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Laurie Ryan eyes 'stepping stone' to more Athlone success

Athlone Town skipper Laurie Ryan burst into tears when Gillian Keenan rifled home the volley that sent Sunday's Spots Direct FAI Cup final to penalties.

Ryan is a born winner. Last year she was captain when Athlone fell to a 2-0 loss to Shelbourne in the cup decider. An excellent Gaelic footballer, she also suffered defeat with Clare in the summer's All-Ireland intermediate final against Kildare.

A third disappointment in Sunday's rematch with Shels would have been an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. Throw in a rollercoaster battle that had four goals, extra-time and a penalty shootout, and you can understand why it was all too much for the science lecturer.

"I actually turned to Gillian in the dressing room before we came out to play today and I said, 'I kind of have a feeling you're going to score today'," Ryan said.

"I think that’s our fourth penalty shootout we’ve won this year between the President’s Cup, Galway United, Peamount and now today. If I don’t see one again, I won’t be sorry!"

Sunday's cup triumph was just reward for Ryan's commitment to the Athlone cause. They lost a lot of talent last winter having performed superbly in the 2022 campaign. The departure of boss Tommy Hewitt in June was another blow, but ultimately that allowed the club to hit the reset button.

In came Ciaran Kiduff to re-energise the squad with new signings and fresh ideas.

They knew they were too far behind in the league to mount a title challenge - all of Athlone's focus was on winning the FAI Cup.

"We all had great faith in Tommy [Hewitt] so that was a hard changeover and Ciaran knew that," added Ryan.

"He didn't try to step on anyone's toes, he was so respectful to everyone. He really made an effort to get to know us all, that probably is