Women’s Premier League Cup Final: Cliftonville vs Sion Swifts
place: (Stangmore Park, Dungannon). date: Thursday 31st August Starting: The time is 19:45 GMT
coverage: Live text commentary, report and reactions on BBC Sport NI online
Cliftonville and Zion Swifts will battle it out in the FA Women’s League Cup final for the second year in a row on Thursday.
Sion topped last year’s final at Blanchflower Stadium, but Cliftonville were without a group of Northern Ireland internationals for that game due to their participation in the Women’s European Championship.
As a result, this season’s showdown, which will see the second piece of the Women’s Domestic Championship delivered at Stangmore Park, is expected to be fiercely contested.
How did they get there
Cliftonville, second in the league, had a slightly easier path to the final than Sion in terms of games played. As they secured the Women’s Premier League title last year, they avoided having to play a preliminary game.
However, the opposition they faced was superior to the Swifts, as the Reds knocked out Glentoran and Linfield on their way to the decider.
Two weeks after being tied 2-2 in the league, Cliftonville bounced back to beat Glens 3-0 at Solitude.
After a goalless first period, three second-half goals, including a brace from captain Marissa Callaghan and a corner kick from Hannah Doherty, sealed victory and set up a fourth-round tie with Linfield.
The Reds then crushed the Blues 6-1 at Solitude, securing a comfortable passage to the final.
They were 3-0 up at half-time at home, with Tony Lee Finnegan opening the scoring from a free kick, before Marissa Callaghan and Kaitlin McGuinness increased their lead.
Abby Magee and Vy Morgan scored twice shortly after the restart before Kerry Halliday scored an honorable goal for Linfield. Then Vicky Carlton sprinted home to complete the track.
Meanwhile, defending champions Sion, who are currently third in the league, thrashed Ballymena 6-1 in the preliminary round before securing a comfortable 4-0 quarter-final victory over Mid-Ulster.
Chloe McGlade, Cowers Doherty, Cora Chambers and Claire Cromlich all scored against the Sky Blues, while Owebhi O’Neill netted a brace.
O’Neill then opened the scoring from the penalty spot in the quarter-finals with Doherty, Kerry Brown and Zoe McGlynn scoring as well.
They had to work a little harder in the semi-final against the Crusaders, but they had to and they cruised out of Seaview with a 1-0 win.
A superb solo goal by Cora Chambers near the end of the first half was enough to send them into the final for the third consecutive year, where they lost the 2019 final.
The last time I went out
As we mentioned before, the two teams played in the final of last season, which witnessed the return of the League Cup after an absence of two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
With Northern Ireland preparing for the group stage at the European Championships, Cliftonville were without their starting line-up including sisters Kaitlin, Kirsty McGuinness, Callaghan, Maggie, Kelsey Burrows and Louise McDaniel.
Danielle Maxwell was also sidelined through injury, as the Reds fielded nine teenagers as a result and the team struggled against a more experienced Sion side.
Chambers missed a winning chance in normal time as the penalty kick hit the post on the hour mark after V Morgan handled the ball inside the area.
However, the young striker made amends early in extra time, capitalizing on a mistake by Megan Moran, before finishing the game emphatically.
They sealed the win in injury time, scoring after Zoe McGlynn squared the ball for her inside the penalty area to spark a jubilant scene at Sion’s end.
The two teams have met in two competitions already this season, with Cliftonville winning the league meeting 4-0 and the All Island Cup match 2-1.
The final at Stangmore Park would be the Reds’ third of the season, as they lost the All Island Cup decider to Galway United, before returning to claim the County Antrim Cup with an emphatic victory over Crusaders.
The main players
It’s set to be a battle of forwards at Stangmore, with fixtures between these two sides looking very close, although Cliftonville have led the vast majority since losing the League Cup.
Kaitlin McGuinness is picking up where she left off in terms of goalscoring form last year, with 12 goals in the league alone this season already.
However, the 21-year-old is more than just a goal-scorer, thanks to her linked-up play and ability to pick the moments when to shoot the ball or alternatively pass it to a team-mate in a better position, which is central to how Cliftonville attack.
She is one of the first names in the squad and the Reds will hope she gives it her all on Thursday.
As for Sion, they have a prolific young striker in the form of last season’s final hero Chambers.
An equally skilled shooter with both feet, she was Sion’s favorite in the big matches and certainly helped them out.
Chambers finished last season with 11 league goals, and has already scored nine times in the league this season.
The 19-year-old has scored in the last two rounds and will be confident of repeating her cup heroics from a year ago again on Thursday.