HIS SIDE may have been beaten, but Evergreen manager Barry O’Neill remained unbowed when it came to speaking about his young charges.
“We’re devastated, but I’m so proud of them,” he said in the aftermath of Evergreen’s 1-0 loss in the Women’s Under-14 National Cup final. “They were absolutely superb - it was just the width of the crossbar that denied us.”
It was just that. A matter of inches proved to be the Kilkenny side’s undoing at the hands of Salthill Devon in Saturday’s final in Castlecomer.
“We hit the bar in the first half, as the ball came back off the woodwork from Kirsty Maher’s shot and hit the line before bouncing out,” recalled O’Neill. “Then, they clipped a shot which went in just under the bar with a few minutes to go.”
Despite the result, the Evergreen boss preferred to look on the positives which stemmed from the game.
“It was a fantastic advert for women’s football,” he said. “There was a big crowd for the game, offering huge support for the two teams. OK, our girls were upset at the final whistle, but they can hold their heads high. They were superb, a great sign of the talent that is there in the girls’ game in Kilkenny. I’m so proud of them.”
An entertaining evening looked set to continue for another 20 minutes at least after both sides were locked at 0-0 approaching the end of normal time. Thoughts may have been turning towards extra-time, but Evie Lowndes struck the winner with 68 minutes on the clock, just as Evergreen were planning for that additional time.
“I had just asked the fourth official how much time was left,” recalled O’Neill. “He told me there were three minutes to go, so I had visualised that the game would go to extra-time. It was a lottery at that stage - anyone could win the game then - but it was a super goal. You couldn’t blame our goalkeeper, as their scorer (Lowndes) took her goal well.
“However, I think it says a lot for our side when you consider their goalkeeper (Caoimhe O’Reilly) got the Player of the Match award,” he continued. “She made a fantastic save from Jenny Clifford in the first half, as well as a super save with her feet from Laura Murphy, while she also tipped the ball on to the bar for Maher’s free-kick.”
That late goal was a blow for the Kilkenny side but they never gave in. The locals battled away, showing the potential is there in their ranks, something which drew more praise from their manager.
“Anyone who was at the game will agree that the standard of football on show was of the highest quality,” he said. “Even the match officials said it was so enjoyable to go out and referee a game like that - the girls were so honest, there was no diving and so few frees.
“Unfortunately for us, the result is just the way it went,” he added. “Just as there has to be a winner there has to be a loser too. Football is a cruel old game, but it can’t take away my pride for our side. The girls couldn’t have given us any more - they did all they were asked to, gave every single ounce of energy they had.”
And while the result might not have gone their way this time, O’Neill was confident that his side would taste glory in the future.
“We’ll come back from this,” he said strongly. “The old saying is that you have to lose one to win one. We’ll be back.”