Dunne living the dream as Irish girls chase Euro glory in Oslo
Rookie goalkeeper stunned by worldwide backing for squad as they seek final berth
While injuries prevented Brooke Dunne following her brother Nathan into the basketball sphere, they've also fast-tracked her journey into a UEFA U-19 European Championship semi-final tonight.
The Newbridge native began Ireland's qualification campaign as fourth-choice goalkeeper, but will line out between the posts against the Netherlands at Mjondalen Stadium, Oslo (6.0 Irish time).
Engineering such a scenario was partially due to Dunne's displays for Ireland's U-17s, but was more to do with fitness setbacks suffered by those ahead of her in the queue.
Still only 17 years old, the rookie has grabbed the opportunity presented literally with both hands. Her first competitive cap at U-19 level was at the heady stage of these finals nine days ago against Spain, in which she kept a clean sheet.
Only two goals have rattled her net in the subsequent wins against England and Sweden, and this has helped in no small way to Ireland's qualification for the last four on their debut appearance at the eight-nation showpiece.
Had circumstances been different, Dunne may have been in the United States right now mapping out the same career as her brother.
Nathan's domestic performances on the basketball court for Templeogue aroused transatlantic interest and, following completion of his Leaving Certificate in 2012, he accepted a scholarship placement with Mount Holyoke, a Division Two school in North Carolina.
Younger sister Brooke caught the basketball bug, too, but she picked up a few niggling injuries during her progression towards the national ranks. In parallel, her football talent was also beginning to shine and so the options widened in her mind.
"The injuries I got had more of an effect on basketball than football," she explained at the team hotel in Lillestrom.
"There was a choice to be made between the two sports and I went with football."
That career path might result in her joining Nathan stateside, as several gems from previous Ireland underage squads have attracted suitors from US colleges.
"I've an open mind of what I'll do in the future," she said. "It (moving to America) is not something I'd rule out, but I'll see what comes first.
"It's a dream come true to be here and playing at the European Championship finals. Before this tournament, I'd only ever sat on the bench for U-19 games watching the action.
"The fact that I'd played in the U-17 qualifiers helped me prepare for this stage, but this is a whole new experience – it's brilliant.
"We've reached the semi-finals and want to go all the way to the final now."
News of Ireland's unprecedented success at the European finals, which has taken them to within 90 minutes of a final against either hosts Norway or Spain on Sunday, has spread worldwide.
"I think our squad has gone viral across the world!" beamed the Peamount United stopper.
"My brother has seen all the reports and pictures in the States and lots of people have been supporting us. I've got my family flying out to Norway today for the semi-final.
"Hopefully, we'll get the right result now. The Netherlands are a good team, strong and technical, and they'll try hit us with diagonal balls to their wingers. But we've prepared well and are full of confidence."
Recent history justifies the point of Ireland manager Dave Connell that his cubs have nothing to fear.
Although Dutch coach André Koolhof labelled Ireland a 'kick and rush' team following a stalemate between the nations in April during the elite qualifying stage, Connell insists they could have won the game.
"It was clear from when we met them the last time that the Dutch don't like playing against us," said the manager yesterday.
"We've taken a bit of stick from other countries along the way, but anyone watching our matches can see the girls like to knock the ball around and have plenty of ability.
"Although we only drew that game against the Dutch, and they were at home, I know that we're capable of better and our team has greatly improved since.
"Of course, they're a country with a massive football tradition, but I doubt very much that they have as much camaraderie as our team.
"We're staying in the same hotel as them and I haven't seen that level of unity amongst their group.
"The girls are determined to reach the final and I've every confidence in them.
"When I took over this U-19 job three years ago, I felt it would take four years to build a team capable of winning the European Championships. Most of the players are eligible again next season, but they've come this far a year early and want to go further."
Clare Shine's recovery from a neck injury gives Connell a full complement to choose from. The striker could only contribute to Monday's win over Sweden as a second-half substitute, but is ready to reclaim a starting slot.
"It will be tough to leave players out but the substitutes have had an important part so far, so it could be the same in the semi-final," concluded Connell.
Ireland (probable): Dunne (Peamount Utd); Wright (Texas University), McCarthy (Listowel Celtic), O'Connell (Wilton), Mustaki (Peamount Utd); O'Connor (Wilton), Dwyer (Wexford Yths), Connolly (College Corinthians); McCabe (Raheny Utd), Shine (Raheny Utd), Rowe (Castlebar Celtic).
Meet the girls in green: Ireland under-19 women player profiles
Ireland's U-19 women footballers have taken Europe by storm with wins over Spain, England and Sweden at the UEFA Championship finals in Norway.
Some are better known than others but most encouraging is the fact that only six of the 18 players won't be eligible for next season's campaign.
