return from retirement

'I had itchy feet so when the opportunity came, I grabbed it with two hands. It feels like I never left'

Áine O’Gorman is in line to win her 101st Ireland cap after coming out of international retirement.

BACK IN THE mix after her international retirement reversal, Ireland centurion Áine O’Gorman walks into the room with a massive smile on her face. 

And a nasty looking astro-turf burn on her knee.

aine-ogorman Ryan Byrne / INPHO Áine O'Gorman pictured at the team's base at Johnstown House yesterday. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Big sliding tackle,” she laughs. “Don’t think I even got the ball!”

Having hung up her Irish jersey after her earning her 100th cap in 2018, the 30-year-old has made a U-turn ahead of the crucial double-header of Euro 2021 qualifiers. She has committed for the full campaign as Ireland look to reach a first-ever major tournament.

Manager Vera Pauw came knocking for O’Gorman, and the Peamount captain answered her country’s call. The pair had a casual chat after the 2019 FAI Cup final but at that point, a return was not discussed. It was Ireland assistant coach Eileen Gleeson — O’Gorman’s club manager for years in the past — who told her the Dutch boss was interested. And everything went from there.

“Vera gave me a shout and it was an opportunity I wasn’t going to turn down,” the Wicklow native explains, as injuries in defence paved the way for her second coming.

“I’d probably regret it if I had.

“After the new management came in, I probably started to get itchy feet. I was watching the girls play in Tallaght and it was something in the back of my mind, especially off the back of a good club season.

I had the itchy feet so when the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed it with two hands. And here I am now and it kinda feels like I never left, to be honest.

It’s not that she regretted her retirement decision, but she wanted more. 

Walking away felt right at the time, and it was something she thought long and hard about as Ireland’s 2019 World Cup qualifying dream came to an end in the Colin Bell Era.

“It was something I’d been thinking about throughout that campaign,” O’Gorman concedes. “I probably wasn’t enjoying my international football in the way I should have.

“I’d been committed for 12 years, since I was 16, so at the time – and I still don’t regret it – I decided to take that step back and just let the younger players come through.”

“A mixture of everything I think,” she adds when asked why she wasn’t enjoying her football, and questioned on whether it was tension with the then-manager, the style of play or the position she was played in, for example.

And the commitment levels and everything else I’d put on hold in my personal life at the time. So I had a little break and now I’m ready. Back with a bang.

A personal trainer by trade, O’Gorman enjoyed football from a different perspective through her hiatus. While she continued to star for her club Peamount — and skippered them to a first league crown since 2012 — the Enniskerry woman undertook regular punditry work with RTÉ.

Appearing on screens across the length and breadth of the country, she was a leading figure through the national broadcaster’s Women’s World Cup coverage last summer, and then went on to analyse her former Ireland team in their earlier qualifiers.

“I was booked in for the match on Thursday,” she laughs, referring of course to her side’s must-win qualifier against Greece in Tallaght [KO 7.15pm].

“He asked me to the do the next game and I just texted and said, ‘Sorry, my circumstances have changed.’ Then it came out we had a laugh about it then.”

It might come back to haunt me! No-one’s actually mentioned anything, to be honest. The topic hasn’t come up,” she added on her team-mates’ reaction to criticism she may have dished out.

“Look, the games I worked on, especially the Ukraine game, there was only room for praise in the way the team performed. In the Greece game, I think Greece were quite tactically clever and smart in the way they played and it was a sucker-punch in the nature of the way we conceded the late goal. But look, we’re here to put that right on Thursday.”

aine-ogorman Ryan Byrne / INPHO In training yesterday. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

That Ukraine game she refers to was their second win from two, a thrilling 3-2 victory against the second seeds to add to their previous 2-0 opener against Montenegro. A Greek slip-up came afterwards, as the hosts grabbed a last-gasp equaliser in Athens.

O’Gorman is keen for her side to “assimilate” the Ukraine performance and the quality of goals scored within, as well as keeping a clean sheet, having looked at football differently for the past while. Both the punditry and her the completion of her Uefa B coaching badge challenged her to analyse performances, and look from the outside in.

“Probably taking a step back helps you look at the overall picture rather than just you in the situation with the team,” she nods. on learnings. “It can be a learning experience.

You just look at it from a different perspective, but anything that has to be learned, the coaching team bring that to the table already and you learn from your mistakes.

“Obviously letting in the late Greece goal… we’d be looking to rectify that going forward but I think that Ukraine performance typifies how good this team can be when they are let play free, attacking football. They can be a massive attacking threat.”

She usually plays around the middle, but O’Gorman — who has stepped back from her role as PFAI Rep on the FAI committee — is coming into the set-up in a defensive role this time around. With Megan Campbell and Keeva Keenan both ruled out, she may be used at full-back.

I’m just happy to help the team in whatever capacity I can and bring my experience into the squad,” she continues. “It’s a position I’m familiar with from playing before, in the international set-up as well.

She earned her 100th cap there against Norway, after all.

What about cap one in 2006?

Her smile widens as she casts her mind back.

“Yeah, the first game I started was against Germany… in Richmond Park and I’d say there was only the parents and media in the crowd… very little media.”

She takes a quick look around the room. 

“So it’s massive, even the media here today… it’s great and it’s positive on the ticket sales so we are hoping for another record crowd on Thursday to get behind us on the pitch and bring the three points.

I think it’s a really good environment to be in now. Everyone’s really happy and positive and focused. We’re clear in the way we’re going to play. And I think it’s probably one of the best squads I’ve been involved in.

“The competition for places is really high, which is healthy because we improve each other individually.”

aine-ogorman-and-ariane-hingst Tom Honan / INPHO O'Gorman earned her first cap in 2006. Tom Honan / INPHO / INPHO

Upbeat about the future, O’Gorman’s smile widens once again when the prospect of qualification for a first-ever major tournament is put to her after falling short so many times before. 

Ireland are currently second in Group I — though a double-header against all-conquering Germany is yet to come — with the group winners and three best second-placed sides qualifying automatically. The six other runners-up head for play-offs.

But in the grand scheme of things for Irish football, how big of a boost would it be to qualify? In short, massive. And O’Gorman — a talented Gaelic footballer in the past — believes they have as good a chance as ever.

“I think that’s the breakthrough that everybody is looking for ever since you’ve been playing,” she continues. “It’s the dream you have when you put on that Irish jersey, playing in a major tournament.

Look, we have the opportunity now to live that dream and make that breakthrough for all of the young players coming through. We are up there, and being given the platform to compete with the best teams in the world.

“Denise O’Sullivan is one of the best players in the world. We are lucky that she puts on an Irish jersey. Katie McCabe, too, is probably one of the best wingers in the world so look, there’s quality throughout the squad.

“Rianna Jarrett has blossomed over the last couple of years and scores goals for fun.”

So the dream to get to England 2021 is very much alive.

The perfect way to go?

“I think so,” O’Gorman beams. The widest smile yet, almost ear-to-ear.

“That would be the pinnacle of any player’s career.”

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