Raheny United are through to the last 32 of the UEFA Women’s Champions League having topped their qualifying round group in Romania.
Ireland’s Women’s National League champions finished off their three game assignment this afternoon in Cluj when they came from behind to beat Hibernians of Malta, thanks to goals from Catherine Cronin and Clare Shine. They finished on top of Group 2 on full points ahead of hosts Olimpia Cluj who beat Bulgarian champions NSA Sofia 4-1 to secure second place.
The draw for the round of 32 will take place at UEFA headquarters next Friday, August 22, with the two legged knockout phase commencing in October and Raheny manager Casey McQuillan said he was delighted to be joining Europe’s top clubs on the back of a 100 per cent record.
“Well they are actually joining us in the last 32,” he quipped, before adding: “It’s a great achievement and I don’t think the girls actually realise the enormity of what they have done. They have worked very hard to do this and they were determined to win today and finish on nine points.”
Raheny wins over Bulgarian champions NSA Sofia and Romania’s Olimpia Cluj, who hosted the mini-tournament, earlier in the week meant that they would qualify through the head to head even if they were beaten by their Maltese opponents this afternoon. As things turned out they didn’t need that safety net but they were made to work hard for their victory.
“Hibernians defended very deep and scored from the only shot they had on goal. The two games earlier in the week obviously took a toll and we got a little bit impatient when our pressure wasn’t yielding goals but they stuck at it and got the win they deserved. I was delighted that we were able to give some of girls a game today because everybody has played their part in this,” said McQuillan.
Despite starting strongly, and going close early on through Shine and Cronin, Raheny were rocked on 15 minutes when Hibernians, who had lost 5-0 in each of their two previous group games, opened the scoring through Dionne Tonna who turned home a free-kick from Dorianne Theuma which had been awarded following a foul by Pearl Slasttery on Ylenin Carabott.
Raheny responded positively to that set-back with Sheehy hitting the woodwork while Cronin, Shine and Shauna Newman also went close before Shine finally set up Cronin in the 38th minute for the equaliser.
Hibernians’ 16-year-old goalkeeper Keoney Demicol then denied Katie McCabe before Danielle Sheehy went close to putting Raheny ahead just before the break. The second half saw the Irish side continue to exert the pressure with Cronin being denied by woodwork and Graham seeing her effort saved by the keeper.
Noelle Murray was brought on in the 70th minute and made an immediate impact going close before setting up McCabe for another chance. The intense pressure finally yielded another goal in the 79th minute when senior international Siobhan Killeen set up U19 international Clare Shine for what proved to be the winner.
The win also extended Raheny’s winning run in Europe to four games going back to their win over Crusaders 12 months ago in the final game of last year’s qualifying round.
It’s only the second time an Irish club has qualified for the last 32 of the Women’s Champions League. Peamount United came through the qualifying round in 2011-12 as one of the two best runners-up before going out to French giants Paris St Germain in the knockout phase.
Demicoli; Sciberras, M. Debono, Cauchi, C. Zammit (Chircop 51), M. Borg (Steer Chetham 68), Theuma, S. Zammit, Tonna (Azzoperdi 83), Vella, Carabott (C).
Reid-Burke; L. Ryan (Murray 70), Slattery, O’Farrelly; Cronin, Newman (Kearney 85), Graham(C), Killeen, McCabe, Sheehy (Payne 62), Shine .
Referee: Tania Fernandes Morais (LUX)
Thanks to Gerry McDermott