PICTURE the scene – a windy, wet night in Glasgow, Ireland are facing Scotland with a place at the World Cup in Australia next year up for grabs. It’s the 72nd minute, it’s 0-0 and Amber Barrett from Donegal gets the ball from a Denise O’Sullivan long ball through to her up front, she’s one-on-one with the Scottish ‘keeper, two Scottish defenders trailing her. Under pressure, she raced into the box, and with the ‘keeper in front of her, she fired it past her into the bottom right hand corner of the net. Cue the celebrations and the chaos, Barrett took the knee and kissed her black armband in memory of those who died in her beloved Creeslough, did a post match interview with RTE draped in a Donegal flag, the players were filmed singing in the dressing room, celebrations for Vera Pauw and Tom Elmes’ side continued long into the night. It’s the first time that Ireland have ever qualified for the tournament, history is being made.
Former underage international and current Wexford Youths player Lauren Dwyer, who made her first appearance of an injury ravaged season last weekend, says that it’s an amazing achievement.
“It was fantastic to see girls I would have played at U17’s and U19’s and obviously Amber scoring the goal, she used to be my roommate at U17’s and U19’s so I couldn’t have asked for anybody better to put the ball into the back of the net. She’d say it herself, she’d kick them everywhere at underage level so I’m just glad she was on target this time. Scotland were ranked higher than them too, I think Scotland are in 23rd, Ireland are in 26th so it wasn’t easy. Ireland had two efforts cleared off the line and then look at the qualifying group they had, they drew with Sweden who are third. They’re playing a system that suits Ireland, you can’t fault the system now they’re after getting to the world cup. It’s quite hard to believe when you see all the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes. A lot of people would have written them off but it’s fantastic and it’s such a boost for everyone involved in women’s football in Ireland.”
She added that it’s huge for young girls growing up aspiring to play soccer.
“It’s something that they can aspire to, that they can see a group of players from Ireland qualifying so why can’t they do it when they grow up. It will have a huge boost and hopefully a lot of younger girls will look up to what they’ve achieved and say I can play soccer, I can play professionally or semi-professionally and make it into an Irish team. There are girls there that are playing in the Women’s National League in Ireland so I think you can grow up looking at them saying I can be the next person putting on an Ireland jersey.”
She said that it’s important for the women’s game in the country, that hopefully the success will filter down through the levels of women’s soccer in the country.
“You can even see the support they have now and how much it’s grown since the start of the campaign and how everyone is getting behind the women’s team, it’s the first time they’ve ever qualified for a major championship. The sponsorship they’re getting now is obviously growing and long may it last because we don’t know where we’ll be in ten years. Hopefully we’ll be onto bigger and better things and women’s soccer, women’s sport will be nearly on par with the men’s. I think people sometimes judge a book by its cover, saying it’s women’s soccer, I’m not watching that and then there’s people saying that they watched a match for the first time and they were like girls can actually play and most games are as competitive if not more competitive than men’s. I think clubs finally are getting travel experiences for the Women’s National League this season whereas before you had to pay up to €500 and you had to go look for sponsorship to play. Whereas now we have Energia on board so that’s a weight lifted off our shoulders. Hopefully the more exposure the women get, it will only impact the Women’s National League and grassroots, that people will hopefully come and sponsor us and say that the women deserve as much as the men get.”
Dwyer made her long awaited return from injury last weekend as a substitute during Wexford Youths’ 5-2 win over Sligo Rovers and she will now hope to play in a part in the title run-in for her team.
Things could hardly be more finely balanced heading into the final two games of the season, with Wexford looking for their first title since 2018.Wexford are top of the league on 55 points, Shelbourne are a point behind in second while Peamount and Athlone are still in striking distance, tied on 52 points.
Tomorrw, Wexford travel to play Peamount away in a game that will kick off at 5.20pm and be televised live on TG4, and then it is likely that the whole league season will come down to the final game on the last Saturday in October when Wexford host Shelbourne.
By Harry Shorthose