Invincible Shels girls bring joy to the heart of their coach Kiernan

by Jonny Stapleton
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A Cup double, 35 wins and four draws from 41 competitive games, over 100 goals scored, seven players called up to represent their country and a senior international call up, the cold hard facts state it was a sensational season for Shelbourne’s WNL U17 squad.

However, there is real warmth and something beyond just numbers that make the unprecedented season stand out that bit further. That different feel is instantly apparent when talking to manager Ken Kiernan.

The budding coach is bursting with that much pride for his side’s achievements it overflows into raw emotion. It’s not quite the League Cup and the Cup win that make Kiernan, who only took over the team this year having previously worked with the Boys 15s and alongside Damien Duff with the male 17s, well up, more the young starlet’s team spirit, respect and care for each other.

“I never thought I was going to be this connected emotionally to a group. I never been before and I’ve worked with lots of teams,” he tells the Gazette.

“The way they turned up week to train, they train hard, they help each other through tough moments and are always there to support each other.

“They also share in each other success and support that. When players get called up for international duty their team mates couldn’t be happier and more supportive, even if someone won a game or did well in a school team or something like that they support it and celebrate it.

“They are a really great group and I couldn’t be prouder,” he adds holding back tears.  

That feel-good theme continues beyond how invested the coach is in the squad.

“There seems to be a real club ethos at Shels and the 17s appear as important to the set up as any team in red. That’ becomes apparent when Kiernan ties his team’s double success with the senior double winning antics stating ‘of the six WNL trophies on offer we have won four of them’.

Furthermore, the 17s were cheered to cup victory by the Senior Women’s team and men’s first team coach Damien Duff, something Kiernan believes shows the one club ethos at Tolka Park.

“The Senior women won the league the day before we played the League Cup final but they came to watch and support us.

“It added pressure to perform and I don’t think we played well that day but we won scoring in the 92 minute against Cork.

“To do that and to have Pearl Slattery the Shels league winning captian and her team mates cheering them on in the Stadium was massive for the team. It was just an incredible moment and experience for them. It says a lot about the club there is a real one club mentality.  

“When we went to play Wexford [in the Cup final] they were there too.

“Damien, who is always available for advice, travelled to Wexford to watch us too. Luke Byrne [club captain] has taken training sessions and that one club approach has allowed for the girls see what it takes to be a footballer, they have great role models.”

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows there is also a lot of hard honest graft behind the success.

“There were lessons learnt by both the coaching staff and players and it took a lot of effort to get things right.  

“I was used to working with boys and I’ve learnt the difference with boys and girls is, girls need to fit in before they perform, boys need to perform to fit in.

“Once I understood that and the team understood why were doing certain things in training and how they applied to match day we really started to improve.

“I went in to caoching this team unknown, starting from ground zero, so first off we worked on trying to build a mentality and environment and developed a training plan around that.

“We also went to three days a week training. How we trained throughout the season reflected in how we played and our work ethic on the field.

“After a few months it all started to gel, the girls started to gel. I think the beauty of the season was how the girls came together over time.  

“Then we put in a complete performance against Wexford, who were flying high in the other league group and there was real belief from then on. We all started to believe something could

happen.”

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