Her route to the Women’s National League hasn’t been a conventional one, but Cherelle Khassal’s glittering form has seen her emerge as one of the league’s most exciting players.
The Wexford Youths striker only joined up after the Christmas break, but she has gelled well with her teammates. Khassal’s three goals and numerous assists have propelled a previously-underachieving Youths to unprecedented third in the WNL table.
There is no better watermark of Wexford’s resurgence than their games against Peamount United. Before Christmas, a lacklustre Youths side went down 7-0 at home to Peas. Their two other league meetings both also ended in Peas victories.
But last month, Eileen Gleeson’ table-toppers were trumped dramatically by Youths. After going down to a Clare Kinsella goal, Khassal struck to level the game and then set-up Sadie Murphy for the winner.
Her form has been recognised outside her own club, too. This week saw Khassal win Bus Eireann player of the month after her recent spell of good form. She confessed to being shocked when she found out she had won the award.
“I'm buzzing” she said. “It was a real shock when I got the phone call to be honest. It's slowly sinking in, but it hasn't sunk in yet.”
That Peamount game had a big bearing in the title race, as it allowed Raheny to leapfrog the southsiders into first place. But that meant thar its significance to Wexford was neglected. John Flood’s side are now in third place, and Khassel says “that's where we want to stay.”
“After the Peamount game, once we beat them, we realised we're still in this” she told Extratime.ie. We can't win the league but third is a great achievement.”
“We're gelling more and more as time goes on so hopefully we'll keep getting better” Khassal added.
Khassel’s arrival at Wexford Youths had a big impact, but she is no newcomer to high-level women’s football. Previously, the English-born striker had played for the Los Angeles Strikers- alongside Irish international Julie-Ann Russell- in the USL and Canadian university side Capilano.
“I lived in Waterford then went to America” she explains. “It was the summer league in the USL, I went to Canada for three months. It was really hard up there.”
Having played at such a high level in two of the womens game’s stronger nations, Khassel is ideally placed to offer a comparison between the fledgling WNL and the North American leagues.
According to her, one of the key differences is in training regimes: “in America they're all fitness freaks, whereas here it's all ballwork and stuff.”
But the WNL has its own particular nuances- one of them being its sheer unpredictability. “It's different, every game is different. You can never underestimate a team and they can never underestimate us. Anything can happen.”
Does Wexford Youths compare favourably to the facilities she sampled across the Atlantic? Yes, says Khassel.
“They have everything for us” she says. “Training days are excellent, it's an excellent set-up. They treat us just like the boys.”
Manager John Flood also came in for a lot of praise. “He doesn't worry about the other team, he's always focused on us… that's what I like about him.”
Khassel’s star may be on the rise, but she thinks that the same can be said of Youths.
“Next year we want to come first. We can definitely do it.”