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Early Goal of the Season contenders and endless positives as Ireland's top-flight kicks off

Goals – 17 to be precise – late drama and talent galore on show in the Women’s National League so far.

AFTER AN OFF-SEASON full of positive off-field developments, the opening weekend of the 2021 Women’s National League [WNL] certainly lived up to expectations on it.

17 goals were scored across four thrilling games, as reigning champions Peamount United, Shelbourne and Bohemians all recorded Series 1 wins while Galway and Cork City produced an exasperating 3-3 draw at Eamon Deacy Park.

Mayo ladies footballer Rachel Kearns was the Tribeswomen’s star of the show there, stepping up with a first-half hat-trick on her return to the league — to now lead the race for the Golden Boot. 

The 23-year-old previously played for Castlebar Celtic, but has focused on inter-county football of late. After a blistering pre-season, she marked her return to competitive WNL action with three goals before the 40th minute, the third of those a remarkable effort:

It was 2-0 to the hosts by the 22nd minute, before Lauren Egboloniu and Éabha O’Mahony dragged Cork back into it.

3-2 at the break after Kearns’ peach of a volley, it was fitting that Cork’s equaliser in the 86th minute was also a worldie, a screamer courtesy of captain Becky Cassin putting the icing on the Leesiders’ draw after a huge performance from goalkeeper Abby McCarthy:

Six goals, two certain Goal of the Season contenders, one game. 

“I suppose I couldn’t have got off to a better start but I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Kearns said afterwards, as quoted by LOI Women.

“It was good to actually get out and play a competitive game. We felt that we should have got the three points with all the chances we missed, but fair play to Cork who were consistent and kept pushing and finally got their equaliser. We are a new and young team, still trying to get to know each other and we have a lot to learning, but it’s definitely going in the right direction. 

“As a team, we were devastated to not get a win but it is so important to look at the positives and that we got one point instead of none, and look forward to next week’s game.”

There was late drama and goals galore elsewhere on Saturday, too. Peamount got their title defence — and three-in-a-row bid — off to a winning start against rivals Wexford Youths at Ferrycarrig Park.

Eleanor Ryan-Doyle’s stunning 85th-minute effort was ultimately the difference, with an early marker laid down in the title race. It came just after Wexford captain Kylie Murphy hit the post from the penalty spot at the other end.

“It was important to get off to a good start, we knew it was going to be a tough challenge going down to Ferrycarrig and coming home with the three points against such an experienced and talented side,” Ryan-Doyle said.

“This win gives the team great confidence to build on from last season’s success. I was delighted to get the match winner, especially just after Nemo had saved the penalty at the other end of the pitch to keep us in the hunt for the three points.”

In the midlands, two second-half goals saw Shelbourne past Athlone Town, captain Pearl Slattery pulling another incredible strike out of the bag with Alex Kavanagh also on target from the spot.

Like Ryan-Doyle, Slattery stressed the importance of a good start as Noel King’s side eye silverware this season.

“We are delighted to come away with the three points and a clean sheet,” she said.

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“Athlone are a good side with some very talented young players, I expect they will take points from teams this season. 

“I felt we dominated the game and just needed to be patient. We created a lot of chances, which is a good sign, and I am proud of the girls as we kept trying to do the right thing until the final whistle. We’ll take the positives, learn from it, and move on to next week. Every game now in the league will be a challenge in itself.”

And it was Bohemians and Treaty United who opened the season, Bohs winning the battle of the 2020 newcomers 6-2 and laying down a marker for the campaign ahead.

They sit top of the table on goal difference. Bronagh Kane scored a double in 37 seconds, as the Bohs Twitter account says, her replacement Aoife Robinson also scored a brace, while Naima Chemaou marked her debut with a goal.

Source: Bohemian FC/YouTube

“Two goals in less than a minute was an unbelievable achievement,” Kane said, hailing the hard work from pre-season paying off, and the importance of three points in their opener.

“It all happened so fast – it’s always good to get on the score sheet. Now just to focus on the weekend’s game away to Galway, and drive for another win.”

Bohs travel to Galway this weekend, Cork City host Shelbourne at Turner’s Cross (Saoirse Noonan’s return to her former club is one to watch), Athlone Town and Treaty United go head-to-head, while DLR Waves — who were idle in Series 1 — entertain Wexford Youths. Peamount lie idle this time around.

In this, the league’s 11th season, all games are available to watch live, and for free, on LOI TV, with serious promotion being done by the league here >

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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