Olivia O'Toole was speaking at the Republic of Ireland WNT 50-Year Anniversary Announcement. Tom Maher/INPHO

'I would go on a camel' - World Cup plans, growth of the game and overdue recognition

Olivia O’Toole is a legendary figure in Irish women’s football.

“WE STAND ON the shoulders of the previous generations.”

The message was clear from Vera Pauw, Katie McCabe and co. after the Republic of Ireland women’s national football team qualified for the World Cup.

Everyone at Hampden Park last October made a point to remember those who had gone before. Those who had paved the way, and began the legacy.

Olivia O’Toole, for one.

Ireland’s all-time top-scorer was celebrating in the stands.

Five months on, she’s speaking at an FAI event in Dublin marking the 50th anniversary of the Women’s National Team alongside fellow former internationals Jackie McCarthy-O’Brien, Linda Gorman and Sue Hayden, and current teenage star Ellen Molloy.

“I was crying,” O’Toole recalls of that night in Glasgow. “I never thought in my lifetime that the girls would get to a World Cup. Best night of my life and maybe when we go to Australia, we will get more best nights of my life!”

The Dubliner is all booked up for this summer, planning to follow the Girls In Green from Sydney to Perth and Brisbane as they do battle with co-hosts Australia, Canada and Nigeria at their first-ever major tournament.

Admittedly a nervous spectator, O’Toole is relishing the once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

diane-caldwell-and-louise-quinn-celebrate-with-former-international-olivia-otoole O’Toole celebrating World Cup qualification with Diane Caldwell and Louise Quinn. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“There’s seven of us going, including Susan Heapes, who also played for Ireland,” she beams. “We have to get boats, planes and trains, but, I would go on a camel to watch the girls, that’s the truth, all the way to Australia.

“When we played for Ireland years ago, we used to say it was like going on a camel. It would take us 12 hours to get to a place where it should only have taken a couple of hours.

“Looking forward to it and can’t wait. And I really feel our girls are going to shock an awful lot of people. I think the four teams are on the same wavelength, but I really feel if our girls get a result in the first game, we will get out of the group. And I’m not coming home!”

O’Toole, who represented Ireland in the 1990s and 2000s and also captained her country, smiles from ear-to-ear as she discusses the growth of the game.

She can’t help but feel a little bit envious however, wishing she was starting out all over again.

“If I was 20 years younger – I am not throwing roses at myself, but I would have loved to play with Man United, they are my team. When Diane Caldwell signed, I texted her and said, ‘Diane you just made my life complete’ because I never thought an Irish girl would play for Man United. I went over to watch her playing.

“The opportunities they have now… and long may it last, it is long overdue. On Wednesday night, I went over to watch Peamount and Shelbourne, under lights with LOITV there. When I played, five people were watching us. Seeing all the coverage and on my phone, all the tweets were coming in from the other games. Everyone is talking about it, people know the players’ names, they walk down the street and they are getting noticed, which is brilliant. I’m loving it.

“The standard now, the gym and the facilities – we got changed in portacabins, the girls are getting changed in the Emirates. The nutrition thing, we didn’t have a notion of that. Some girl came in and had a chat about pasta and chicken and I was like, ‘I eat McDonalds and KFC’.

olivia-otoole O'Toole in action for Ireland in 2007. Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO Lorraine O'Sullivan / INPHO / INPHO

“But the most important thing is the respect. The respect wasn’t there when I was growing up, girls didn’t play football. When I walked down the street, nobody knew who I was but now the respect is there and it is great.”

Yesterday’s event was an enjoyable one for O’Toole, reminiscing with old team-mates and friends and celebrating the new generation.

As part of the 50-year anniversary, it was announced that every player who has represented the Ireland women’s team in a senior game is to get a commemorative cap from the FAI, while there’s various reunions for past teams ear-marked.

O’Toole, who is due more caps herself, is setting up a Legend’s Game with 30 names committed already, and she can’t speak highly enough of the progress on this front in recent times.

“The FAI are getting involved in recognising the people who got the girls on the way to the World Cup,” Ireland’s record goalscorer concludes. “It is very much appreciated because it is long overdue and we welcome it.

“That recognition is all you want. A tap on the shoulder to say well done, thanks for doing what you did for your country.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel