As the Irish team’s training camp in America draws to a close, The Sport Review’s Kieran Beckles caught up with Meabh De Burca and Niamh Fahey to discuss the current state of women’s football in Ireland, and it’s bright future ahead in preparation for the World Cup in 2011.
With Giovanni Trappattoni’s attempt to secure the men’s participation in South Africa 2010 in full swing, the senior women’s team is preparing to launch their own assault on Europeef beginning with the qualifying stages of the World Cup in September.
Meabh De Burca and Niamh Fahey should play integral parts in the national team’s attempts to etch their names into Irish football history by ensuring their presence in Germany in 2011.
Both players hail from Galway, the largest city in the west of Ireland. In the city, sport has always played a crucial role. Gaelic football, hurling, and rugby are all extremely popular.
Nevertheless, as in most cities across the globe, football—or soccer, as it is commonly referred to in Ireland—plays a major role in the lives of many citizens of Gallimh. The city boasts one Eircom Premier Division club called Galway United. But there are also many successful local sides like Salthill Devon and Mervue United.
So it was no surprise to learn that Meabh and Niamh both spent a long spell of their teenage years at Salthill Devon. Indeed, when Meabh first joined in 2000, there was no girls' team so she trained with the boys.
Due to the absence of a local underage girls' league, the pair stepped up to the ladies level a few years later, enjoying many successes including numerous leagues and cups. The highlight came in 2008 when Meabh captained the team to the Intermediate Irish Cup.
The pair also plied their trade for the Galway League team, which was composed of a selection of players cherry-picked from the different clubs in Galway. Both experienced the success of the Senior Irish Cup in 2007, consequently qualifying for the UEFA Cup. Along with an appearance on the European stage came an international call-up for both girls.
Niamh first received a callup to the international scene when she competed for Ireland in the under-17 youth Olympic team, and has featured regularly since the tournament at both underage and senior level.
In 2005, Meabh joined the setup after being spotted in the Gaynor Cup and successfully navigating her way through trials. The cup is the first step in the process of international selection, followed by trialing from which a squad of 18 players will be picked.
Both girls emphasised the importance of creating a National Division for women in Ireland, and see it as a “must” in order to progress.
Meanwhile, the new American professional league is currently the most attractive proposition for budding female stars. The best female players ply their trade in the pro league in the States, which represents the ultimate aim of the girls to grace the league at some point in their careers.
Niamh currently plays for Arsenal ladies, joining from Salthill Devon in 2007. She has enjoyed instant success with the Gunners, her personal highlight coming in 2009 when they claimed a prestigious treble (Premier League National Division, FA Woman’s Cup and Premier League Cup). The left back featured 18 times last season making a name for herself as a strong and committed player.
Meanwhile, Meabh is embarking on a fresh challenge in the United States, leaving Salthill Devon to get a taste for life in America. After she finishes the Irish tour, she will commence a Masters at the University of Haven in Connecticut, playing for the university on a scholarship.
She will compete in the regional conference and the national championships towards the climax of the campaign.
With the FIFA World Cup qualifying tournament rapidly approaching, the Irish squad has enjoyed a successful 10-week training camp in Indiana.
After coming close to qualification on previous occasions, the FAI has shown real intent by sending the team to the camp in preparation for a tough qualifying campaign. Their group is composed of Russia, Switzerland, Israel, and Kazakhstan with the first tie away to Switzerland on September 19th.
The Irish girls remain unbeaten so far in America, having overcome Chicago Red Stars 1-0, Indiana F.A. 2-1, and Chicago Red Breeze comprehensively 6-0. The squad have two final games remaining against Louisville and Notre Dame. Upon the conclusion of the camp, Irish manager Noel King, will select his squad to take on the might of Europe.
Both players were quick to reinforce their burning desire to help guide Ireland to a “first major international tournament” and emulate heroes like Brazilian sensation Marta Vieira da Silva, who is currently recognised as one of the best female players in the world.
Should Ireland (currently ranked 27th in the world) qualify from the group, they will have to face a play–off against a European team or one CONCAF team. If they emerge victorious in the two-legged affair, they will be entered into the group stages of the FIFA Woman’s World Cup in 2011, to be held in Germany.