Report: Christine Allen

The roars of the Rovers fans are rumoured to have been heard by those working the weekend shift in RTE, so enraptured were they when skipper Áine O’Gorman coolly converted from the penalty spot in the 80th minute to secure a well-deserved point for The Hoops in their SSE Airtricity Women’s Premier Division opener against DLR Waves.

The biting March breeze, nor the events at Twickenham could dissuade fans of both clubs from attending the UCD Bowl and the atmosphere was electric, the pitch bearing the scars of tackle, ruck and maul.

The most notable change to Head Coach Collie O’Neill’s starting eleven was between the sticks, with goalkeeper Summer Lawless taking the place of the injured Amanda Budden.

The opening minutes saw the bulk of possession maintained by the visitors, who fought hard to hold the ball along the Southern side of the stadium.

Lia O’Leary started on the left flank and was supplied by Shauna Fox, lining out on the left of a back three and bearing the brunt of a physically imposing Robyn Bolger.

On the opposite side, Melissa O’Kane slotted in at the right of the back with Jaime Thompson asked to adopt the unfamiliar role of right wing-back.

The first real chance at goal for The Hoops came in the 8th minute, when Joy Ralph controlled a wayward deflection from a DLR Waves set piece, before charging forward and rolling a perfectly timed ball to the signalling O’Gorman, whose astute positioning sliced open a channel of space on the right.

In recent days O’Neill spoke to on the “advanced” training preparations that the squad have been executing and this was evident as Rovers moved and dinked the ball with a suavity any LaLiga team would envy – Fox, O’Leary, Ralph, Thompson, Zambra and O’Gorman making a challenging game look easy.

Rovers were almost rewarded for their impressive link-up play in the 21st minute when a one-touch sequence of play and a final threaded-through ball from Zambra opened up space for O’Gorman whose robust right-footed strike was caught firmly in the gloves of the DLR Waves goalkeeper.

Herron too took a pot shot at goal, only to watch it sail over the crossbar.

The smooth style of play on a difficult pitch would serve as a warning blast to the Belfield Belles, and the women in azure and white rallied.

Despite Rovers looking the more attractive side, first blood was drawn by the home team.

A driving run by Robyn Bolger released Michelle Doonan, who with the outside of her left boot, spun past Jessica Hennessy, before trying her luck with a strike.

Shouts of protest from the home fans rose as the swerving ball was caught by Lawless, who seemed to take a momentary step back.

Confusion ensued for those both on and off the pitch before the referee deemed the ball to have crossed the line and awarded the goal to The Waves.

1-0 to Laura Heffernan’s side.

Rovers responded quickly, a lively Zambra firing two shots on goal within the space of three minutes but was unable to generate enough power to trouble goalkeeper Eve Badana.

The hosts would head into the break a goal to the good, yet the general consensus amongst the Rovers contingent was that it was a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if’ the team would draw parity.

Fox and O’Leary gave weight to that narrative in the early stages of the second half. Fox striding forward and laying off a ball to the number 11 who had heeded instructions from the touchline to move wide, and touched the ball into space before giving chase.

Alarm bells were ringing in Belfield as O’Leary’s shot flashed across the face of goal.

Goalscorer Doonan, sprinted and expended energy on the counter for the remainder of the half. The Waves were desperate to get a second on the scoreboard and kill the game, so threatening were Rovers in their attack, Joy Ralph shining on the ball.

The Hoops were finally rewarded for their creativity in front goal, when a thumping delivery by Fox was picked up by Ralph, who sent the defender the wrong way with a skilful step over, before playing the ball to O’Gorman, who circled around substitute Nadine Steward within a hair’s breadth of the box.

A wayward leg toppled O’Gorman and protests from the home crowd contrasted sharply with the referee who pointed confidently to the spot, the Rovers captain blocking out all noise and marching purposefully towards the penalty spot.

Badana’s attempts to distract the Wicklow native were in vain.

Despite getting a hand to the ball, O’Gorman’s power and placement were enough to bring The Hoops level. The equaliser would be the skipper’s 200th league goal of her career. An incredible achievement.

The remaining ten minutes had fans of both teams perched on the edge of the royal blue seats that litter the Southern stand, both camps believing that they could snatch the three points.

A towering header by Shauna Fox came within a whisper of sending The Hoops ahead at the death, the crossbar rattling in the 89th minute.

Deep into stoppage time, in a move initiated between O’Leary, Coady and O’Gorman, the winger, as lightning quick as in the opening minute, positioned herself to receive the ball from O’Gorman, before delivering a clean cross that found Reynolds in space.

With all the pace on the cross, the midfielder tried to guide the ball into the back of the net, but got too much on it and as it sailed agonisingly over the crossbar with referee Daryl Carolan bringing the game to a close shortly after.

An exciting battle between both sides, with plenty of positives for O’Neill’s side to take into next Saturday’s first home game with Wexford FC, with kick off set for 4pm at Tallaght Stadium.

Shamrock Rovers: Lawless, Fox, Hennessy, Kelly, Zambra (Reynolds 74’) O’Leary, O’Gorman, Ralph, Herron, Thompson (Coady 74’), O’Kane

Shamrock Rovers unused substitutes: Fanning, Kelly, Martin, Prizeman

DLR Waves: Badana, McCarthy, Gleeson, Finnegan, O’Brien, Kane (White 35’), Nyangasi, Cosgrove, Bolger (Roche 60’), Doonan, Conheady

DLR unused substitutes: Donnelly, Griffin, McMahon, Jones H, Keogh, Auskalnyte


DLR Waves Conheady 54’, Roche 73’, Heffernan 81’

Shamrock Rovers Fox 4’

Referee: Daryl Carolan