(Bealnamulla won 4-2 on penalties)
Lady Luck was not on Tullamore Town?s side at Clara last Sunday, as their hopes of capturing the CCFL Women?s Cup were ended in agonising fashion by Bealnamulla in a penalty shoot out.
Bealnamulla succeed Galway Bohemians as holders of the Combined Counties Cup, but for much of this game it appeared more likely that the silverware would be heading for Tullamore. The Offaly side produced an energetic performance and created the lion?s share of the game?s chances. However, the brilliance of Bealnamulla goalkeeper Yvonne Dolan - and on one occasion the woodwork - prevented them from making the breakthrough.
Goalkeepers can often have a thankless role. That solitary station between the posts involves marshalling the back four, jostling to claim crosses, and diving in muddy or rock-hard goalmouths. These are not glamorous duties.
But, every so often, a ?keeper can deliver a performance that?s just as impressive as that of a goal-grabbing striker. This was the case in Clara last Sunday afternoon, as Bealnamulla netminder Yvonne Dolan stole the show, making a string of vital saves which helped her team claim the Combined Counties Cup, the first trophy handed out by the Combined Counties Football League this season.
Despite Tullamore?s best efforts, Dolan proved unbeatable time and time again. After a player-of-the-match performance during normal and extra-time, it was fitting that her last contribution to this cup final was a fine reflex save from Richelle O?Neill during the penalty shoot-out which decided the outcome.
When Dolan?s Bealnamulla team-mate, Emma Treanor, then stepped up to convert the decisive spot kick it sparked enthusiastic celebrations among the Athlone players.
Bealnamulla, cheered on by a strong travelling support, were also denied by the post at one stage during a lively contest which contained everything bar a few goals.
The conditions in which this game was played ranged from bright sunshine for much of the first half to snow at one stage during the second period. The strong wind was a factor throughout and the players coped well with the varying weather.
Tullamore carved out the game?s first chance after four minutes. Sylvia Gee, who formed a formidable midfield partnership with Claire Cantwell, picked out Sinead Taylor with a fine through ball. Taylor?s finish was on target but Dolan got down well to make the first of many excellent saves.
The Offaly side was on the attack again after eleven minutes. Patrice Stapleton?s long ball found Taylor but she was forced wide by Bealnamulla defender Aisling Egan, and her shot on this occasion failed to trouble Dolan. At the other end, Gina Dowling let fly with the Athlone team?s first effort on goal but her speculative shot went wide of the mark.
Tullamore had most of the possession during the early stages, and fashioned another chance on 22 minutes when Taylor blazed over the bar after receiving a pass from Justine Walsh.
Bealnamulla started to come into it more as the half wore on. After 27 minutes, Charlotte Tone shot just wide from close range after Aisling Egan?s free kick had been parried by Tullamore goalie Bernie Walsh. Eleven minutes later, Emma Treanor did extremely well to win possession and let fly with a cracking 30-yard drive which came off the upright.
After almost conceding, Tullamore responded with an excellent chance of their own. A long ball out of defence reached Taylor and she raced through on goal. She was one-on-one with Dolan but the Bealnamulla ?keeper narrowed the angle and made a fine stop.
It was clear that these well-matched sides wouldn?t be separated easily. For much of the second half, the action took place in midfield as both sets of players tried tirelessly to seize control of the game. A goal continued to prove elusive despite some quality efforts from both sides.
Tullamore had the first opportunity of the half, when Walsh crossed to Taylor. She met it on the half-volley, and the strike was just millimetres over the bar. The girls in blue then came closer still, when Gee?s terrific strike from the edge of the area rattled the post.
Bealnamulla had a chance of their own on 57 minutes, as Gina Dowling collected a pass from Geraldine Griffith and sent a decent effort over the bar. The teams became cagier and more anxious not to concede but, with extra time looming, Tullamore had one last chance in the 83rd minute. Richelle O?Neill got on the end of Gee?s corner and her header was goal-bound before Dolan dived to make another great save.
Tired legs were evident during the 20 minutes of extra time, as players from both teams went down with cramps. Tullamore shaded the first half of extra time and Bealnamulla had the better of the second half, but neither could make the breakthrough where it counted.
Penalty shoot-outs are always nervy occasions, and the deathly silence which fell over Stanley O?Hara Park before each spot-kick added another layer of tension. Bealnamulla?s Aisling Egan and Tullamore?s Sinead Taylor kept their cool and converted the first two kicks. Then Edel Biggins and Tullamore?s Justine Walsh both sent the ball over the bar from twelve yards.
Penalty number three was scored by Michelle Ryan for Bealnamulla and Sylvia Gee for Tullamore, but when Gina Dowling fired home the next kick and her team?s goalkeeper saved brilliantly from Richelle O?Neill, the momentum was firmly with the ladies from Athlone.
Emma Treanor then had the chance to seal the win for Bealnamulla, and she duly obliged. The win adds to the trophy haul of a club that will now look to complete the double by retaining the league title.
Bealnamulla: Yvonne Dolan, Sharon O?Brien, Emma Treanor, Aisling Egan, Edel Biggins, Charlotte Tone, Michelle Ryan, Michelle Gately, Ruth Finlass, Geraldine Griffith, Gina Dowling. Subs: Ciara Fallon for Tone (73 mins); Margaret McDonnell for O?Brien (85); Mairead Moore for McDonnell (109).
Tullamore Town: Bernie Walsh, Regina Healion, Joan Lennon, Mary Treacy, Anna Connolly, Sylvia Gee, Sinead Taylor, Claire Cantwell, Patrice Stapleton, Justine Walsh, Richelle O?Neill. Subs: Niamh Flaherty for Stapleton (69 mins).
Referee: Junior O?Callaghan.