A SQUAD of 14 girls, together with their coaches, league officials, a physio and a chef, estigious 2019 FAI Fota Island Resort Gaynor cup tournament.
This U15s tournament, which is the top one in Ireland for girls, was played over three days, 28-30 June, and featured the best of girls’ talent in the country. Carlow were grouped with NECL, Cork and Inisowen – in that order.
Carlow started well and were quickly into their stride, putting pressure on NECL.
With Kate McDonald passing to Katie Byrne, she found Wiktoria Gorezyea, who, in turn, found Emma Walker, but her shot was saved by Bonnie McKiernan, which was the first of many she would make.
Carlow settled well and there was good interplay and won most of the second balls, thus keeping pressure on NECL.
Carlow forced save after save from McKiernan, but then NECL won a free-kick on halfway and a long ball went over the Carlow defence and was latched on to by Michelle Doonan, who slotted it past Fai Murphy and Carlow were 1-0 down on 21 minutes after dominating play.
A cross into the NECL box fell to Siofra Adams, but she completely missed her kick and that gilt-edged chance went abegging.
Bonnie McKiernan made two or three more good saves to prevent Carlow getting an equaliser and they weathered the storm and half-time came with NECL hanging on to anarrow lead.
Then, only three minutes into the second-half, a long ball out of the Carlow defence saw a mix-up between Bonnie McKiernan and Ciera Blake and Wiktoria Gorezyca prodded the ball home from about 12 yards for the equaliser.
Aoife Kelly picked up a loose ball and shot agonisingly just wide, with Bonnie McKiernan well beaten and a fine cross from Katie Byrne into Emma Walker was saved again by McKiernan and the rebound was flicked wide.
Then NECL won a free-kick 30 yards out and Sarah Power took it and the ball went between Fia Murphy’s legs with a cruel deflection and NECL went back into the lead 2-1.
Carlow had a last determined push, but McKiernan thwarted Carlow and kept them out and it finished with NECL winning 2-1, a match Carlow should never have lost.
Outstanding for Carlow were Aoife Kelly, Katie Byrne and Niamh Brophy, while best for NECL were Bonnie McKiernan, Sarah Power and Michelle Doonan.
Carlow met Cork, who won 5-1 in their opening match, and it was a must-win game for Carlow.
It was a high-pressure start by Carlow and some good interplay saw them win a corner, taken by Emma Walker, and from it Sarah Timmons headed just over the bar.
A good run from Laura Stone was thwarted by Fia Murphy, who was quick off her line to gather the ball.
There was good interplay and movement by Carlow, while Cork relied more on the long ball.
In the early stages Laura Stone was standing out and she latched on to a long through ball and slotted home for a 1-0 lead after nine minutes.
Wiktoria Gorezya got through on goal and her shot was saved by Ailbhe Moloney at the second attempt.
Kerrie Smith played in Katie Byrne down the left and she hit a fierce shot-cross over the bar and this was the closest Carlow had come to equalising.
A corner to Carlow was taken by Emma Walker and Kate McDonald headed just wide.
At this stage Cork were quick on the counter-attack and while Carlow were looking the sharper of the two teams, nevertheless Cork looked dangerous.
Some good defending by Carlow’s Niamh Brophy and Sofira Adams against the tricky Robyn O’Connor kept her quiet and Kerrie Smith battled away in midfield.
Carlow won a free-kick for a foul on Niamh Brophy and Emma Walker took it and found Kate McDonald, who directed it straight at Ailbhe Maloney, who saved easily.
Half-time came with Cork holding on to a slender 1-0 lead.
Straight after the half-time kick-off, Wiktoria Gorezyca played in Emma Walker, who coolly slotted the ball into the bottom corner of the net to make it 1-1 and Carlow were right back in the game.
Then a free-kick to Carlow was taken quickly by Katie Byrne into Wiktoria Gorezyca, but Ailbhe Moloney was out fast to save and then she pushed the rebound to safety.
Up the other end, Cork won a corner, taken by Eva Mangan, but it was headed just over by Laura Shine as they battled to stay in the game, with also Ava Lotty playing her part with some fine play down the right.
Carlow then won a free-kick, taken by Emma Walker, who sent it deep into the Cork box and the ball fell to Megan Monohan, who slotted home to make it 2-1 to Carlow after 14 minutes.
Cork put some late pressure on Carlow, but they weathered the storm and as the final whistle came there was jubilation from the whole squad and their large contingent of supporters and parents.
Standing out for Carlow were Kerrie Smith, Aoife Kelly and Sarah Timmons, while best for Cork were Sadbh McGoldrick, Laura Shine and Orlaith Deasy.
Inishowen started brightly and their speedy winger Cliona Doherty went on a run, but she was crowded out by Katie Byrne as Inishowen went for an early, high-pressing game.
Carlow started to come into the game, although some of their through-passes went astray as they tried to find their strikers Emma Walker and Wiktoria Gorezyca.
Then, ten minutes in, a cross from Katie Byrne found Witoria Gorezyca and she was brought down by Hollie Ferguson for a penalty.
Up stepped Emma Walker to smash the ball home to put Carlow 1-0 in front.
Carlow forced a succession of corners, but they were all cleared by robust defending by Inishowen.
