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‘I would be delighted if it could happen’: The push for the FAI to honour Veronica Guerin

For Helena Stapleton, if her ‘best pal’ was honoured on Saturday it would be a silver lining to the FAI’s planned event that has caused so much anger

Helena Stapleton was about 16 when she first met up with the woman who went on to become her closest friend. They were team-mates at Clontarf, and then with Dunseedy after the club merged with Raheny.

“We just became best pals. We did a bit of travelling together, went over to Old Trafford lots of times to see Manchester United. And I had the honour of being bridesmaid at her wedding. Yeah, we were very close.”

Her pal was Veronica Guerin.

We know her as the fearless Sunday Independent journalist who was murdered in 1996, four years shy of her 40th birthday.


Stapleton remembers her as Ronnie, with whom she shared a passion for football.

And she loved playing with her.

As a striker, Stapleton, no more than her brother and fellow international Frank, had a nose for goal. And when Ronnie was on the ball back in midfield, she knew the chances would come.

“She was brilliant. She could pass a ball the length of the pitch and it would just drop at your feet. I remember saying to her that she reminded me of Glenn Hoddle. But Ronnie was such a republican, she didn’t like being compared to an English player,” she laughs.

“But she was never afraid on the football pitch. Never. She got stuck in, supporting everybody, always encouraging other players. And that fearlessness was the theme through her whole life.”

Guerin, who also played basketball for Ireland, won her sole football cap in May 1981 when she came on as a sub for the last 24 minutes of a 5-0 defeat by England at Dalymount Park.

Why didn’t she win more?

“It was just the whole circumstances around that time, it was very primitive,” says Stapleton.

“Players were in and out, there was no encouragement for you to hang around. You’d no training facilities. You’d go down maybe to the seafront and change on the side of the road, there was no dressing room, nothing. And if it was raining you’d be lucky if you had a plastic bag with you to keep your stuff dry.

“All that kept you sticking with it was wanting the honour of playing for your country. But Ronnie’s life was changing around that time. She got married, life took a different direction, and then there was her career.

“But she never stopped loving football. We’d have long, long discussions about the game. And from a child to the oldest adult, she’d sit and talk about football with them all day.

“Even later when we’d stopped playing, when we both became mums, I’d visit her house and we’d play in the garden. Maybe a three-a-side. We never lost that love.”

That May day in 1981, despite the result, was Guerin’s proudest footballing moment. “I was delighted for her, for her father and her mother who were absolutely thrilled. Her dad was a big football fan, so he was so proud of her. It was a great thing.”

Now Stapleton is driving the push to have Guerin’s international appearance acknowledged posthumously by the Football Association of Ireland in the form of a commemorative cap that she wants to see presented to Guerin’s son, Cathal Turley.

The FAI are open to that idea, and have asked Stapleton to help them contact him, Turley now living and working in the Middle East.

“I think that would be an amazing gesture if it were to happen,” he told the Irish Times. “I am the proud father to a little girl now and my dream is to make sure she grows up knowing how special both her grandmothers were.”

“It would genuinely mean as much to me to see Ronnie get that cap as it would for me to get my own,” says Stapleton. “I’d love her to be here so that we could go and get these caps together, we would both be made-up over that.”

Stapleton is angry, though, about the FAI’s arrangements for Saturday when, as part of their efforts to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Irish women’s team’s first official international, they invited every former senior female player to attend the game between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland at the Aviva Stadium.

A historic occasion it will be too, the first time the women’s team will have played in the stadium, but several of the invitees have complained that there wouldn’t be enough caps to go around on the day, many of them having never received actual physical caps during their careers, that there will be no reception for the players, nor will they be presented to the crowd on the pitch.

Stapleton notes that just five years ago there was a reunion of the men’s Italia 90 squad at the K Club, although that event was organised by Niall Quinn and sponsored by a bookmaker.

“But that’s what really disgusts me, we’re just being offered a cup of tea when efforts like that have been made for the men. There’s been a big turnaround in the FAI so we thought the standards were going to be better. But they’re not. Nothing has changed. Nothing.”

“They’re saying, ‘but we’re giving them 400 free tickets’ – but they’ll just be happy to get bums on seats, the stadium isn’t going to be full.”

It will bring no small comfort, though, if at the end of it all her old friend Ronnie is honoured.

“I’d be delighted for Cathal if that could happen,” she says. “That’s what I want to be able to give to my grandchildren, for them to say ‘my nana played for Ireland’. And likewise for Cathal if he has grandchildren one day, for them to have that cap and know that their nana played for Ireland too.”