Each and every year, however, the Women’s FAI Cup final raises the debate about whether or not it should be played in the Aviva, and as part of a double-header with their male counterparts. 

There have been calls to move it to a smaller venue like Tallaght Stadium, where the national team play, and make the women’s game a standalone, but that’s a notion Elmes dismisses.

I spoke to players about it, they would come and play here in an empty stadium,” he continued. “Even for the crowd coming in, part of it is to come to the Aviva, the national stadium, to cheer on the team.

“No, I don’t feel that moving it to another venue would benefit in that way. It mightn’t look great for the cameras but for the players and football, you need to look at ways that we can start filling it up, getting more and more in.  

“But the turnout was fantastic. If the push is there to market it and if the league is pushed, that will just grow year on year.”

Elmes was pleased to see Rovers and Dundalk fans coming in early to catch some of the women’s decider, but likewise, he noted that people were there solely for their game and that’s even nicer to see.

“Look what’s happening around the push for the women’s national team. The sell-out in Tallaght, it was absolutely fantastic to be at the game. Brilliant, what a game,” he added sharing his delight at having some of his players in the squad.

lauren-kelly-celebrates-with-tom-elems-after-the-game Elmes celebrating with Kelly. Oisin Keniry / INPHO Oisin Keniry / INPHO / INPHO

“We’re getting to that level now where — you don’t have it in the men’s game so much at the minute — but where your international players are playing in your national league. I think that’s really where we want to grow; a good, strong domestic league.”

After his side’s dominance last year in achieving the treble, this season was seen by many as an underwhelming one considering their third-place finish in the league. Likewise they lost the League Cup final to Shelbourne. 

While he conceded it was a “frustrating year” as it took time to gel the team with new players coming in and, “You can’t have years like we did last year without taking a few on the chin as well,” Elmes noted that holding silverware for the winter is a definite boost. 

Despite what his captain Murphy has said, however, he stressed that winning yesterday wasn’t the be all and end all.

Look, everyone put a lot of pressure on them. People were saying this final will define them. I said it won’t, I said, ‘You’ve got nothing to prove to anyone, what you’ve gone and achieved.’

“Sometimes results don’t go your way, it doesn’t question the integrity or character of the team. All I asked from them was to give me everything they had. That pressure, I think we shrugged it off quite quickly. They had nothing to prove to anybody.”

And on those joyous moments after the final whistle sounded celebrating with his players, family — his children Alfie and Maisie — and friends, Elmes concluded:

“It’s great. It’s what it’s all about. The level of commitment you put in throughout the year is a lot. For players, parties, nights out, you sacrifice those times. It’s a level of commitment that’s different to any other.

“You’re not playing weekend football or anything like that. This is national league, the highest level of football you can play and there’s a certain level of commitment that goes with it.

“Days like this then when you get that win, it makes all the sacrifices worthwhile. You really appreciate it.”

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