Cork City 0 Peamount United 6
A little more than a year on from her last appearance in an Ireland shirt, Stephanie Roche provided a reminder of why she was for such a long time seen as an important part of the national set-up with two goals and an assist setting Peamount United on course for what turned out to be the most comfortable of cup final wins, one that completes their double.
A young Cork City side had made life difficult for the Dubliners through the first half but seemed to have to expend so much energy on containment that there was too much left for the more creative side of things. They ended the day with their one standout chance of scoring having been passed up by Christina Dring at a stage when they trailed 2-0.
In the end, Peamount’s quality and experience proved overwhelming for a team perhaps still a few years off achieving their potential and though the three goals they conceded in the last 10 minutes gave a harsh look to the scoreline there was no disputing that they had been well beaten by a better side.
Roche’s team-mate back at Stella Maris some 17 years ago, Áine O’Gorman, might have run her close for the Player of the Match award with a second-half performance that included a goal and a hand in several of the others but the 31 -year-old striker had looked a cut above the rest through most of the afternoon.
Early on, City’s resilience had forced her to drop deep in order to get on the ball but having managed to create Peamount’s chance of the first 45 minutes, it seemed only a matter of time before one came her way after the break.
As it turned out, it took barely a minute with Roche getting onto a Lucy McCartan ball through the heart of the City defence and though Maria O’Sullivan got a hand to the shot from a terribly tight angle, only one outcome felt plausible from the moment the ball crept in at the far post.
Her second goal confirmed the impression after which she teed up O'Gorman for a third and, as City started to look tired late on, Karen Duggan, Rebecca Watkins and Tiegan Ruddy all got in on the scoring act.
Ruddy had only just replaced Roche when she scored and the 31-year-old admitted through a broad smile that she would have quite liked to stick around in the hope of getting her hat-trick. Already, though, she was looking forward to next season and the prospect that a run of being fully fit might allow her to play her way back into the Ireland team.
Once Irish football’s most celebrated female export, off the back of her nomination for the Puskas award in 2014, she played just eight minutes of the qualification campaign just finished and the challenge now is to re-establish herself while back playing part-time football.
“I played in the first season of the national league and I’m playing this season. It hasn’t got any worse but has it got better? I don’t know,” she says.
“It’s difficult. I probably could have stayed away to play but I wanted to come home and enjoy my football. It wasn’t working out where I was. But for the young players in Ireland, there has to be an emphasis on improving this league. There were players on the bench [against Germany] who are 16 or 17 and you can’t send those to England now, they need a stepping stone.
Not much, she realises, is going to change and the start of whatever form next season might take is the next challenge. But she does believe she will be in a position to build on the strong finish she has made to this one.
“This season has been the biggest stop-start one for me. I cracked my rib in my first game of the season away to Cork City, putting me out for a couple of weeks. After that, it was a slow burner trying to get myself fit and sharp. I was just happy to get two games coming into the cup final. I had some good moments, like the goals, but there are still things to improve on. I can’t wait to get going for the pre-season.
“I know that I have quality and can offer something to the [Ireland] team,” she continues, “and you never know what will happen from a good pre-season and season.
“Vera [Pauw, Republic of Ireland manager] hasn’t had many games. She was unfortunate with no friendlies this year due to Covid and so players on the fringes haven’t had much of a chance. That’s nobody’s fault, just the way it’s been and I just need to be ready if the opportunity comes. I love playing for Ireland. It’s a passion of mine and I’ll never give up on it.”
Cork City: O'Sullivan; Foley, McNamara (Walsh, 82 mins), Burke, O'Brien (S McCarthy, 82 mins); Cassin, O'Mahony; Liston (Seward, 82 mins), Dring (Shine, 72 mins), Noonan; Egbuloniu (K McCarthy, 57 mins).
Peamount United: Reid-Burke; O'Callaghan, Walsh, Farrelly (Doherty, 83 mins), Beirne (Doyle, 79 mins); McCartan, Duggan; O'Gorman, Ryan-Doyle (Watkins, 79 mins), McEvoy (Smyth-Lynch, 70 mins); Roche (Ruddy, 84 mins).
Referee: C Purcell (Waterford).