Irish World Cup wonders march on
Girls relax ahead of showdown with Japan
IT WAS straight to bed for Noel King's World Cup wonders yesterday when they landed back in their Trinidad base in Port of Spain.
There was no celebratory return to Maracas Beach, where the Girls in Green splashed about last week and discovered the Caribbean culinary delight bake 'n' shark.
Nor did they venture out to Movietowne, Trinidad and Tobago's version of a multiplex cinema, where earlier in the competition they took in gangster flick 'Takers'.
Instead, after three energy-sapping games played in tropical conditions in the southern Caribbean, it was off for a well-earned afternoon nap for the Republic of Ireland team following their 3-0 triumph over Ghana in the Dwight Yorke Stadium in Tobago on Monday night, which put them in the Under-17 Women's World Cup quarter-finals.
You could forgive them for their bleary eyes. The girls -- aged between 15 and 17 -- have never known intensity like this. In their European campaign, which saw them lose out on the trophy on penalties to Spain last June, their matches were just 80 minutes long.
These are regulation 90-minute matches at the World Cup.
The girls have also been away from their families and friends longer than ever before.
They left for a Florida training camp seven days before they arrived in Trinidad, playing two warm-up games and taking in double-sessions in a bid to acclimatise to the scorching heat.
Once in Port of Spain there were another four days before they kicked off against Brazil -- while seven days later, with wins over Canada and Ghana behind them, they extended their stay even further.
A win over Japan will guarantee that Ireland stays the full duration of the competition. The losing semi-finalists will meet on the afternoon of the final in the third/fourth place play-off.
So it's no surprise that Noel King's heroines took the chance yesterday to get in some much-needed rest ahead of the hard work of preparing for Friday's quarter-final with Japan.
Homesickness has not been a problem yet for the Irish girls. That is down largely to the generous gift from businessman Denis O'Brien, owner of Caribbean mobile communications company Digicel, of mobile phones with unlimited free credit for each member of the squad and staff.
They have all been calling home every day to keep friends and family up to date with the goings on in the West Indies.
Despite the time spent away from home, Reading striker Stacie Donnelly, who scored in Monday night's 3-0 win over Ghana, doesn't want the adventure to end on Friday.
"We'll play our own game against Japan. We'll work on them a little bit too and we'll see how it goes," she said.
"We'll definitely give it our best and hopefully we'll get through. We've gotten this far so hopefully we can keep on going."
Drogheda native Megan Campbell, whose throw-ins rival those of Rory Delap, is eager to keep the run going.
St Francis full-back Campbell scored Ireland's first against Ghana -- a free-kick from the left wing that floated over goalkeeper Margaret Otoo's head and into the net.
"Even to just come and participate in the World Cup was amazing. Then to get a win against Canada was brilliant. But to win against Ghana and top a group with Brazil -- that's really special," she said.
It's all been a dream for Ireland's World Cup wonders -- who saw off several super-powers of women's football, including Denmark and Sweden, to progress this far.
Yesterday, as they nodded off for some well-earned sleep in their Hilton Hotel base, many of them were no doubt dreaming of what might yet be as the Girls in Green aim to become the queens of women's football.