Cork played a key role in a big year for the women’s game in Ireland

Dylan O'Connell looks at the impact of Leesiders on the national and international scene in 2021
Cork played a key role in a big year for the women’s game in Ireland

Denise O'Sullivan with the match ball after scoring a hat-trick against Georgia at Tallaght Stadium. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

2021 was a landmark year in Irish women’s football and Cork was front and centre during this transformative period.

The mark made by Leeside on the national landscape isn’t confined to one or two events over the last year, but a consistent pattern of broken records and loud headlines.

This goes right back to when Cork City Women moved to Turner’s Cross last spring. This was a statement of equality and intent by the club, which attracted praise and interest from all across the country.

The Rebel Army then set the record attendance in the Women’s National League.

This happened at the beginning of November when 1,007 spectators attended a Munster Derby between Cork City Women and Treaty United at Turner’s Cross.

The record attendance that day was part of a ‘Drive for 2k’ — which was organised by fan podcast The Other 3 Amigos — and it hoped to get a crowd of 2,000 fans to attend the game.

The campaign was also in aid of charity, with all the proceedings from the day donated to Breast Cancer Ireland. The game ended 2-1 to Cork City Women, and the result meant that the club didn’t finish bottom of the 2021 Women’s National League.

While City ended 2021 empty-handed, two former players took part in a historic title race this season, and they ended up on the winning side.

The players — Amanda Budden and Saoirse Noonan —were on the Shelbourne team which brought the race for the title down to the final night of the season.

Shelbourne goalkeeper Amanda Budden and Saoirse Noonan celebrate the league victory. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile
Shelbourne goalkeeper Amanda Budden and Saoirse Noonan celebrate the league victory. Picture: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile

That evening, the Reds faced Wexford and they needed to win along with Peamount United losing if they were to win the league.

Shelbourne did their bit against Wexford, and in dramatic circumstances, Peamount conceded five goals against Galway Women’s FC to send the trophy to Tolka Park.

The chaos on the final day of the season was broadcast to the nation — with clips getting viewed over 20,000 times online. The Cork duo of Budden and Noonan played a massive role in Shelbourne’s league championship success.

Budden and Noonan were also instrumental in Shelbourne’s run to the 2021 FAI Women’s Cup final, which ended in defeat to Wexford Youths.

INTERNATIONAL CLASS

Cork players also had a massive role in the recent run of form of the Irish women’s national team.

No game better sums up the Rebel County’s impact than Ireland’s 2-1 victory in Finland last October.

The home side were heavy favourites that night in the Helsinki Olympic Stadium, and Vera Pauw’s team paid no attention to this.

Ten minutes into the game Megan Connolly scored a curling free-kick to give Ireland the lead.

This was held until half-time, and ten minutes into the second half disaster struck when Adelina Engman’s strike put Finland level.

The team charged forward and Heather Payne swung in an inch-perfect cross into the box. Goalkeeper Tinja-Riikka Korpela dropped this and Denise O’Sullivan popped up to head the ball in. Ireland left Finland with a victory, and both goals that night were scored by Cork players.

Republic of Ireland goalscorers Megan Connolly and Denise O'Sullivan in Helsinki. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Republic of Ireland goalscorers Megan Connolly and Denise O'Sullivan in Helsinki. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Girls in Green next faced Slovakia in World Cup qualifying. Vera Pauw’s side left everything on the pitch that night at Tallaght Stadium, but they drew 1-1.

This meant their next qualifier against Georgia was a must-win, and they needed goals if they wanted to boost their chances of making it to 2023’s showpiece tournament.

Ireland put on a show against Georgia that night with Denise O’Sullivan scoring a hat-trick in an 11-0 victory — the biggest ever for any Irish team in competitive football. Saoirse Noonan’s first Irish goal contributed to Ireland’s mauling that night of the Georgians.

The end result propelled the women’s national team up to second in the group, with a massive goal difference in their favour.

These historical moments in women’s football have led to some concrete deals and decisions.

These include the Women’s National League getting a TV deal with TG4 in the closing weeks of the 2021 season and the FAI agreeing to equal pay between the male and female national teams.

When football fans look back at the changing of the times for the women’s game in Ireland, Cork players and clubs will be at the forefront of these images.

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