Ahead of the Women’s FA Cup Final, Sport online editor Nancy Frostick spoke to UoB student and Birmingham City Ladies defender Aoife Mannion about the big day at Wembley
Birmingham City Ladies are on the rise. All the evidence you need is in the fact that the Blues will be lining up on the biggest stage of them all at Wembley for an FA Cup Final clash with Manchester City Women on 13th May. Having toppled Arsenal and Chelsea in the last two rounds of the cup, Birmingham are flying so far under new manager Marc Skinner. One of the Blues’ standout players of the last few seasons is defender and UoB student Aoife Mannion, who was nominated for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award in 2015. Speaking to Redbrick Sport following Birmingham’s home win over Chelsea in the semi-final, Aoife reflected on an unsurprisingly buoyant feeling in the squad, “The mood in our camp is great. Everyone is over the moon to be in the FA Cup Final and we are so pleased to be able to give our supporters a day out at Wembley!” The hosts left it late against Chelsea, needing penalties to overcome the 2015 winners, but progressed thanks to the calm heads of Mannion, midfielder Sarah Mayling, defender Kerys Harrop and new signing Ellen White all converting their spot kicks.
It is nearly every player’s dream to walk out at the home of football, and after a record crowd of 32,912 for last season’s final it is sure to be a big occasion for fans and players alike. “It is bizarre to think that we will be stepping out to play at Wembley. It is every footballer’s dream. I watched the England seniors play a friendly there in 2014 and the atmosphere gave me chills. We cannot wait.” Although the importance of the atmosphere and the venue won’t be lost on Aoife, the Birmingham squad won’t be overwhelmed. The FA Cup will be Birmingham’s second major final in the last twelve months and also the second against Manchester City following their Continental Cup Final appearance in October. “The experience of being in the Continental (league) cup final last year will be invaluable. It is important to be focused and not ‘play the occasion’. Competing in the Conti final, and knowing what it feels like to play in game where the stakes are high, is a great confidence boost for us.”
It wasn’t to be last time for Birmingham despite a fantastic team performance taking Manchester to extra-time before a 105th-minute Lucy Bronze winner ensured the silverware went north. Reigning WSL 1 champions Manchester City will be tough opponents again, but it is not something that daunts the Blues. “Our team has evolved since we last played Man City in the Continental cup final. We have new management staff and new players. Ideas are fresh and the team is confident.” Aoife adds, “We know the game will be difficult, and we know our own strengths that we will need to bring to the match in order to win.” Not only are Manchester familiar as league and cup opposition, Aoife will also have the task of shutting out UoB alum Izzy Christiansen who scored the winning goal in the Continental Cup final against Arsenal in 2014.
Despite the early stage of the season, the FA Cup Final will be the most important match on many of the player’s calendars and Birmingham have every reason to feel confident. Manchester make their first appearance in an FA Cup Final but also have a more crowded fixture list before then with their Women’s Champions League campaign as well as the Women’s Super League Spring Series which kicks off this weekend. The shortened league format comes ahead of a switch to a winter league for the top two tiers of women’s football, something the Blues are raring to get started with an opening home tie at Solihull Moors FC. “We can’t wait to kick off the Spring Series against Sunderland on Sunday. We are using the Spring Series as an opportunity to develop individually and as a team, for the upcoming FA WSL winter league.” Aoife’s ambitions for the team don’t end there; “We want to dominate matches in possession. Of course, we want to win every match too.” Before the final, the Blues will play at St Andrew’s Stadium for their Spring Series tie against Liverpool Ladies on 7 May, with the rest of their Spring Series home matches at Solihull Moors.
Tickets for the FA Cup Final are still available here.