2020 was a strange year for the Women’s National League – the opening day in March was scrapped at the last minute due to Covid and it didn’t start up properly until August.
Amid all the upheaval, the league witnessed arguably its best-ever side in Peamount United hold fort on both domestic and European fronts – a double win and narrow elimination to pro side Glasgow City.
We asked extratime.com reporters and some of the league’s managers and captains to put together their team of the year – these are the results.
Goalkeeper: Eve Badana (DLR Waves)
You’d have gotten long odds at the start of the season that the league’s outstanding goalkeeper would be a player who had played only a handful of games in the previous two years. Work commitments have limited Irish international Badana’s appearances for Waves to date – not to mention the Covid break – but four clean sheets in just nine games for a side in the bottom half of the table tells its own story. In Rachael Kelly, Maria O’Sullivan, Amanda Budden, Niamh Reid-Burke and Naoisha McAloon, the league isn’t short of quality stoppers but Badana’s assurance and shot-stopping abilities suggest an international recall may not be far away.
Right Back: Claire Walsh (Peamount United)
Strictly speaking, the Irish international is out of position as she’s played most of her football at centre-half in recent seasons, but such is her maturity that she could play anywhere along the backline and in midfield. Walsh has been a rock in a Peamount backline that has made attack the first line of defence, and fully warrants her place. Lauryn O’Callaghan, who normally plays right back for the Peas, is unlucky to miss out, as is Jess Gargan of Shelbourne.
Centre Halves: Pearl Slattery and Niamh Farrelly (Shelbourne & Peamount United)
Two players at the opposite end of the spectrum: the stalwart centre-half Slattery who’s won it all and is in the hunt for more, and the sprightly Farrelly with her full career ahead of her. Pushed into defence due to a season-ending injury to captain Louise Corrigan, Farrelly excelled to the point that she was snapped up on a two-year contract by Champions League mainstays Glasgow City. Slattery was the lynchpin of a Shels side that pushed the Peas all the way in the league, popping up with key goals when needed during one of the best title run-ins in memory.
Left Back: Ciara Rossiter (Wexford Youths)
Three years out of the league was nothing to the versatile Rossiter, who returned to Wexford ahead of the 2019 season and quickly established herself once again as the league’s outstanding full-back. Just the one goal in 2020, compared to four in 2019, don’t do the attacking full-back justice but her all-round play and ability to stretch the opposition made her a permanent menace. Isibeal Atkinson was also outstanding as an auxiliary left-back for Shelbourne, while Dearbhaile Beirne always impressed for Peamount.
Midfield: Karen Duggan, Eleanor Ryan Doyle, Ellen Molloy (Peamount United, Wexford Youths)
What else can be said about Karen Duggan, except that Ireland’s loss is very much Peamount’s gain? The Kilkenny midfielder has been the outstanding player in her position for club and country for the better part of a decade, but her retirement from the national team has allowed her to hone her game to another level. Ryan Doyle was the league’s best player bar none in 2019 and she continued her form in 2020 with ten goals, while 16-year-old Molloy announced herself with eight.
Right Wing: Aine O’Gorman (Peamount United)
It’s testament to the Peamount captain’s consistency that, despite learning a new position of full-back for the national team, she solidified her place as the league’s best-ever goalscorer as she secured a record third Golden Boot. The Enniskerry native shows no signs of slowing down as her two goals helped secure a second successive title in a crunch winner-takes-all tie with Shelbourne last month.
Left Wing: Saoirse Noonan (Cork City)
Amid the battle between Peamount and Shelbourne, it would be easy to forget the progress made by the likes of Cork City and Galway, who can now consider themselves contenders to the established top three. Key to City’s continual progress has been the form of dual-code star Noonan, who netted six times in 18 games from the number 10 role but is equally adept all across the front four.
Striker: Emily Whelan (Shelbourne)
What a year it’s been for the 18-year-old Shelbourne striker, who has established herself as a regular in international squads and one of the league’s leading markswomen. Five goals for the season, equal with striker partner Jessica Ziu, tells one part of her role with the league’s second best attack. The Balbriggan native has a bit of everything and will only continue to thrive as she grows into the league.
Player of the Year: Aine O’Gorman
Given the season they’ve had, the Player of the Year gong was always going to land in Greenogue and, with 14 goals in 18 games, the Peas captain was always going to be hard to look past. Teammates Karen Duggan and Eleanor Ryan Doyle were right up there in the race too, but goals win games and O’Gorman has proven time and again that she has what it takes to win games.
Young Player of the Year: Ellen Molloy
There was fierce competition for the Young Player of the Year award with Éabha O’Mahony outstanding in midfield for a blossoming Cork City side, and Emily Whelan and Jessica Ziu chasing league titles with Shelbourne, but it was impossible to look past 16-year-old Molloy after a breakthrough season with Wexford Youths. The Kilkenny native still has a year-and-a-half to go in school but the sky’s the limit in terms of her career beyond that.
Manager of the Year: James O’Callaghan (Peamount United)
It would be easy to miss the contribution of managers in the WNL, such is the low profile they take compared to the players, but Tallaght native O’Callaghan has earned all the accolades that come his way. The former Longford Town and Sligo Rovers player has steered his side to back-to-back league titles and their first-ever double this year, and they took last season’s quarter-finalists Glasgow to a penalty shoot-out in the Champions League.
Goal of the Year: Karen Duggan (Peamount United v Galway)
A rare unanimous decision. Karen Duggan doesn’t score many goals but, when she does, she makes sure they’re memorable. Her header against Shelbourne completed the comeback that won Peamount the title, and she also netted in the FAI Cup final win over Cork, but the pick of the bunch was this hit against Galway. You could hit a ball 10,000 times and never strike it as true as the Kilkenny midfielder did in September.
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