Last Thursday’s tense 1-0 win against Finland secured a place in the World Cup play-offs,
That’s the verdict of two Áine O’Gorman, who has been a key figure in the rise of the women’s game over the last decade.
Last Thursday’s tense 1-0 win against Finland secured a place in the World Cup play-offs, with a record crowd at Tallaght Stadium adding to the momentum building behind Vera Pauw and her team.
Now O’Gorman has suggested we could be on the brink of a sporting revolution in this country, with the success of the women’s team gathering in momentum with each passing month.
Speaking to the Sunday World in a Sky Ireland event, O’Gorman suggested Ireland’s presence in next year’s World Cup finals in Australia and New Zealand would transform the perception of the women’s team in Ireland.
“Qualifying for a major tournament would be a massive turning point for the women’s game in Ireland,” said O’Gorman, who has played 112 times for Ireland in a remarkable senior international career that started in 2006.
“Playing in a World Cup is something I’ve always dreamed about and that dream is there for all of us. We saw what it did when the men’s team qualified for a tournament for the first time in the Jack Charlton days and that has to be the target for us now.
“We’ve been close in so many of the qualifying campaigns I’ve been involved with, but we haven’t quite got over the finishing line, but it feels like we have the will of the nation behind us now like never before and that has to help us.
“There is a belief in the squad at the moment that I haven’t felt before. The backing we are getting from Sky has been a big boost, the fans are really giving us great support at Tallaght Stadium and it’s making us believe as a team that we can do something special.”
The draw for the World Cup play-offs will take place next Friday and only then will O'Gorman and her team of heroes have an idea of what lies ahead.
Yet this team has already changed the face of women’s soccer in Ireland for good, with O’Gorman suggesting so many of the building blocks that needed to be put in place are now set for the future generations of players who will follow in her footsteps.
“To see how far we have come since I came into the set-up as a 16-year-old is incredible,” she continues.
“As a team we are now being paid the same as the men’s team, which is fantastic and there are so many more door open for young girls to play football in Ireland now.
“There are paths open to play in overseas leagues and we are also keen to try and develop the women’s national league in Ireland.
“We never want for anything when we go into Ireland training camps. Staying at the Castleknock hotel and working on the training pitches at Abbotstown is fantastic, but it would be great if we could train more often together.
“We are getting well treated now at this elite and it is up to us to go out and deliver the goods.
“The challenge is when you hear stories about some clubs where girls are thrown off the pitch because the men’s team have training, so there is still progress to be made, but we are leading from the top and you hope that will filter down in years to come.”
O'Gorman's experiences with Ireland now could not be more contrasting than her early days in football.
Standing on the sidelines of her local pitch in Enniskerry watching her brother play and hoping she might be allowed to join in if there were uneven numbers in the boys match was the norm 15 years ago.
Now there is a real path for girls to consider a career in football, with the wages on offer at top English clubs an enticing prospect courtesy of their £8million TV deal with Sky Sports.
That kind of funding is still a fantasy for Irish domestic soccer and Peadmount United star O’Gorman is hoping the success of the national team can herald changes in the club game in Ireland, as she would like to see a more professional structure in Ireland.
“The next step for our league here would be to go semi-professional, as that would give the girls a chance to train more often and improve,” she states.
“Training with boy’s teams is something that has worked for me, but it would be great if the women’s game in this country could get to a point where we would give the girls a chance to train more regularly together ahead of matches.
“Money is obviously the big issues, but it just needs one club to take that step and then hopefully others could follow.
“What I think we have done is put the women’s game on the map in Ireland and that has been done over many years of hard work.
“For those of us who have been around the set-up for a long time, the success we are seeing now is amazing to see.”
Ireland will be back in action on Tuesday night when they take on Slovakia in their final Group A World Cup qualifier and then all eyes will be on Friday’s play-off draw for the next stage of this thrilling story.
Sky Ireland became the first standalone primary partner of the women’s national team last year. The four-year deal is said to be one of the largest partnership fee investments ever in Irish women’s sport.
Slovakia v Ireland, Tuesday, Sept 6, 5pm, Live RTÉ2