Girls in Green captain brings class as sport she loves is tarred by North American storm
Megan Connolly carries the following words on a tattoo on her right arm. “Everything happens for a reason.”
It has braced the Brighton star for most obstacles in a sportsperson’s life thus far. Injury. Lack of form. Bad luck. But hardly the storm that now engulfs her sport.
Except many remain unable to grapple for explanations after this month’s sex abuse allegations that have rocked North America and reverberated around the world.
They have struck close to home, too, given that two of Connolly’s Irish colleagues, Denise O’Sullivan and Diane Caldwell, are North Carolina Courage team-mates of the two players who so bravely went public with the shocking revelations that have seen a coach sacked in disgrace and a league boss resign.
“It’s not something you want to see,” says Connolly. “When it all came out in the public from the article, it was the first I’d seen or heard of it.
“You see the women’s game is progressing yet you still have stuff like this happening and it’s unacceptable.”
To Connolly, it is the bravery of Sinéad Farrelly and Mana Shim which stands out to her; “They’re trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else, to step out and talk about it, trying to initiate change and make the difference.
“The biggest thing is making the future better for everyone coming.”
Connolly acknowledges she is fortunate not to have encountered anything negative during her career; as are her squad colleagues, led by Arsenal captain Katie McCabe.
But as with any trauma, the Irish women will need to step gently into this week of on-field combat, preparing to engage with each other, specifically Caldwell and O’Sullivan.
And yet, as the Women’s Super League have done, they will also be keen to show some sense of solidarity.
“Ever since the allegations have come out I think they have shocked the world,” says McCabe.
“It really is terrible to see but I think what is most admirable now is the solidarity that is shown within the women’s game, from players and staff and organisations.
“Arsenal have shown us fantastic support since this happened. And then coming in to the Ireland camp, the support has been here too.
“We haven’t got our whole squad in yet but it is a conversation, for sure, to be had.
“It is quite raw given we have two current players that have been coached under the accused, so obviously it is one to be cautious about because of how raw things are still, but one we need to do in the correct manner.
“We will be touching upon it as a collective.”
English football has suffered from its own bullying issues, perhaps not as egregious as those unearthed Stateside but there have been still calls to strengthen safeguards there as the sport reels from ongoing revelations.
From Australia to Gabon to Venezuela, abuse has been reported around the globe and there will be many, many more victims’ voices demanding to be heard.
Former Ireland international Ciara McCormack was a whistle-blower who uncovered similar issues in Canada two years ago; others, emboldened by the courage of the Courage duo, will follow.
Ireland, perhaps, may have to brace itself too. A culture of fear once existed here until the squad collectively challenged a gaslighting command structure. Now, McCabe is thankful that her squad is, as she positively avers, a safe haven.
“Of course we have fantastic support around us, whether that is with our staff, our doctors, we have people that we can talk to.
“There are different organisations with different things. If you look at the WSL there is the PFA, we got safeguarding at our clubs.
“I think it is about making sure players know they have somewhere to go if they need to talk. Maybe obviously it’s not something that has happened to themselves but the conversation topic might affect them.
“It’s about people knowing they have the right information and if they need to talk.”
McCabe, such an impressive leader, will also play a central role in her side’s quest to qualify, finally, for a major tournament, beginning with Thursday’s Tallaght sell-out against a crack Swedish side.
The Kilnamanagh star’s status at current WSL leaders Arsenal, and her accelerating library of sensational strikes, has been acknowledged with a nomination for league player of the month.
She remains content featuring as a left-sided wing-back, or orthodox full-back, with both club and country, but her ball-playing prowess and class have often prompted speculation that, for Ireland at least, she might be better involved in a more central role.
“They want you to tell them how great I am,” she laughs when her role is discussed; Pauw consents, in moderation.
“Everybody can see the importance of Katie in this squad, on and off the pitch.
“She’s my first link as captain. She has a very difficult position, we will discuss it this week,” said Pauw.
“It’s difficult for her to be switching focus from team to team, especially when she feels she can do much more for us in an attacking, scoring role and we want that too.
“But we have to be conscious that we are playing the second best team in the world, we may need to compromise. She is serving many more world-class players at Arsenal, we have world-class players here too but it’s not always possible to do it all.”
In a challenging week on many fronts, McCabe will come close.