There are many different ways to build a successful team and Shelbourne showed over the course of the 2021 SSE Airtricity Women’s National League season that they needed to adapt and readapt in order to come out on top.

Noel King’s team triumphed on the final day, with leaders Peamount United slipping up, but it is all of the work that they did in the months leading up to that point that made the difference.

Here are five key areas that helped Shelbourne become champions…

1: Playing the game on the front foot
They didn’t finish up with the most goals scored or the best defensive record, but Shelbourne did what was required to win at all costs. That, perhaps, is a mantra that they adopted as their approach to games altered depending on what was needed to get through it.

The overall style of play was to ensure that the opposition didn’t have time to settle in possession of the ball, so they attacked from the front and hassled in midfield to win the ball back. And when they turned it over, or built play up themselves, It was largely done at pace as they looked to unlock their attacking players and keep the tempo high.

2: Placing Trust in Youth
From the outset, it was clear that King was going to give game-time to his young players. Jessie Stapleton was the leading light in that regard as she commanded a starting spot from the first game through to the last. And she improved as the season went on to become an integral part of the Shels core.

Throughout the season there were appearances for Sophie Lenehan, Mia Dodd, Taylor White, Leah Doyle and Abbie Larkin – all of whom made positive contributions. Larkin caught the eye more than the rest due to two goals and her future in Red is something that very much excites the team’s supporters.

3: A team that scored all types of goals
The statsitics show that Peamount United liked to cross the ball and profit from that route to goal, while Wexford Youths played through the thirds and used the running of Kylie Murphy to open teams up. Shelbourne, in contrast, mixed it up.

The Reds scored all types of goals. Whether it was Noelle Murray chipping the goalkeeper, Jessie Stapleton winning a header, Emily Whelan breaking past a full-back before unloading, an Alex Kavanagh long-range rocket or an Abbie Larkin tap-in, they took advantage of every situation and scored at the right times.

4: Bouncing back when it mattered
There were only three defeats in the season, but the 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Peamount in September could have ended Shelbourne’s title hopes. That was the biggest test of their collective spirit and they bounced back by going unbeaten all the way to the end.

King will admit that there were a couple of games where his heart beat faster than it should have due to how close the contest was – think of Bohemians at home and the games with Wexford Youths. But they pulled through and did their job by winning when it mattered, stepping it up against teams that they were superior to and showing an edge that last year’s team lacked at times.

5: Displaying a strength in character
Take a look at the Shelbourne squad list and you will see names of players who are defined by their unbreakable resilience, their hunger to succeed and their desire to improve. Any winning team needs a couple of players of that ilk.

Pearl Slattery and Rachel Graham epitomise that spirit. Both players have been around this League, experiencing the ups and downs but still fighting for more. They have been immense this season. And so too has been Chloe Mustaki, who fought her way back from a serious knee injury, and Noelle Murray, who popped up with some really important injections of magic.