Saturday 24 February 2018

Irish determined to stay in Caribbean dreamland

Jamie Holland

THE MAJORITY of Noel King's World Cup stars are missing school to participate in Trinidad and Tobago -- so it was fitting that they ended up in the classroom yesterday ahead of tonight's quarter-final clash with Japan.

The Girls in Green paid a visit to local school St Joseph's Convent in Port of Spain and they received a rousing reception from the students -- who rushed forward looking for hugs, autographs and a few words of Irish.

Full-back Ciara O'Brien enjoyed her trip to the school.

She said: "Our liaison officer used to go to that school, so it was a great idea to visit. The feeling was amazing. They were all so happy and giddy.

"They were running up wanting to hug us, get our autographs and get photos with us.

"They mainly wanted to hear our accent and they wanted to hear a bit of Irish. So we taught them a few bits and pieces -- like 'dia dhuit'."

It's another one to stick in the memory bank -- like so many of the girls' experiences here in the Caribbean so far.

Visits to Maracas Beach and a tiny church in Tobago, where they received a blessing from the local priest ahead of the Ghana match, have also been lodged. And then there have been the on-pitch exploits; the victories against Canada and Ghana.

They all add up to an unforgettable time in the West Indies. And O'Brien is in no mood to go home just yet.

"It's been unbelievable here at the World Cup," said the Waterford native.

"It started for us last year in the first qualifying round of the Europeans in Slovenia. We never thought at that stage that we'd be playing Japan in the quarter-finals of the World Cup.

"It's like a dream. It feels like it's never going to end and hopefully, we can keep going. Words can't describe it.

"Going back to when you were a kid -- you'd be out the front playing World Cup with your friends.

"And now you are actually here and all the different teams like Korea, Japan and Brazil are here too -- it's unbelievable. To top the group was amazing. It just shows how women's football in Ireland has come on.


"I'd say it shocked most of the teams here. We knew we could do it and we've proved that we are one of the top eight teams in the world. Hopefully, we can get to the top four now."

And her manager Noel King is also eyeing a spot in the semi-finals.

"We were satisfied to reach the European finals and then to reach the World Cup. It's amazing what this group of girls have done -- it's beyond everyone's hopes and dreams and every day here is historic for us.

"When it comes to an end I don't know. I hope it isn't until September 25.

"But we have come here to learn and the girls have learned a lot about new cultures, different people and different styles of football. We are very happy with what we've done -- but try telling the girls in the dressing-room that it's going to end against Japan."

The Girls in Green have exceeded expectations by reaching the last-eight in Trinidad and Tobago -- while topping a group that contained the likes of Brazil, Canada and Ghana raised several eyebrows here in Trinidad.

King added: "I don't think anyone expected us to top the group and the pleasure we have had in doing that has been marvellous.

"Obviously, the girls are very pleased to have made the quarter-finals and it is a historic moment for Irish women's football.

"In many ways people might say it's been a success already, which it has been. But we have seen Japan play and they are a very strong team.

"Of the quarter-finalists we are probably the biggest underdogs, but hopefully we can do ourselves justice."

Ireland (probable) -- Moloney (Reading); O'Brien (Tramore), Gleeson (Tramore), Byrne (Bealnamulla), Campbell (St Francis); Gilroy (Killala), Grant (Kilmacrennan Celtic), Gorman (Salthill Devon), Killeen (Raheny United); Donnelly (Reading), O'Sullivan (Wilton United).

Rep of Ireland v Japan,

Live, Europsort, 12.0am (midnight)

Irish Independent

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