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Dublin: 8°C Saturday 15 May 2021

Megan Campbell's insanely long throws can help take Ireland's footballers to greater heights

The Man City defender played a key role in her side’s win over Northern Ireland.

Republic of Ireland's Megan Campbell celebrates scoring her sides second goal.
Republic of Ireland's Megan Campbell celebrates scoring her sides second goal.
Image: Presseye/William Cherry/INPHO

THERE WAS A recurring pattern in the Republic of Ireland’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over the North last night.

Whenever the ball went out of play anywhere near the Northern Ireland box on the right-hand side, Man City defender Megan Campbell would expertly hurl a bullet throw-in towards the area.

Invariably, these throws caused havoc, creating more than one clear-cut chance and proving instrumental in the opening goal, which Rachel Furness inadvertently headed into her own net.

Northern Ireland struggled to cope with Campbell’s long throws all night, and that factor will be no surprise to long-term watchers of Irish women’s football.

Source: Al Ahly Women's/YouTube

The 24-year-old has for years been renowned as a long-throw specialist, as the clips below illustrate.

Source: RTÉ Sport/YouTube

Source: rstack09/YouTube

Source: mcfcnorthstand/YouTube

“Fortunately, my arms are quite hyper-mobile and can go further back than the average person,” Campbell explained, in an interview posted on Man City’s Facebook page (see video below).

To have a player with the impressive and relatively unique technique of Campbell is hugely beneficial to the Irish team and Colin Bell’s side utilised this asset well last night.

Long throws can be extremely effective to the extent that it is surprising they aren’t seen more often in the women’s or men’s game, at least not to the extent which Campbell utilises them.

Nonetheless, there have, of course, been a few notable examples over the years. Another Irish player, Rory Delap, was famous for his incredible ability to hurl balls towards the box. Tony Pulis’ immensely physical Stoke side, in particular, capitalised on Delap’s considerable ability in this regard.

Source: wolton0503/YouTube

Source: SuperNikedunks/YouTube

Source: grodon1/YouTube

Before Delap, English defender Dave Challinor previously gained a reputation for mammoth throws.

In the early 2000s, Challinor held the world record for the longest throw in football, and he played an integral role as then-First Division side Tranmere earned an unlikely spot in the first League Cup final after the turn of the millennium.

Source: TodayInFootball/YouTube

There are other more obscure examples, such as 31-year-old Serbian footballer, Ljubo Baranin, who some claim has football’s biggest throw and who currently plays for Malaysian side Kuantan FA.

Source: 90minit dotcom/YouTube

While Campbell will rightly be placed alongside the likes of Delap, Challinor and Baranin as a long throw specialist, there is far more to her game than simply being proficient from these set pieces.

The Drogheda native starred as Man City won their first-ever FA Cup title back in May, producing two assists in her side’s momentous 4-1 win over Birmingham City, showing admirable resilience as an ankle injury had limited her initial contribution after joining the club.

At 24, she is already an experienced senior international, having impressed with the Irish side since making her debut against Switzerland in Richmond Park as far back as August 2011. Moreover, before joining City and becoming a full-time footballer in February of last year, she had stints with St Francis and Raheny United.

She subsequently secured a scholarship at Florida State University in 2013, majoring in social science while continuing to impress on the pitch, making over 60 appearances and winning three consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference titles in a three-year stint with the Florida State Seminoles.

Even before moving to America, she had a number of impressive achievements under her belt. She appeared in the FAI Women’s Cup final as a 16-year-old, helping St Francis to retain their title in 2009, while also gaining Champions League experience with the club. Two years after lifting the FAI Cup, the Louth-born defender linked up with Dublin-based Raheny United, helping them to a league and cup double, with her performances that season earning her a spot in the 2012–13 Women’s National League Team of the Season

The full-back’s progress in England, meanwhile, was rewarded last June, when she signed a contract extension with Nick Cushing’s side.

“Megan is a young player with a lot of potential,” the manager said at the time. “She has come back from injury stronger than ever and shown everyone what she can offer on the pitch.

“I have been delighted with her performances in the games she played in 2017 and I look forward to having her on the team once again when we kick off the new season.”

That word ‘potential’ could be applied to a number of the Irish team right now.

Qualification from a World Cup group that includes Euro 2017 champions the Netherlands and top seeds Norway is a big ask.

Yet there is an optimism in Irish women’s soccer at the moment that was not always conspicuous. Colin Bell comes with Champions League-winning experience, having replaced Sue Ronan as the team’s manager last February.

There have also been a number of positive changes within the set-up, after the side’s high-profile protest at the previously inadequate conditions that they had unfairly been expected to tolerate for years.

The recent appointment of 21-year-old attacker Katie McCabe as captain is reflective of this new era. The Arsenal youngster, currently on loan at Glasgow City, succeeded the iconic Emma Byrne, who last month announced her retirement from football, having spent an incredible 23 years as Ireland’s number one.

Furthermore, McCabe and Campbell are not the only players of significant potential in the team. In stark contrast with the ageing squad that the senior men’s side have at their disposal currently, just one player who started for the Republic last night, Marie Hourihan, is over 30.

In addition, the age profile of the three substitutes that came on is telling — Leanne Kiernan (18), Tyler Toland (16) and Amber Barrett (21).

In recent times, there has been great success at underage level, notably with Dave Connell’s U19 side, who got all the way to the semi-finals of the 2014 European Championships. Campbell herself, along with other highly-rated footballers including Denise O’Sullivan and Clare Shine, was part of the U17 side that came within a penalty shootout of winning the Euros in 2010, while she helped that same group of players reach the World Cup quarter-finals later that year. And the senior side now appear to be benefiting from the good work that has clearly been done at grassroots level.

So with Campbell’s highly effective long throws, the much-improved conditions and the abundance of exciting young prospects, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future of Irish women’s football, as their accomplished and dominant performance in Lurgan last night highlighted.

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Paul Fennessy

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