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Dublin Live
Dublin Live
David Donnelly

Shelbourne captain Pearl Slattery: 'I'll never experience a day like that in football again'

Pearl Slattery has seen and heard just about everything in her nine years in the Women’s National League but nothing quite prepared her for the events of Saturday night.

The Shelbourne captain had the thankless task of getting her side motivated for what most people, themselves included, expected to be a futile effort.

Trailing Peamount United by two points going into the final day’s action, the Reds had to beat Wexford Youths at Tolka Park and hope the champions slipped up at home to Galway.

With 20 minutes gone, it didn’t look promising, as Peas raced into a two-goal lead, but they did their part by taking a 2-0 lead of their own. What happened next will be written about for years.

Slattery recalls: “It was bizarre. I was really strong with the girls coming into the game that we had to do our job and win our game, because if we slip up and they slip up, we'd be tormented.

“So I was strong that we wanted to go out and win the game. I thought we were really good in the first half and we were 2-0 up.

“I think at one point Jessica Ziu said to me it was 2-2 [in Peamount] and I kind of gave out to her, like 'don't worry about that game, worry about ours.'

“Midway through the second half, the crowd erupted in Tolka - I've never heard anything like it. And I thought, 'that's a bid odd, there's something happening in that other game.'

“Then we went 3-0 up, then it went 3-1, and then at one stage I heard it was 4-2 [in Peamount] and I couldn't believe it.

“It was like we'd won the league, the cheer. I just knew that Galway were winning from that. No one had told me the score. I just knew because everyone was jumping from their seats

“Then Wexford pulled it back and it was 3-2 with five minutes to go, and Peamount were not going to win, and we just needed to win.

Shelbourne’s Pearl Slattery before a game with Athlone Town (©INPHO/Evan Treacy)

“It's just the stuff of dreams - I'll never experience a day like that in football again. I've been around long enough and sometimes it's your time.”

So unexpected was their triumph that the players hadn’t even brought a change of clothes to go out and celebrate.

Instead they toasted the league title in the Tolka Park bar in their tracksuits, partying until 7am at the ground that, since 2019, they’ve called home.

That the celebrations were spontaneous is partly explained by the fact they’ve been in that position before, Peas having pipped them to the title at the death the last two years.

In 2020, Peas scored three times in the last 15 minutes in what was a virtual play-off for the title. In 2019, they needed Peamount to fail to beat Cork City at home. They won 8-1.

Speaking on Monday ahead of another big week for the club - they face Wexford again on Sunday in the FAI Cup final in Tallaght - Slattery apologises for the hoarseness of her voice.

She hails the likes of Jessie Stapleton, the 16-year-old who has played in every position from defence to striker, and scored twice on Saturday night as the remarkable happen.

Stapleton’s deployment has less to do with wanderlust as the impact of injuries and players lost to professional opportunities abroad.

The club lost two key players, midfielder Jamie Finn and striker Emily Whelan, to English Super League side Birmingham City in the space of a few days in July.

One of the first things Slattery did, after the initial celebrations had died down on Saturday night, was to contact both players - and she’ll put in a word to make sure they’re allocated medals.

“That was one of first things I did on Saturday night was text Jamie Finn and Emily to say thanks. Because they'd played a part in the season.

“That’s where I’d give the group credit because we lost them very quickly - we found out about Jamie and we were delighted for her, and then a few days later all of a sudden Emily was going.

“It was tough because they were two key players, and then you think 'can we go on?' The following week then we were beaten 5-0 by Peamount.

“But, credit to the group, we never gave up, never let the heads go down. Whenever we lost players to abroad or injuries.

“We just kept going and kept plugging away and if Peamount ever slipped up to make sure we're there.

“They were the first two I texted on Saturday night, just to say thanks because we wouldn't have done it without them.”

At 32, Slattery still has plenty of years of football in her, both on the pitch and off. The UEFA A Licence coach is thankful to work full-time in the game as a participation programme co-ordinator for the FAI.

The Rialto native runs the Disney Playmakers programme, a UEFA initiative that seeks to boost the numbers of young girls playing the sport at grassroots level.

This is the programme’s first year and they already have 29 clubs across the country taking part, a number they hope to double for 2022.

She says: “I'm in the FAI since 2015 - I went into Summer Soccer Schools and worked in the camps for two years.

“Then I got an administrating role in the women's department for about eight months, and then I got into the development officer role, based around the women's game.

“I did that for two years, and now I'm in this role since January. I love it. It's football, isn't it? It's all about growing participation.

“There's a big focus on getting girls in younger now. You can see other sports are getting them in at five and six, and we need to start doing that.

“My job is football, so I feel very lucky. It's a different approach - it's more based around life skills, fundamental movement, and then football basics into it.

“It's mainly about getting younger girls in at five to eight, getting that positive experience that they want to play the game for the rest of their life.

“The clubs have done amazing and it's exciting. For the last few weeks I've been out visiting clubs.

“It's hard because you're busy and you have to do stuff like admin, but when I came into this role I said I want to get out and visit clubs, talk to the people doing the work on the ground.

“For the last few weeks I've been out visiting the clubs, and that was a real moment of seeing the programme in real life, and all the work we've put in the last few months. It's great to see.”

Should Shelbourne seal a remarkable league and cup double, her bosses in the FAI may be persuaded to give her Monday off. At the very least, she’ll have a change of clothes.

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