The Peamount United WhatsApp group was hopping when we saw three of our players included in the Irish squad for the Nations League games against Hungary and Northern Ireland. First Erin McLaughlin and Ellen Dolan, and, later, Freya Healy.
To be honest, when we saw those names coming through, it felt as good as any win we’ve had throughout the season, everyone was just so happy for them. And it really made us feel part of it all because these are our pals who we see three, four times a week.
Erin was brought into the squad a year ago, but for Ellen and Freya this was their first call-up, recognition for how they’ve broken into our league and made such an impression in a short space of time. It’s a testament to them and to the belief that was put in them by our manager at Peamount James O’Callaghan and by Ireland’s interim manager Eileen Gleeson, who has obviously taken note of their development.
And that’s fantastic because for a long time, we didn’t have an Irish manager who paid much attention at all to our league. I’ve talked before about the frustration we’ve all felt about how few home-based players were given a chance at senior international level down the years, so while this is a huge source of pride for Peamount, I think it’s brilliant for the league as a whole.
For so long, it was put in players’ heads that they had to move away and go professional if they were to have a chance of a senior call-up and ultimately Erin, Ellen and Freya might go that way too. They’re certainly talented enough. But for now, this shows other girls in the league that they can make the Irish squad too, that door isn’t closed.
Erin’s continuing inclusion in the squad is a really important one for me because she is someone who has chosen the route of finishing her degree in primary school teaching while also training nearly every day of the week. She’s acting like a professional footballer, but will always have that education to fall back on. She’s shown you can do both, and for players not ready to move away she’s set a great example. They can look to her and say “if she can do it, maybe I can as well”
Freya, meanwhile, only turned 16 earlier this month. Incredible. She just made the cut-off point to be allowed play in the league by a week or two. I’m so excited about her and Ellen, who’s only a year older, getting to train with the likes of Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan, they can learn so much from them both. And I see a lot of Denise in Freya, not least in her focus and drive.
It might be too early for them both to be given a chance to make an impact, but it could be that this is the perfect time too. Stephen Kenny talked a lot about how he introduced so many new players to his squad, but they were in games that we needed to win. We don’t need to win against Hungary and Northern Ireland, promotion to the top flight of the Nations League is already secured, so it could be a chance to give youth its fling, even for just a few minutes.
Peamount take huge pride in having three players in the squad. It was less than a year ago that people wondered if we’d have a team at all. And we have five former players in there too so that says something about the club’s contribution to the development of Irish talent through the years.
Yes, things are getting harder because we don’t have a men’s club, but our youth academy can still bring through a brilliant amount of talent – and we are going to continue doing that no matter what happens at senior level.
It’s been a really positive Nations League campaign. No, we won’t get carried away, we know the opposition hasn’t been of the highest quality, but after a draining World Cup campaign and all that came after it, that’s been no bad thing. It’s allowed the players get their confidence back, the camp is a happy one, when, quite obviously, it wasn’t before.
My one quibble would be with the failure to appoint the new manager in time for these last two group games. I know that appointment is imminent – we’re told before Christmas – but whoever the new manager is, they’ll be thrown in at the deep end next year when we’ll face far superior opposition than we have done in this campaign. If it’s an outsider, how much will they know about our players, beyond, say, Katie and Denise? And how much will they know about our home-based players? We’ll see.
But, overall, this Nations League campaign has been positive. And Eileen deserves kudos for what she’s done and for the atmosphere she has built in the squad. It is clearly a happy squad, one that is enjoying its football and I’ve enjoyed watching them play.
Two more wins in these games against Hungary and Northern Ireland would complete a perfect confidence-boosting campaign, when the players have had the chance to play with a freedom they felt they were denied under the previous manager.
There are bigger challenges head in 2024, but this has been a good stepping stone for the serious business ahead.
I just hope the new manager doesn’t overlook our home-based players. We want that WhatsApp group hopping again.