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'They were banging a shovel in the middle of the pitch and the ice wasn’t cracking'

Áine O’Gorman is coming full circle after the last play-off Ireland contested back in 2008.

Áine O'Gorman was speaking to the media ahead of next week's World Cup play-off.
Áine O'Gorman was speaking to the media ahead of next week's World Cup play-off.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

THE ICE. THAT’S what immediately springs to mind for Áine O’Gorman when she rewinds the clock to the last play-off the Republic of Ireland women’s team contested.

Euro 2009 was the closest the Girls In Green have come to qualifying for a major tournament, O’Gorman and co. defeated 4-1 across two legs by Iceland.

Next Tuesday’s World Cup play-off away to Scotland or Austria is a full-circle moment for herself, Niamh Fahey and Louise Quinn, and undoubtedly evokes memories of 2008 for the three current members of Vera Pauw’s current squad who were involved.

Not exactly happy ones, though, the away fixture in Reykjavik particularly controversial and remembered for all the wrong reasons.

“I was there yes, on the ice,” O’Gorman, who was just 17 at the time, recalls. “We played the home leg first [1-1 at Richmond Park] and we were away the second leg in Iceland.

“If that game was to go ahead today it wouldn’t happen. They were banging a shovel in the middle of the pitch and the ice wasn’t cracking. I think they had ice skates on and we didn’t!

“I don’t think you appreciate the moment when you’re there like you would now, that you’re on the cusp of maybe qualifying for the World Cup. Back then you’re just in the game, in the moment. Obviously, we’re in a great position now and looking forward to the game.”

Thirty-three now and an Irish centurion, O’Gorman is speaking from the Castleknock Hotel, where Pauw’s side convened for camp yesterday. There are vast differences, of course — “all these small per cents,” she nods — but some parallels can be drawn.

“We’d have met up the same and prepared – Noel King was the manager at the time – like we did for every other game in that campaign. We’d have been in camp as well. The media coverage and exposure the game is getting, the sponsorship and belief behind us from the FAI and whole country is amazing. It’s a great feeling. It instils belief in us players.”

aine-ogorman-with-victoria-svensson File pic of O'Gorman in action in 2008. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

O’Gorman is well-versed to speak about the growth of women’s football. The versatile Peamount United star has seen so much through her 112 Ireland caps and illustrious club career; exhilarating highs, gut-wrenching lows and too many near-misses either side of her international football hiatus.

Just one of four Women’s National League players in Pauw’s current squad, the Wicklow woman has shared her thoughts on the domestic game time and time again through the years, and is as passionate as ever about a move to semi-professionalism as talk continues to heighten.

In fact, she believes it’s just around the corner, and that qualification for a first-ever World Cup can speed up the process.

Any potential investment generated should be put “back into women’s football at the grassroots level and try to professionalise some clubs if possible”, O’Gorman believes.

“The amount of girls playing football now compared to when I was growing up is massive. The opportunities they get as well are second to none.

“I think we should be piggybacking on the success of the women’s national team. I think clubs going semi-professional is just around the corner, to be honest. I think we will see that happen, it should be inevitable and it’s something I’m very passionate about, that coming into play and things being done properly, and then eventually, maybe one day we can have a professional league.

“Obviously at the moment we’re losing players to the WSL [in England]. You can’t begrudge any player for that, they’re going to play in a better opportunity, they’re gonna get full-time football. Until them structures are put in place, we’re not going to be able to stop players going abroad.”

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unnamed Republic of Ireland WNT international Áine O'Gorman supporting Breast Cancer Awareness ahead of 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup Qualifying Play-Off Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

That’s the fact of the matter. O’Gorman is currently relishing her Peamount side being part of a four-way title race with Wexford Youths, Shelbourne and Athlone Town. “It’s anyone’s,” she outlines, though her full focus is on international duty right now.

While held in reserve of late, injuries may bring opportunity for O’Gorman. That said, it’s clear to see she’s just enjoying the journey and any role she can play. That was perhaps best captured when she brought her newborn son, James, onto the pitch at Tallaght Stadium after Ireland secured their play-off spot against Finland last month.

Parenting, she smiles, is going well. “It’s great. Look, getting enough sleep, rest and recovery. Obviously, I’ve got good support from my partner and my family to allow me to be able to play and train at an elite level, which I’m grateful for.

“It was a really proud moment to have him on the pitch. It was kind of off the cuff, everyone was buzzing and I asked Vera, ‘Can I go get James?’ because I hadn’t seen him in a while. It was really special, it was nice.”

Here’s to more special moments next Tuesday. Austria or Scotland?

“I’m on the fence to be honest,” O’Gorman concludes as Ireland’s potential opponents gear up to do battle at Hampden Park tomorrow night.

“Austria are quite well organised, Scotland are very direct. Both have major tournament experience as well. We’re just going to have to prepare the best we can and go out and play the game of our lives and hopefully make the World Cup.”

The Republic of Ireland WNT squad are supporting Breast Cancer Awareness. For more information visit www.breastcancerireland.com

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Emma Duffy

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