So, who are the players that are 180 minutes away from lifting the European title? Here, we provide an insight on each.
Brooke Dunne (17)
From Newbridge, Co Kildare, she played Gaelic football with Sarsfields before switching her focus to soccer. She has played for Shamrock Rovers and now struts her stuff with Peamount United. A solid shot-stopper, she is the sister of US-based basketball player Nathan Dunne.
Amanda McQuillan (16)
Now living in Navan, McQuillan is the second youngest player in the squad – and the tournament – but she's a key member of the panel. Plays with Shelbourne and is a great athlete, allowing her to react quickly to danger.
Keeva Keenan (16)
Unlucky to miss the opener against Spain due to a suspension carried over from the qualifiers but compensated by scoring the winner against England after coming on as a sub. The Ballymun native is one of the toughest players in the squad but also versatile as she can play anywhere in defence or midfield, and is at home on the right side.
Grace Wright (19)
Texas-born Wright qualifies through her Limerick grandfather William, while her father hails from England. She attends Texas A&M University, playing right-back, but has filled in at left-back for Ireland in qualifying and at these finals.
Ciara O'Connell (19)
Recently turned 19, O'Connell is the rock of the team, reading the game brilliantly and shutting down opposition players before they get a chance to turn inside the area. Heading to UCC on a scholarship, she is part of the Cork crew and a rising star in the women's game.
Savannah McCarthy (17)
The reigning FAI U-17 player of the year is a bubbly character both on and off the field. Hailing from Kerry, she did her county proud by raiding forward from defence to pull Ireland level in their last two matches against England and Sweden.
Ciara McNamara (19)
One of manager Dave Connell's reliable squad members, soft-spoken McNamara comes alive on the pitch with her courageous approach. Comfortable in possession, her composure may well be crucial over the next five days.
Chloe Mustaki (18)
To be named captain among a group of leaders is a testament to Connell's faith in the adaptable UCD Waves player. Has won the FAI U-17 player of the year and, at these finals, has operated both at left-back and midfield.
Shannon Carson (18)
A player full of guile and energy, her introduction from the bench at the finals has proved integral to Ireland's march. The Holyhill LFC player is a tough-tackling midfielder who likes to break forward and is not afraid to take aim at goal.
Amy O'Connor (18)
Another member of the squad eligible for next season's campaign, the Cork native has started all three games so far. O'Connor, who will join O'Connell at UCC in September on a sports scholarship, is very much the unsung hero of the team.
Jessica Gargan (17)
A stunning winner against Sweden in the La Manga tournament in March ensured this young midfielder retained her place in the squad. Her pace and vibrancy make her a great asset for Connell to have on the bench.
Roma McLaughlin (16)
Like Clare Shine, McLaughlin was at the U-17 World Cup four years ago. The Donegal gem is the baby of the squad and the youngest player at the finals. A classy midfielder with superb close control and an effortless style of passing, McLaughlin is bound to go on to bigger and better things as she is underage for the next three campaigns at U-19 level.
Hayley Nolan (17)
From Johnstown, Co Kildare, this gifted midfielder will be sitting her Leaving Cert next summer, but right now she is getting a unique footballing education. She almost scored in the win over England after coming on as a substitute and the Peamount United ace is bound to get even better.
Lauren Dwyer (17)
Carlow native Dwyer is a vital cog of the team because of her work both on and off the ball. An accomplished runner, she comes from a renowned athletics family. Won the League Cup earlier this season with Wexford Youths.
Megan Connolly (17)
For someone of her tender years, Connolly has already scaled the sporting heights. Before scoring the winner against Sweden with a thunderous effort, she's sacrificed her inter-county Gaelic career with Cork to pursue her ambition of becoming a professional footballer.
Clare Shine (19)
The only member of the squad with tournament experience, having featured at the U-17 World Cup four years ago, Shine makes this Ireland team tick. Top scorer with the team for many years, she had to battle back from injury to score the winner against Spain in the opener. Will be fully fit for today's semi-final against the Netherlands.
Katie McCabe (18)
Like Shine, McCabe recovered from a broken leg to take her place at the finals and has contributed hugely to their triumphs. She is the brother of Shamrock Rovers dynamo Gary, possessing similar trickery and panache in her game.
Sarah Rowe (18)
This Mayo sports all-rounder sealed Ireland's place at the finals by scoring the winner against Turkey in April. A vital element to their three-pronged attack, the senior international also has a Gaelic string to her bow as she's featured in the All-Ireland championship for her native county.
Dave Connell (52)
A League of Ireland stalwart in his playing days, featuring in the Bohemians team that beat Rangers in 1984, Connell's first managerial post was at Limerick FC. Joined the women's ranks initially as assistant to U-19 manager Sue Ronan before taking the reins fully in 2010.
His professionalism has shone throughout this campaign.