Celtic despair turns to joy as Rangers left with sad goodbyes - what the managers said after Women's Scottish Cup final
The Spaniard will wring the champagne out of the charcoal number this morning after he ensured that Celtic recovered from their title devastation to round the season off with a note of joy as they retained the Scottish Cup.
That it came at Rangers’ expense would have felt all the sweeter for Alonso’s Celtic side. He had Natasha Flint and Claire O’Riordan to raise a glass to after they each breached the Rangers’ defence twice in three frantic second-half minutes.
Kissing his medal as he took his place for a media conference that was in stark contrast to the funereal atmosphere of last week’s post-title interview, Alonso declared it the highlight of his career to date.
“It means the world to me,” said the Spaniard. “It was really hard to pick the girls up because we were two minutes away from winning the league which was our dream. Football was cruel to us. We transferred this anger and disappointment into aggression and passion and I think today against a superb team we dominated the game. We could have scored more. I am extremely proud and it is exactly what the girls deserved.
“I was worried about the mental reaction. But they never give up. They never let me down. I told them that even if we hadn’t won the game, what they have done this season has been incredible.
“It was hard for me, it was hard for the players. I was heartbroken to see our dream slip away in the last two minutes. It was very tough. On Wednesday with the help of my staff we focused on the positives and the strengths we have. The session wasn’t great on Wednesday. We had to change the starting XI just before kick-off as one of our players didn’t feel well which was a shock but we got the result that we all wanted. I can’t wait to get back to Paradise and celebrate.”
This was the first time that there has been a women’s derby in the final of any of the two Cup competitions and the first time that the Scottish Cup final has been hosted at Hampden. In truth, it seemed to lend an element of stage fright to the occasion as both teams stuttered to find any kind of fluency in opening exchanges that seemed harried and without any composure.
Celtic slowly found theirs as the game went on but for Rangers, it proved elusive for the bulk of the afternoon. They netted with six minutes to go when Laura Berry, a fortnight shy of her 16th birthday, had the ball in the back of the net only for VAR to rule it offside. There was a little bit of irony in that after Alonso had claimed in the build-up that his side would have been champions had the technology been in use for the previous two league games against Rangers.
Prior to that Celtic had dominated although the bulk of their pressure came via corner kicks, set-plays which eventually led to both goals. The first came when Rangers didn’t deal with Jacynta’s corner and, instinctively, Natasha Flint pounced to lash the ball into the net. If Rangers seemed to go into themselves on the back of the opener, worse was to come just a few minutes later when Claire O’Riordan scored from another corner with the Irishwoman meeting it at the near post to direct it into the net.
“It is a special day for me, it is a special day for my family,” said Alonso.
For Malky Thomson, it was a dispiriting way to exit a team whose growth he has overseen over the last three years. This time a fortnight ago there was still the chance of a treble for his side. This morning they are waking up empty-handed with only the SWPL Cup to show for their season’s endeavours.
His players waited on the pitch to applaud Celtic receiving the trophy after he had gathered them into a small circle to say his goodbyes.
“You get to the latter stages and you want to try and win it, so there are a lot of emotions,” he reflected. “We have given a good account of ourselves across a long, hard season.
“I don’t think we ever had proper control when we were in possession and we struggled to create opportunities to score. It is a work in progress. That is three years we have been professional and the learning experience they have gained will stand them in good stead.”
Notably, too, Hampden attracted significant numbers for this final. Celtic Park has seen record attendances across recent games in the SWPL but the narrative has been smudged around these figures given the push to trial the Celtic End among the club’s support.
However, the numbers who did show up Hamden – 10,446 – amounted to more than double the crowd at last season’s Women’s Scottish Cup final at Tynecastle when Celtic beat Glasgow City to the trophy.
The trophy itself offers nothing other than a trinket; it does not come with prize money given the lack of sponsorship attached to it. These, now, are the questions that need to be pondered over the coming months as both clubs and governing bodies look now to sustain the recent tangible rise in interest in the women’s game.
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