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Gaelic heart still beating strong for Irish soccer star Noonan


Republic of Ireland international Saoirse Noonan. Photo: Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland international Saoirse Noonan. Photo: Sportsfile

Republic of Ireland international Saoirse Noonan. Photo: Sportsfile

The only possible downside to the historic senior international debut for Chiedozie Ogb ene in Hungary in midweek is the regret, by some in Munster, that he’s not lining out in the red shirt of the Cork Gaelic footballers. 

Players of multiple talents often find it hard to make that call, to close the door on one sport and focus on another, even when a professional career offers benefits like that cap for ex-Nemo Rangers man Ogbene.

Saoirse Noonan is a childhood friend of ‘Edozie’ from Cork, when the GAA was his forte. “His name’s Chiedozie, but friends and family, we call him Edozie,” says Shelbourne star Noonan.

“I grew up with him, in my estate I used to play on the same Gaelic football team as him as my dad was the coach, we grew up close and I’d slag him that I’d beat him in the goal the odd time.

"I am delighted for him. I don’t think he could explain how happy he is, that’s something he always wanted to do and now he’s done it, it gave me a boost that I can hopefully go and do it.”

She will be keen to find out how her former team-mates in the Cork ladies side fare in tomorrow’s National League Division One semi-final against Donegal, but her focus today is very much in Iceland, where she’s part of Vera Pauw’s squad which takes on Iceland twice over the next five days, today and Tuesday to warm up for the start of the next qualifying campaign.

Noonan has made two significant calls in her career in the last while, leaving Cork City to move to Shelbourne and also that call to turn her back on GAA (for now) and focus on soccer.

“It was difficult, but when you have a goal in your mind and are driven to achieve that, you will sacrifice anything, I was lucky in a way in that the GAA wasn’t back, I was training away in soccer so that made it easier and getting the call-up makes it worthwhile,” she said ahead of that first test with an Iceland side ranked 17 places ahead of Ireland.

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“I have only just left the GAA, for now it’s a focus on the soccer, my focus is to break into Vera’s team. I want to enjoy the moment, soak it all in and be involved in games this week and future camps. GAA will always have a place in my heart but right now it’s all about Shelbourne and the Irish team.”

At a time when some coaching gurus in this country, who don’t always understand the Irish sporting culture, want young players to focus on just one sport, Noonan feels that her own, and Ogbene’s, soccer career benefited from spells in GAA and she pleads for the door to be kept open.

“I think at a young age you don’t know where your potential is at and you need to get a feel for all sports. I would definitely say basketball helped my eye coordination, Gaelic football helped me with my quick sprints.

"I really believe that, without playing all those sports, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I think Edozie could say the same,” she says.

“I definitely think it’s important for every child to get involved in all sports, then get the option as you get older to pick which one you want to excel at. Edozie has done it, now I’ve done it and I think we’re doing well so far and it’s standing to us as well.”

After back-to-back defeats in friendlies in April, the Iceland double-header is the last chance for Noonan and her team-mates to work on things before the World Cup qualifiers kick off with Georgia’s visit to Dublin in September.

“The World Cup is where every player want to be, the girls are unlucky not to be in the Euros this year.

"I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason, that will give them the courage and commitment to go on to the World Cup, we are all ready for it, we will treat these games like qualifiers, two big games for us before September,” Noonan said.

Women's senior friendly: Iceland v Republic of Ireland

Live, RTE Player/RTE News, 6.0, Laugardalsvollur
Referee: Rebecca Welch (England)
Attendance: 1,800 fans admitted
Verdict: 1-1 draw

Head to head: played 5, Iceland won 2, 3 draws
FIFA world rankings: Iceland 17th, Ireland 34th

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