UP FOR THE CUP Athlone Town’s Kelsey Munroe will line out in next weekend’s Women’s FAI Cup Final. Pic: Sportsfile
Kelsey Munroe hopes to make history with Athlone Town
WHAT a season it’s been for Kelsey Munroe.
Having almost won a Women’s National League title at weekend, in a matter of days the 20-year-old from Kilmaine will be part of the first Athlone Town team to contest a Women’s FAI Cup Final.
Standing in their way are a Shelbourne side that pipped them to a league title on the last day of the season when they overcame Wexford Youths last Saturday.
Not bad for a team that finished third from bottom in last year’s league, having only joined the league in 2020.
Kelsey Munroe has been there for most of that time.
An Athletic Therapy and Rehabilitation student in the nearby TUS (formerly known as Athlone IT), the Mayo defender joined Athlone in early 2021 after stints with Sligo Rovers and Galway United.
When The Mayo News caught up with Kelsey over Zoom last Tuesday, the focus was firmly on the club’s upcoming win-or-bust league meeting with Bohemians.
Still, it was hard for her to escape the thought of the Women’s FAI Cup final in Tallaght Stadium next Saturday.
“It’s very hard not to think about the cup final, it’s something we’ve always dreamed to get into since the start of the season,” she admitted.
“We never thought that we’d get this far. But now that we have, it’s very hard to not think about it.”
Athlone Town come into this game on the crest of a wave, having seen off Wexford Youths 3-0 in the semi-final.
They beat Shelbourne 2-0 in their latest league encounter, but Kelsey still reckons her side will be the underdogs in this Cup Final.
“They are going to be a tough task, but we won’t fear them. We don’t fear anyone at this stage,” she says.
“We’ve nothing to lose at the end of the day. If we just go out and do our job, hopefully we’ll get the result.”
With 39 club appearances now under her belt, Kelsey has firmly established herself within an Athlone Town defence that has conceded just 23 goals in league 26 games this year.
Before all that, the former Republic of Ireland Ireland underage player had to put up with what she called ‘a rocky start’.
“I’d come out of an injury and pick up another one. It was becoming very frustrating and I kind of just had to step back for myself and just kind of get myself back up to my fitness and get my strength back.
“I talked to my manager, Tommy Hewitt, and just asked him, ‘What do I need to do to get back into the team?’. And he told me that I had to go away and deal with my fitness and all that.
“I took his advice on board and went away and done it and, thankfully, I’ve had a great season of games this year.”
Since then, Athlone have gone from seventh in the Women’s National League to being among the top three clubs in the country.
Twenty-two goals from star striker Emily Corbet, a tried-and-trusted 3-5-2 formation and greater cohesion are just some of the factors behind the Athlone Town ladies’ success.
“We just gelled better this season. Last season we were all over the place,” Kelsey admits.
“It was very ‘clique-y’, there was groups and that, but this year everyone is around each other. We changed our formation a bit. We used to change our formation to suit other teams, but now we stick to what works best for us.”
In addition to winning more games with Athlone Town, Kelsey Munroe is also far busier off the pitch this season.
When she first joined up, nights out were a relic of pre-March 2020 while college lectures were online-only.
Fast-forward to October 2022 and social life is back to normal, lectures are back in-person, and inter-varsity competitions have returned.
Plus, the college workload has gotten that bit heavier.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t tough,” Kelsey admits.
“But I enjoy it and I’ve always loved it since I was a young kid about eight or nine, so I kind of knew what I was signing up to. But it’s about sitting down and trying to balance it all, and if you really want to do it you can find a way to make it all work.”
Kelsey Munroe on…
Being from Mayo
I get on well with the girls and some say they find it hard to understand me being from Mayo, that I might need a few subtitles with me! But if you listen to me long enough you’ll understand me!
The Republic of Ireland qualifying for the World Cup
‘I think it has changed Irish soccer for the better. I think it might make young girls come out and play and want to join more soccer clubs around their local areas.
To be honest a lot of people have said to me they prefer to watch the girls play than watch the men’s team.’
The ‘Up The Ra’ controversy
‘I thought it was a bit mad to be honest. When emotions are running high and you’re just delighted with what you’ve achieved…there was definitely no maliciousness behind it.
At the end of the day, it is just an old Irish song that everyone likes to sing on nights out and going to different matches. I don’t think the girls should have had to apologise. They were just trying to enjoy the moment and they played that song.
It’s just one of those songs that the Irish people like to sing but maybe it’s not the right one to choose.’
Have the Athlone Town women every sang it?
‘God, no. We haven’t gone that far yet. We might have learned from that situation.’
Athlone Town ladies manager Tommy Hewitt
‘We’ve had our few run-ins every now and then. I think a lot of players can say that about other managers.
You have your moments. Everyone’s fighting to get on the team and if you’re not getting on the team then emotions kind of run high. He’s a great manager though.’
Republic of Ireland manager Vera Pauw
‘She’s some act so she is. She is some manager to have. She knows her stuff, she has confidence in the girls.’