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leading lady Ireland hero Áine O'Gorman on the rise of the women's game, Katie Taylor and what comes next

Trailblazing football star Áine O'Gorman tells Kevin Palmer about how she broke into the sport.

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Ireland football star Áine O’Gorman says further strides can be made for the women’s game in this country

Ireland football star Áine O’Gorman says further strides can be made for the women’s game in this country

Ireland football star Áine O’Gorman says further strides can be made for the women’s game in this country

FOR as long as she can remember, Áine O'Gorman was waiting for her chance to shine.

As she travelled with her brother for his football training session at the Bog Meadow pitch in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, Áine did so with hope rather than expectation in her heart.

That hope evolved around a numbers game that had to work in her favour, as she needed an uneven number of boys to turn up for soccer practice to give her a chance to make up the number and take part.

These were different times, when girls were not considered to have a role in football and yet trailblazers like Áine have helped to change all that.

Not only did starry-eyed little Manchester United fanatic Áine go on to become a giant in Irish soccer, but she can now look back on an international career that has stretched over 15 years and earned her over 100 international caps.

"I never imagined it would work out like this when I was a little girl kicking the ball around with the boys," Áine tells Magazine+.

"I remember how it felt on those days going to my brother's training sessions. I'd wait on the sidelines in case they had uneven numbers and needed an extra player.

"Then I'd have that feeling of disappointment when I didn't get a chance to play. That was the way it was back then. There wasn't a girls team to play in.

"To be sitting here now having played 100 times for Ireland and had so many great times in football, I would never have believed that back then.

"Women's football in Ireland has come such a long way since I first came into the international set-up when I was 16, but we still have a way to go."

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Undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor. Photo: Mark Robinson/Sportsfile

Undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor. Photo: Mark Robinson/Sportsfile

Undisputed lightweight champion Katie Taylor. Photo: Mark Robinson/Sportsfile

A young Katie Taylor had a similar story to tell of her days playing football in Wicklow, as she shared a pitch with boys who may have viewed the presence of a girl in their midst with some scepticism.

"Katie was from the same county as me and would have paved the way in playing in the men's football teams, which probably helped me when I wanted to do that a few years later," continues the 32-year-old who plays as a forward for Peamount United in the Women's National League.

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"Katie was a good footballer. She played a few games in the Ireland set-up and I remember playing in a game against her when I was a kid.

"She was playing centre midfield and I remember running into her and it was like bouncing into a brick wall. The lads wouldn't have been pushing Katie off the ball if they were playing against her, she had real strength.

"Katie is one of the greatest ever athletes to come out of Ireland."

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Áine O'Gorman of Republic of Ireland takes a selfie with supporters after the women's international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Australia at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin.

Áine O'Gorman of Republic of Ireland takes a selfie with supporters after the women's international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Australia at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin.

Áine O'Gorman of Republic of Ireland takes a selfie with supporters after the women's international friendly match between Republic of Ireland and Australia at Tallaght Stadium in Dublin.

It could be argued that Áine's achievements with the Ireland soccer team have been as ground-breaking as that of Taylor's heroics, after she resumed her international career last year and reversed a decision to retire.

Along with captain Emma Byrne, Áine and other members of the Ireland squad took on the FAI as they fought for equality with the men's national team, in a fight that was conclusively won as it was announced that both teams would be paid the same fee for international matches.

But Áine believes more strides can be taken. "To see how far we have come since I came into the set-up as a 16-year-old is incredible," adds the athlete who is a fitness trainer when she is not playing for Ireland.

"There are so many more doors 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 to develop the Women's National League in Ireland. We never want for anything when we go into Ireland training camps.

"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. However we are leading from the top and you hope that will filter down in years to come.

"The next step for our league here would be for our teams to go semi-professional. Training with boy's teams is something that has worked for me at Bray Wanderers, but it would be great if the women's game got to a point where we would give the girls a chance to take the sport to the next level in this country.

"Money is obviously the big issue, but it just needs one club to take that step and then hopefully others could follow."

Sky Ireland became the first standalone primary partner of the Women's National Team in September. The four-year deal is said to be one of the largest partnership fee investments ever in Irish women's sport.

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