‘We’ll be in for a thriller’ – Keenan expecting tough title race as Reds eye three-in-a-row

Keeva Keenan of Shelbourne celebrates after winning the 2022 WNL title . Photo: Eóin Noonan/Sportsfile© SPORTSFILE

Seán O'Connor

Shelbourne defender Keeva Keenan believes this season’s title race will be a thriller as the Reds eye a third successive league crown.

Noel King’s side made it back-to-back Women’s Premier Division titles by defeating Wexford Youths on the final day of last season, the second campaign in succession that saw the title race go down to the wire.

The champions have won six of their opening nine games so far this term, and with just four points separating the top five currently, the 25-year-old expects this year’s run-in to be an even tighter affair.

“We're just about finished the first round of fixtures and it's already looking a little bit mad, so we'll be in for a thriller towards the end of the season, said Keenan, speaking at the launch of a branding takeover by LGBT Ireland this weekend to promote inclusion and diversity ahead of Pride month, in association with SSE Airtricity and the League of Ireland.

“We've learned not to write anyone off too early. There's us, Peamount, Shamrock Rovers, Galway United and Bohemians in the top five. Anyone there is taking points off anyone at this stage.

"Wexford Youths (sixth) and Athlone Town (seventh), you can't write either of them off. Athlone ran us to the wire, we snook a late winner in the 84th minute. Wexford beat us the weekend before 1-0. After playing both of them, and knowing their history, you can't write any of them off.”

King’s side take on Sligo Rovers at the Showgrounds this evening (5.0) as Series One draws to a close and Keenan believes 2023 is the most competitive season to date.

“You don't want a one-horse race,” added the Dublin native.

“You don't want just one team running away with the league, especially this early on. You're keeping an eye on everyone. You're playing your game and then running to your phone after to see how the other games went. It's good to be a part of and it's great to see for the league. I think it’s definitely the most competitive (season) so far.”

Clubs from across the country will be looking to earn as many points as possible before the league breaks on June 10, in order to aid Ireland’s preparations for their maiden World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand.

Keenan was called up to Vera Pauw’s squad for their historic play-off win against Scotland last October, but has failed to feature in recent camps. The defender says she has no issue with Pauw calling up new recruits in recent months and insists she’ll work as hard as possible to try to earn a spot on the plane to Brisbane.

"It's a case of just accepting it, we obviously want the best possible squad to go and compete in the World Cup,” said Keenan, who has earned three caps to date and regularly takes part in the home-based sessions.

“Whatever squad Vera ends up picking is more than capable of doing that. I think we have a great calibre of players here and abroad, either or.

“It's obviously disappointing because you want to be representing your country as much as you can, but it's just a case now that I put my head down, work hard and see how I go.

“Until the final squad is released you can’t give up hope, there’s no point in throwing in the towel too early. I still have many games with Shels to come and plenty of training sessions.

"If it will be, it will be. If not, I’m ok with that. I have full faith in whatever girls end up going to the World Cup. I’ll keep doing my thing with Shels and hope for the best.”

“It’s the stuff of dreams, your wildest dreams really, that you’re going to be in a squad which has just qualified for a World Cup,” Keenan reflected on that night in Glasgow, as Amber Barrett’s strike booked Ireland’s place at their first major tournament.

“When you think back, it’s nearly a big blur. It’s almost surreal, you’re kind of pinching yourself. It was a fantastic game, the girls worked really hard to get the result. My heart was going 90 towards the end. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career to date.”

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