Sion Swifts ladies, backboned by a strong Donegal contingent, go in search of history tonight at Windsor Park when they face Newry City in the Electric Ireland Irish FA Women’s Cup Final (8pm).
It is the first time since the competition began in 2005 that both finalists are from outside of Belfast and Sion are appearing in their first final.
Sion recently clinched second spot in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership and on their way to this evening’s final have beaten Linfield, Cliftonville and Crusaders.
Donegal is well represented in the Sion ranks.
Although the Villagers will be missing Glenties woman Amy Boyle-Carr, who is in the Czech Republic with the Republic of Ireland Under-17s, there remains strong Donegal blood coursing through Sion veins.
Convoy woman Niamh Mailey, Lifford’s Emma Carlin, Raphoe native Zoe McGlynn, Manor’s Ciana Brogan and Tyler Toland from St Johnston are all expected to feature in the final for the side under the charge of Tony McGinley and Tommy Canning.
“It’s absolutely massive,” says Mailey, one of those in their first campaign at the club.
“I remember when Tommy and Tony came to talk to me about signing and they mentioned that if we got to a cup final it will be played in Windsor Park and now to think we are heading there to play its so surreal.
“We had training last night with a full panel and everyone is in great form. There’s such a great buzz around the team.
“For such a small club it’s probably one of the highlights of the club’s soccer career and most definitely my soccer career so far. There are a few nerves, but it’s mostly excitement.”
Julianne Herrity had been a key member of the squad until she headed back to America, while Nadine Crawford has returned to Lagan Harps and Lauren Harper since moved to Bonagee United.
But for the likes of Mailey and Brogan, it has certainly been a fine first campaign at Sion.
“There are a great bunch of girls and they instantly welcomed me on to the team,” says Mailey.
“The level of football that is played is top class and with such tight competition, and coming out with victories makes it all that more enjoyable.
“Some of the football we play is phenomenal. We mightn’t have the experience as we are a young team but we make that up with the skill and pace that we play at.
“To win would mean so much to us.”
Carlin has been at the club for a handful of seasons now and has won three Foyle Cups and a League Cup. She had McGlynn are two of the Donegal players who have seen some bad days as well as good at the club – and who are reaping rewards now for staying loyal to the cause.
Sion had a disappointing League last season, but Carlin has been thrilled how they’ve improved this term.
“It’s getting better each year because everyone puts in 110 per cent in pre-season and training,” full-back Carlin says.
“Adding new faces to the squad keeps everyone fighting for places and pushes everyone to bring their best when it comes to playing matches.
“It’s great to see Donegal girls playing this year. They have been a great addition to our team and it’s good to see Sion Swifts Ladies attracting talent from all over.
“With this being our third year in the premier league everyone knows how much hard work and dedication it takes to win games.”
Canning is a former coach at Finn Harps who is well versed in the game and who has done some scouting work for Ollie Horgan. He and McGinley are the perfect tag team to oversee Sion’s development.
Carlin says: “Tommy and Tony are brilliant coaches. They have a lot of football knowledge and coaching experience and put in a lot of hard work with us.
“We wouldn’t be the team we are without them, all the girls have a great relationship with them.”
Mailey was on the Donegal senior ladies panel this year, too, and the Convoy native had to juggle both codes for a while.
She says: “With both sports being at a high level and demanding it wasn’t easy. I talked to both management at start of the year and they were happy enough to accommodate both sports, which I was rally grateful for.
“At times I did feel I wasn’t giving enough commitment to both sports as much as I’d like to, but I wasn’t ready to make a decision as I wanted the best of both worlds!.”
Toland was recently called into the Republic of Ireland senior panel for this month’s World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland in Lurgan.
Her talents have been obvious for some time now and for Sion tonight is a night that could become its greatest hour.
Carlin says: “It would mean so much to us girls and the management to win on Thursday. We have trained hard and put in a lot of work on the training pitch all year and winning on Thursday would be a brilliant end to a brilliant season.”Tags: