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Tuesday 16 September 2014

O'Connell keeps her cool as European glory beckons

John Fallon

Published 23/07/2014 | 02:30

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Ireland's Ciara O'Connell relaxes at the team hotel in Lillestrøm ahead of their UEFA European Women's U19 Championship semi-final against Netherlands on Thursday. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE
Ireland's Ciara O'Connell relaxes at the team hotel in Lillestrøm ahead of their UEFA European Women's U19 Championship semi-final against Netherlands on Thursday. Picture credit: Stephen McCarthy / SPORTSFILE

Although the exploits of Ireland's U-19 women's team in Norway have hit the headlines back home, defender Ciara O'Connell knows they must temper the euphoria.

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O'Connell and her team-mates have gone where no Irish team has gone before by qualifying for the semi-finals of the European Championships in which they will meet the Netherlands tomorrow. And they've done so emphatically, polishing off three superpowers of the game along the journey.

Those wins in the past week over Spain, England and Sweden have announced the 18 teenagers to the European stage – as well as to their compatriots.

Social media understandably erupted, especially after they beat the Auld Enemy and, while O'Connell appreciates the patriotism supporting their quest to make history, clear blue water must exist between the hype and reality.

"You can easily get caught up in social media, but we've tried to take a break from Twitter and Facebook while we've been here," said one of Cork's six players in the squad.

"We're confident of reaching the final, but we don't want to be big-headed about it. What we've achieved has been brilliant for raising the profile of women's football in Ireland, because, even after we qualified in April, there was hardly a scratch about it.

"Of course, we know that people are rooting for us and, if we keep playing as we've done so far, I think we'll be fine."

As group victors, Ireland now face the runners-up from Group A and they know all about them.

The Dutch squeezed Ireland out for direct qualification into these finals on goal difference at the elite phase, requiring Dave Connell's side to claim the sole best second-placed berth on offer for the Nordic showpiece.

Though the nations couldn't be separated last time out, Wilton United's O'Connell saw enough of the Dutch to realise that they're beatable.

"We'll know what to expect from them and won't be worried," she said. "Even since that scoreless draw, our team has improved as an attacking unit, while we're still defensively strong."

Looking beyond the semi-final at the Mjondalen Stadium is not the style of this focused Ireland squad. Still, their pre-tournament confidence, backed up by the only unblemished record at the tournament, means the objective of featuring in Sunday's final at the 40,000-capacity national stadium hasn't changed.

O'Connell said: "To become European champions would be unbelievable. Because the schedule is so hectic – with just two days between the games – there's not been too much time to think that way.

"But we've come to Norway with the intention of going far in the tournament and the results have shown we're well able to do that."

In team news, Clare Shine should be able to play a full 90 minutes after recovering from the neck injury that restricted her to a substitute's role in the win against Sweden.

Irish Independent

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