DERRY CITY ladies team have already surpassed all pre-season expectations having clinched promotion to the N. Ireland Women’s F.A. Premier League for the first time in the club’s history.
However, Liam McKinney’s history makers tonight have the chance to complete a remarkable quadruple of prestigious trophies to end an incredible year.
The ‘Candy Stripes’, captained by Shannon Dunne, will proudly parade the Ballymena Cup, Foyle Cup and the N.I.W.F.A Championship trophy at half-time of the Derry City’s senior men’s Premier Division clash against Drogheda United tomorrow night.
But they’re not happy with showing off the ‘treble’ and are determined to secure the Championship Divisional Cup to signal their rise to prominence in the women’s game in N. Ireland.
Standing in their way are their biggest rivals this year, Lisburn Ladies as the two best teams in the Championship go head-to-head at Moyola Park tonight. (Kick-off 7.30 p.m.)
McKinney’s team ensured their place in the top table of Ladies football in N. Ireland where they will compete with Linfield, Cliftonville and Crusaders next year, when their league opponents Valley Rangers decided to forfeit last Wednesday’s final game of the season.
They won the title by four points in the end but it was a bit of an anti-climax and curtailed celebrations for the City ladies squad who have conceded just 12 goals in all competitions this season. Manager, McKinney, however, believes it could have been a blessing in disguise ahead of tonight’s cup final.
“It was disappointing because we don’t get the trophy now until Friday night at the cup final,” he said. “We would rather have had that done and dusted going into this game.
“The one team that has defeated us this year is Lisburn and they were our toughest rivals so it will be a tight game.
“They beat us at their home match and then we drew with them in Derry. They’re a big physical outfit. They finished second in the league and we owe them a defeat.
“Because the game was called off on Wednesday we had a light training session instead,” he explained. “We had a talk about it and the girls were a bit down because they couldn’t lift the trophy. We had an hour and a half session out at the Vale Centre on the 3G to get ready for the final. So we’re well prepared for it and the girls are up for a big night.
“It would round off an excellent year for us. It all started off in our pre-season with the Ballymena Cup against Premiership teams and we came out on top in that which set the tone for the rest of the season.
“We then won the Foyle Cup with a big win against Sion - once again a big Premiership side - so we knew we were ready for moving up if we got the opportunity.”
Both cup finals this season have been decided on a penalty shootout and while McKinney is hoping to avoid another nerve-wrecking finale, he believes he has a secret weapon in striker turned goalkeeper, Molly McBride.
“There’s nothing to say this one won’t go to penalties but hopefully it can be decided before it comes to that because penalties take their toll on the nerves.
“A few years ago Molly was a top striker in the North West. She’s turned into a keeper now. In the Foyle Cup Final she scored our last penalty and then went out and saved Sion’s to win it for us.”
“Shannon Dunne is the captain and leads our defence which has only conceded 12 goals in every competition so our backline is working very well.
“And up front we have Niamh Connolly and Rachel Barnaby who have, between them, scored about 40 goals this year as a strikeforce. So we’ll be hoping those two can do the damage on Friday night.”
“We wouldn’t be where we are without the backing of Sean Barrett and the Committee,” he said. “They’ve backed us to the hilt this year. We told them at the start of the season that our aim was to get into the Premiership to play against names like Linfield and they backed us so I’m delighted for them too that it’s worked out so well.”