At Peamount United last Tuesday night the rain was falling in sheets, in buckets, in curtains of water. From the surrounding countryside of Newcastle and Rathcoole in Co Dublin it seemed that the floodlights of the sports ground had it lit up like a spaceship. And Peamount United last Tuesday was busy. Crowded even. Sodden teenagers were out on the pitches or standing near the clubhouse waiting for lifts home. The car park – tracts of which were flooded – was full.
This week Peamount United, a club that was established in 1983, is firmly on the map. A goal by one of its centre forwards, Stephanie Roche, scored against Wexford Youth in the Bus Éireann Women's National League on Sunday, October 13th, has gained almost 1.8 million hits on YouTube.
Dara O Briain tweeted about it. Soccer pundit Matt Le Tissier called it the goal of the season.
Piers Morgan said: “Get Arsène to sign up Stephanie Roche immediately.”
James Corden, host of the sports quiz A League of Their Own, tweeted: "You know those ***ks who say 'women can't play football. It's a man's game innit'? Tell them to watch this and shut up."
And here is Stephanie Roche now, toothy and tanned from a summer coaching kids of both sexes in southern California. She is also tall, leggy and very blond, with two golden feet and a preternaturally white grin.
“Football is everything in my life to be honest,” she says. She plays centre forward for the national team as well as Peamount, but “I was left out of the squad for the last three games”.
Beside Roche is Eileen Gleeson, smaller and older and wearing the worried look of all sports coaches. It was Gleeson who put the video clip of Roche's goal up on YouTube last Saturday, almost a week after it had been scored. Now she's sitting through the interviews Roche is giving to everyone from Sky News to the Sunday Business Post to the Clondalkin News.
“This has surpassed any attention women’s football has ever got in this country,” says Gleeson.
The 20-yard strike
Roche's goal came at the beginning of the second half when Peamount were already 3-0 up. Áine O'Gorman, who was wearing the number 9 shirt that day, gave a lovely cross to Stephanie.
“She got a great first touch with the right foot,” says Gleeson. “Stephanie was about 20 yards from the goal.”
Roche demonstrates how the player marking her was behind her left hip. “She was just here. I just flicked it over her head. Then I stepped . . .”
She scored with her left foot at the end of a manoeuvre as precise as a ballet. No wonder the video clip has had a million visitors: the goal was cheeky.
“When the ball came to me it was so fast I didn’t have time to think,” says Roche. “It was just instinct.”
She started playing soccer in the street where she grew up in the Shanganagh Cliffs estate in Shankill, south Co Dublin.
She was a junior member of Shankill FC, playing on a mixed team up to the age of 12; at least the team was mixed once she had arrived. Boys on other teams may have objected, she says, “but my own team-mates were really nice”.
She thinks she was playing soccer to keep up with her two brothers. Her sister doesn’t play.
Her father, Fergus, attends every game she plays. He is outside now, waiting to give her a lift home. Her mother, Anne, Stephanie’s uncles have told her, was a fine footballer in her day.
Two nights a week Roche must make the long journey from Shankill to Peamount for practice. "But it's worth it," she says. She doesn't have a car and most of the time her friend Áine O'Gorman, who is from Enniskerry and sent her that lovely pass, gives her a lift.
Two days a week Roche is doing an internship with the Football Association of Ireland, coaching and promoting girls' soccer in Dublin 15.
Girls’ soccer, say Roche and Gleeson, is growing at a rate of about 30 per cent a year. But still there is no money, no significant sponsorship and the gates are very low. “It definitely could improve,” says Gleeson.
Roche says her international team-mate Emma Byrne recently got her 100th cap and "to be honest I don't think she got the praise she deserved".
But this is a happy time. “When I saw that goal I had an out-of-body experience,” says Gleeson.
Indeed, she is visible on the video clip , a small figure vigilant on the sidelines as the goal goes in. “It was magic,” says Gleeson.
Outside, the little girls are trooping off the sodden pitches and towards their parents’ cars.
“Well done, girls,” a male voice is saying. “Well done, Katie. Well done, Aisling.” And it seems that he is going to name them all.