It was only in April that we were lauding the Irish under-19 football team for making it to the European Championships for the first time, Listowel’s Savannah McCarthy our Sportswoman of the Month for her outstanding displays in the qualifying games.
But having seen that they were drawn in a group with 2012 champions Sweden and 2012 and 2013 runners-up Spain and England, respectively, we assumed, despite manager Dave Connell’s insistence that the team wouldn’t be travelling to the finals “for a holiday”, that the success would end there. So much for that.
Game One: Ireland 1, Spain 0. And the player who got the goal, Clare Shine, broke her leg in April. The speediest of recoveries.
“At the end of the match Savannah asked me: ‘Did we really beat Spain?’ That’s how much it means to us,” said Connell after the game.
Game Two: Ireland 2, England 1. And they were a goal down too, McCarthy equalising 12 minutes in to the second half, before Keeva Keenan (like Shine, currently starring in Raheny United’s Champion’s League run) got the winner four minutes from time.
Game Three: Ireland 2, Sweden 1. Another comeback, McCarthy equalising again, this time Megan Connolly scoring the winner with 10 minutes to go.
So, Ireland topped their group and made it through to the semi-finals in their debut in the competition. By now it was evident enough, the team wasn’t there for a holiday.
Their run ended at the hands of the eventual champions, the Netherlands winning 4-0, but Connell was a proud man.
“It has been a dream come true for everybody to get this far. We are very, very proud of the girls. I think we have boxed well above our weight over the last few weeks. We beat three great nations. We would like to taste it again. This can only do our girls the world of good. They will want to get back here again because we have got a taste for it now,” he said.
As ever, with team displays of this quality, it's simply not possible to single out a player, so we're choosing the captain, Peamount United's Chloe Mustaki, both for her own performances and as a representative of the team, as our Sportswoman of the Month for July.
With this crew coming through, the future looks bright for Irish women’s international football.