League Report: Shamrock Rovers 1 – 1 Wexford FC

Scarlett Herron (centre) scored Rovers' equaliser on Saturday

Scarlett Herron (centre) scored Rovers' equaliser on Saturday Credit: Eddie Lennon (ETPhotos)

Christine Allen reports from Tallaght Stadium

Shamrock Rovers were held to a 1-1 draw in their first home game of the Women’s Premier Division season in what was a tough test against Hugh Strong's women from Wexford at Tallaght Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Ahead of kick off with the blasting PA music in the stadium, residents in Old Bawn and Firhouse beyond the South Stand could have been forgiven for suspecting that they were having auditory hallucinations of the Dua Lipa variety, the Calvin Harris smash hit temporarily resurrecting The Belgards 90’s nightlife hotspot, CoCos, within a 5km radius.

Unlikely to get past any barman in the foreseeable future, the Hoops mascots, who were each a head shorter than the SSE Airtricity Men’s League of Ireland trophy that shone proudly in the newly opened Megastore in the new North Stand, kept themselves entertained by dancing to Dua Lipa on the touchline, stealing hopeful glances in the direction of their heroes.

There were no changes to the Rovers starting XI that drew against DLR Waves at the UCD Bowl on the opening day of the season.

The injured goalkeeper Amanda Budden, along with Savannah McCarthy, who was wearing a protective boot as she recovers from ankle surgery, vociferously instructed and encouraged their teammates from the West Stand which was devoid of spectators. With the new seating being installed in the main stand, the 859 supporters in Tallaght were accommodated in the new North Stand for the day.

Rovers started with a back three of Shauna Fox on the left, Jessica Hennessy in the centre and Melissa O’Kane on the right, with Scarlett Herron and Aoife Kelly sitting just above their line.

Jaime Thompson and Lia O’Leary began on their respective right and left flanks, while Áine O’Gorman, Stephanie Zambra and Joy Ralph roamed up front.

A number of current Academy players and graduates secured their place on the bench, a nod to the pipeline of talent that has been cultivated by those who work tirelessly behind the scenes at Roadstone.

In the opening minutes the centre of the park was a hotbed of action, Herron channelling the grit and aggression of Roy Keane, clapping animatedly with each header won, her perfectly timed execution of the slide tackle surpassing that of Arsenal’s Leah Williamson.

Melissa O’Kane made her presence felt with a clean yet strong challenge on Orlaith Conlon, a statement of intent to the visitors.

A whipped cross from the 20-year-old almost put the Hoops ahead on the 17th minute, the ball grazing Zambra’s boot and bouncing harmlessly across the post and out for a goal-kick.

In what was always expected to be a close contest, Rovers looked to be in control of possession and pressed the women in lilac and yellow, Hennessy clocking another impressive shift for the home side.

Former Hoop Abby Tuthill battled with Thompson and Ralph in pockets on the left, every ball a 50/50 toss up.

Ciara Rossiter, who netted two against Rovers last season, was kept unusually quiet, bearing the war wounds of a 2-0 defeat to the Gypsies the previous Saturday, her left knee strapped in white tape.

The threat of Ireland international Ellen Molloy was equally nullified by Fox, O’Kane, Herron and Hennessy.

Displeased with his side’s setup, Hugh Strong reprimanded his starting side from the touchline, bellowing for the women from the South-East to get “up high.”

The UEFA Elite A licensed coach’s stern words had the desired effect as they found the opener. Rossiter who came alive on the left flank found Kylie Murphy from what was Wexford’s only second corner of the opening half hour, with the veteran's header bouncing off the crossbar and over the white line in the 33rd minute.

Even Rovers mascot Hooperman looked dour as he slouched along the touchline, so disappointed was he that his team had conceded.

A chance for Zambra just shy of the half-time whistle flashed wide of the post, the Shankill striker’s temple not connecting cleanly with the ball.

After the restart, Rovers shifted into fifth gear - much to the delight of the screeching fans behind Jayne Merren in the Wexford goal.

With Lia O’Leary’s driving runs and O’Gorman’s intuitive link up play with Zambra, O’Neill’s side dominated and looked certain to equalise as O’Leary delivered inviting ball after inviting ball into the six yard box.

Joy Ralph once again shone in possession, both the Greenhills native and the Hoops number 11 raising Strong’s blood pressure with every two touch transition.

The visitors looked fatigued and hit the deck often, disrupting the Hoops’ rhythm as the wind and rain began to swirl in Dublin 24, Ceola Bergin cutting a lone figure up front.

Rovers drew level in the 64th minute, when Monaghan native Herron muscled past the Wexford bodies in front of goal and headed O’Gorman’s sweeping delivery into the back of the net.

The Hoops sensed that three points were there for the taking and moments later O’Gorman fired a beautifully weighted pass from Zambra towards goal, only to be denied by an alert Merren, who pushed the ball against the right hand post.

Wexford recovered in the final 20 minutes, Molloy and Lenihan weaving forward, shooting from distance on foot of their manager’s insistent cries.

O’Gorman came close to securing three points in style for the women in green and white, but was again denied by the on form Merren. The former Rovers graduate had the grace and athleticism of Lioness Mary Earps between the sticks.

Desperate not to leave Tallaght empty handed, the Youths threw bodies at the ball, Della Doherty making a crucial block against an O’Leary smash in the dying embers of the match.

The contest was to end in a share of the spoils for both sides, the Hoops likely to be the most disappointed of the two, given the number of chances created.

O’Neill’s squad will look to kick-off their opening fixture in Group C of the All Island Cup with a victory over Treaty United in Markets Field next Saturday, before inviting Dominic Foley’s side to Tallaght for their first league face off of the new campaign.

Shamrock Rovers WFC: Summer Lawless; Shauna Fox, Jessica Hennessy, Melissa O'Kane, Lia O'Leary; Scarlett Herron, Aoife Kelly, Aine O'Gorman, Jaime Thompson (Maria Reynolds 90), Stephanie Zambra (Shannon Coady 81); Joy Ralph.
Subs not used: Laura Fanning, Hannah Martin, Anna Butler, Alannah Prizeman, Katie O'Reilly, Ella Kelly, Lauren Kelly.
Booked: Aine O'Gorman (37), Jaime Thompson (79).

Wexford FC Women: Jayne Merren; Orlaith Conlon, Della Doherty, Meabh Russell, Abby Tuthill; Aoibheann Clancy (Mia Lenihan 70), Michaela Lawrence (Teegan Lynch 57), Ellen Molloy, Kylie Murphy (Abbie Brophy 60), Ciara Rossiter; Ceola Bergin (Emily Corbet 60).
Subs not used: Maeve Williams, Nicole Nix, Nicola Sinnott, Freya DeMange, Leah McGrath.
Booked: None.

Referee: Daryl Carolan.
Attendance: 859
extratime.com Player of the Match: Lia O’Leary (Shamrock Rovers)