Some good play by Wiktoria Gorezyca and Sofira Adams won a corner, taken by Emma Walker, and it was met by Kate McDonald, who volleyed home from eight yards to double Carlow’s lead to 2-0 on 18 minutes.
Emma Doherty was doing well for Innisowen, holding up the ball and trying to bring her teammates into play.
A shot-cross by Sofira Adams went right across the goalmouth with no Carlow player able to get on the end of it.
Inishowen were finding it hard to hang on to the ball when in possession, as Carlow pressed hard high up the pitch.
Then, in first-half injury time, a fine long ball from the excellent Aoife Kelly found Emma Walker, who shot past Hollie Ferguson for 3-0 and that was the score at the interval.
It was more of the same in the second-half, but Inishowen did start to come into the game with Cliona Doherty showing some nice touches and she was ably-assisted by the hard-working Emma Devlin, but poor passing let Inisowen down time and again.
Inishowen rang the changes and introduced a number of subs and while this did have an effect, they were no real threat to a strong and capable Carlow defence.
Carlow were still putting huge pressure on Inishowen and they forced a number of corners, but they were all cleared.
However, near the end, Emma Walker swung in a corner and the ball bobbled around in the area before Emily Sharma smashed it home from close range to complete a comprehensive 4-0 victory for Carlow and send them into the semi-final of the shield competition.
Standing out for Carlow were Kerrie Smith, Katie Byrne and Wiktoria Gorezyca, while best for Inishowen were Kerry Loughery, Ellen Long, Katherine Doherty and Emma Devlin.
Limerick Desmond 0
Once again Carlow started at a high tempo and in the third minute Katie Byrne won a corner, taken by Emma Walker, and Megan Monohan got on the end of it and thumped home a fine header to give Carlow an early 1-0 lead.
There was some good interplay between Katie Byrne, Aoife Kelly and Wiktoria Goezyca, which Limerick found hard to combat.
Limerick’s Ava Horgan was trying hard to get them going as an attacking force, but she was well marshalled by Sarah Timmons and Megan Monohan.
On 26 minutes, Carlow won a free-kick in the middle of Limerick’s half and Kate McDonald took it and slammed it into the top corner from all of 30 yards, giving Shona Tierney no chance and it was 2-0 to Carlow.
There was constant pressure by Carlow and only spasmodic attacking play from Limerick, such was Carlow’s control of the game and half-time came with them holding a comfortable 2-0 lead.
In the second-half, Limerick started to gain a foothold, but they were guilty of over-hitting passes and losing control to the Carlow midfielders.
Limerick were starting to run out of ideas and Carlow were still pressing hard and just before the end some great play by Katie Byrne saw her send in a fine cross that was met by a diving header by Emma Walker to make the final score 3-0 to Carlow and so progress to the shield final, where they would meet Sligo/Leitrim.
Outstanding for Carlow were Aoife Kelly, Katie Byrne and Megan Monohan, while best for Limerick Desmond were Grace McInerney, Jenna Slattery and Lorna Healey.
It was a historic day for Carlow as they became the first team to play in a national final, with the opportunity to bring home some silverware for the first time ever.
Overnight rain had made for slippery underfoot conditions and there were a few slips early on before the strong breeze dried things up.
Carlow were immediately on the attack and Sofira Adams got through on goal, but Macayla Burke made a good save.
Carlow were playing against the stiffish breeze and they were probing the Sligo/Leitrim defence with long balls, but Macayla Burke was ever-alert and quick to come off her line and collect.
Carlow were playing with great confidence both in defence and midfield and Sligo/Leitrim hardly got a look in.
Carlow won a corner and this was zipped in by Emma Walker and Sarah Timmons rose like an eagle and powered home a header for that vital opening goal and a 1-0 lead on 15 minutes.
Kate McDonald and Megan Monohan were ‘sound’ at the back for Carlow and Sligo/Leitrim were getting no joy out of them.
Just before half-time, a great tackle by Sarah Timmons allowed her to find Aoife Kelly, who, in turn, found Wiktoria Goezyca and she was brought down for a penalty to Carlow on 33 minutes but, unfortunately, Emma Walker blazed it over the bar and the score remained 1-0 to Carlow at the interval.
Straight from the kick-off, Sligo/Leitrim were put under intense pressure by Carlow.
Sligo/Leitrim’s Maeve Molloy then got through one-on-one with Fia Murphy, but she got a hand on her mis-hit shot and deflected it onto the post, where it was only partially cleared and Maeve picked the ball up again, but this time it was Niamh Lalor who calmly cleared off the line.
Some probing balls from midfield put Sligo/Leitrim under pressure and they conceded a corner, which was taken by Emma Walker, and it beat everyone, except Wiktoria Goezyca, who smashed the ball home at the far post from close range to give Carlow a 2-0 cushion.
Sligo/Leitrim huffed and puffed and tried hard to get back into the game, but it wasn’t to be their day.
Joy was unconfined, as the Carlow players, coaches, league staff and parents celebrated this historic victory and the celebrations carried on as they went to receive the trophy and medals.
Carlow were so close to being in the Gaynor cup final proper, except for the blip in their first match when they lost to NECL, who finished bottom of the group and beat Cork (the only team to do so), who won the cup on penalties.