Republic of Ireland signed jersey

Living with the Girls in Green

My sisters Louise, now 34, Deirdre, 33, Noel, father, and Maria, mother, were all involved in setting up a girls team St. Brendan’s playing out of McAuley Park in Dublin 5 probably close to 1993. I would have been 7 or 8 and this would be a big part of our lives and routines for the next years.

Along with friends from the beginning Fiona O’Rurke, Ciara Mc Kinney and Kim Fitzsimmons, Louise and Deirdre set about putting a team together. Over the years great memories were created, great success also and the team was a platform for excellent talent that came through achieving many individual representation honors, some of the team progressing to earn International appearances and it was a good focus for many.

Sonya Hughes was superb, she had the ability to score free kicks almost from the half way line, she was an intelligent footballer confident and secure passer, reliable and played in so many of the games. Michelle and Angelina Walsh were adept and strong players, Joyce Lloyd was a skilled left footed player, Leanne Bowler regularly traveled from Meath usually getting many goals and Emma Merrigan was a dependable goalkeeper for Ireland too.

It became a great social and positive past time for all, away trips to Belmullet were memorable for the distance but were among the most important All-Ireland and competitive games I can remember at that time. Regular, long, traffic-mad car journeys to the DWSL in Celbridge with player registration forms were not as fun though as a young back seat passenger. A trip to The Gaynor Cup, the University of Limerick, Indoor training in St. Brendan’s school, the hall in Glin Road, the collection of subs, the organizing, washing an preparing the kit were weekly housekeeping issues, while me, my sister Niamh and players’ younger siblings would be there always helping, playing and good bonds were formed.

The ultimate trip for the group took place in 1998 to Atlanta, Georgia for 10 days. A thanksgiving tournament, trips to Coca Cola, CNN, the Olympic Stadium and stays in host families. An opportunity that put me in contact with Patrick, an Atlantan of my age, a talented footballer, he was invited as a youth to spend time at Borussia Dortmund and Ajax, he guest appeared with my schoolboy team Stella Maris at the Foyle Cup, I guested with his team a year later. I have returned to stay on four or five occasions since and was part of his groom’s party for his wedding last year.

Louise went on to play a game for Ireland and it was a great day and memory traveling to Belfast to see her on the pitch. The St.Brendan’s process over time saw Noel become more involved in Women’s football. During those years he would have been playing and coaching for Limerick City and likewise there were superb trips and memories as I was fortunate to go with him on many occasions, late train trips, car journeys and Rathbane. I remember one of his first training sessions with the women’s International group, in The Marino Institute of Education and quite soon as I was accustomed to as a 12 or 13 year old I was allowed do some of the training which I continued when I would accompany Noel, at Limerick, later at Finn Harps, UCD and at Shelbourne. It was great to always have been involved. Emma Byrne, Yvonne Tracy, Sonya, Ciara Grant, Maragret Saurin, Claire Scanlan, Elaine O’Connor, Caroline Thorpe, Michelle Kane, Olivia O’Toole, Sharon Boyle all the team over the years looked out for me. Sean Brodie, Frances Smith, Pauline Shaughnessy, Myles Kelly and Declan Hughes over the years also went out of their way for me.

Training at the AUL, a game in Reykjavik, a tour of old Highbury and the famous old entrance thanks to the Irish trio who were there, match days in Richmond Park, Belfield and later with the underage teams witnessing a FIFA underage World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago where Ciara Grant and Dora Gorman have now gone on to be Senior players, seeing Kate Taylor’s career and success develop, were all excellent memories I have had.

Involved in coaching one of the first Stella Maris girls teams was new and an enjoyable time when I was a bit older at 18, as Stella Maris was my schoolboy club. Tony Poutch, Tom Kavanagh, Thomas McGillivary all were involved and great talented players appeared, Aine O’Gorman now regularly playing for the Senior Ireland team.

Like all of the footballing projects I have been brought up in, Stella Maris, Shelbourne, Finn Harps, Limerick, UCD, women’s football, St. Brendans and the Ireland Women’s panel have all produced many positive times, memories and opportunities for me, for Louise who keeps an interest and coached at Home Farm last year in a new girls development there, for Deirdre who has progressed in a refereeing role, follows the WNL, and for Niamh who grew in a similar surrounding enjoying the Stella Maris girls unit.

The journey continues and we have all been behind Noel in Cologne in 2014 and now for the Under 21 campaign. It was great to see the Women’s Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium and televised, I watched and enjoyed and it was superb to listen to Emma Byrne in the studio. It is also positive and encouraging to see Sue Ronan’s teams currently doing very well, Dave Connell’s great success with his teams, the wider media interest for Stephanie Roche, the Irish girls performing in the FA’s Women’s Super League and in general the improved and growing position of female athletes and women’s sport.

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