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'I remember thinking, 'Oh my God, that's it - I'm never going to play for Ireland''

In her weekly column, Saoirse Noonan takes us through some sporting highs and lows.

TODAY IS THE day, day one of the Leaving Cert.

Like pretty much every other sixth year across the country, I just can’t wait for it to be over. It’s a day I honestly thought would never come.

Hanna Nemeth consoles Saoirse Noonan Source: James Crombie/INPHO

I’ve said it in my previous columns and I’ll surely say it again: I never expected myself to play for Ireland or to get as far as I have. Wearing the Ireland jersey is an indescribable feeling, it’s so hard to explain. But it’s also something I never thought I’d do.

I never thought the day would come.

I never really knew how people got picked to play for Ireland whereas I knew that playing Gaelic football for Cork was a possibility as my cousin Caoimhe had played and my club put me forward for trials.

As I played more and more soccer, I had my eyes opened to further opportunities. I remember watching Denise O’Sullivan play against France at Turner’s Cross and dreaming of doing the same one day.

I remember going to Gaynor Cup and realising what happens. The seed planted in my head then that maybe I could get there one day. I remember looking up to Clare Shine as she climbed the underage Ireland ranks and before I knew it, I was doing the same thing.

My first-ever Ireland trial was for the U16s. I made it to the last cut, it was between me and one other girl to go to Switzerland. We were told straight out that it was between the two of us, whoever performed got it. She was from Dublin, very strong and physical and knew a lot of girls on the team. I was a bit of an outsider so I knew I had to try harder and as always, I gave it my best shot and was happy enough.

Saoirse Noonan and Catherine Cronin Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But I lost out. I was absolutely devastated, I just remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, that’s it — I’m never going to play for Ireland.’ It was such a horrible, horrible feeling. I told myself over and over that if I ever got that opportunity again, I’d never leave it behind as I never wanted to feel like that again.

A few weeks later, I got a call for U15 schools trials. I was a bit reluctant at first as I didn’t want to go through the disappointment of being dropped again but just went for it, And thank God I did!

I made it and was named captain for the first game against England over there. An unbelievable occasion for my first competitive international match, an incredible experience and a memory that will stay with me forever.

There’s just a weird feeling about it every time you walk out on the pitch with that green jersey on. You can’t really explain it, you have to witness. For me, it’s a scary feeling but such a great feeling. It’s the adrenaline rush you get every single time you go into the dressing room. It’s amazing.

There have been plenty of highs and lows with Gaelic as well. Last year was pretty sweet finishing underage county football with another All-Ireland title alongside the girls I started out with.

I started playing with Cork at U14 level, and won my first All-Ireland with them so it was a nice way to finish off last year. That minor team probably wasn’t as strong as the previous year’s — one with Laura Cleary and Emma Spillane — but I feel like we had more determination or something and that got us over the line.

Cork v Galway - All Ireland Ladies Football Minor A Championship Final Source: Eóin Noonan/SPORTSFILE

A standout low point would have been with the U16s three years ago. I didn’t play because I was away in Iceland with soccer but we lost against Kerry in the Munster final. That regret is in the back of my mind. I wish I could have been there to help the team add onto the collection of All-Irelands.

We would have had five in-a-row — U14, U16, U16, minor, minor — but that was the one that got away.

Sure look, you have that. Looking forward is more important, and often you learn more in defeat than in victory.

For now the focus is on English Paper One today, the Leaving Cert and keeping my fitness levels up through it.

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