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‘I just thought Shamrock Rovers was the best decision’ – Teen Lia O’Leary has no regrets leaving Shelbourne


Lia O'Leary in action for Shamrock Rovers during last week's clash with Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Lia O'Leary in action for Shamrock Rovers during last week's clash with Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Lia O'Leary in action for Shamrock Rovers during last week's clash with Sligo Rovers at The Showgrounds. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Shamrock Rovers midfielder Lia O’Leary admits leaving Shelbourne last December was the best decision for her to reach the next level in her blossoming career.

The Ireland U-19 cap was one of several former Reds who opted to cross the Liffey over the winter and join Rovers, who are back in the Women’s Premier Division this season after a nine-year absence.

The Dublin 24 outfit have added a host of Ireland internationals and academy graduates to their new side, with the majority on semi-professional contracts.

The 16-year-old is grateful to the Reds, where she won a league and cup double last term but says the move to Tallaght was one she couldn’t turn down.

“At the end of last season, I had a decision to make, and I felt like Rovers was the best decision for me at the time,” O’Leary told Independent.ie.

“I came up through the academy at Shelbourne and broke through to the senior side last season. I am very grateful for all the opportunities they gave me and how they helped me develop as a young player.

"To play and improve as much as I can, I just thought Rovers was the best decision for me. The standards were a factor. I’ve really enjoyed it since I have been here.

“Having some of the girls from Shelbourne with me is great,” added O’Leary, as former Reds Abbie Larkin and Jess Gargan were among those to leave Tolka Park for the Hoops in the off-season.

“All the girls on the team are so lovely, it’s a great group to be around,” said O’Leary.

“Playing with Áine (O’Gorman) and Stephanie (Roche) is mad. They are class players and lovely girls. Having that experience in the squad along with the young players is a great mix.”

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Collie O’Neill’s side began the campaign in dramatic fashion last weekend, as an injury-time O’Gorman header secured a 2-1 win at Sligo Rovers. O’Leary assisted the Ireland forward with a fine cross at the Showgrounds and was pleased to begin 2023 with three points.

“It was a great feeling to get our first three points and hopefully we can get another win on Saturday,” said the Kinsealy native, ahead of Rovers’ first home game against Treaty (5.30).

“It’s going to take us a while to gel, but we’re taking it game by game. The assist was a great feeling. I want to help the team as much as I can. There’s a great atmosphere around the club and standards are really good. It brings out the most from every player.

“Tallaght Stadium is the home of women’s football, so playing our home games there is amazing. It’s a great pitch, a great stadium, and hopefully, there will be a big crowd there to support us.”

While the midfielder is focused on making her mark in the green and white, she also has more international recognition in her sights. The former Portmarnock AFC player has earned caps at U-16 and U-17 levels and also featured for the U-19s in last month’s 2-1 win over England.

“It’s an honour to represent your country,” added O’Leary.

“Each camp is such a great experience, you learn so much from each one. The players, managers and staff I have had at each age level always support you to try (to) get the best out of you. My school are very supportive, too. All my teachers try to help me out as much as possible, so I can catch up when I’m away on camps. I would love to be a sports psychologist.

“It’s great to train with the likes of Áine, Stephanie and Abbie at Rovers. My goal is to be a senior international one day. I just have to keep working hard and improving to get there.”

While Vera Pauw’s side continues preparations for this summer’s maiden World Cup, O’Leary expects their participation to have a massive impact on women’s football in Ireland and hopes it’s only the start.

“It’s amazing what they have done. They’ve really shown that women’s football is growing so much in Ireland. Hopefully, us qualifying for the World Cup now can help the grassroots and clubs around the country improve and get more girls into football.

“The league has grown too and the crowds coming to matches are just getting bigger and bigger each year. Hopefully, it’s the first of many major tournaments.

O’Leary’s immediate focus will be three points against Treaty United this evening, but her long-term goal is breaking into the national side.

She has some more hoops to jump through first but is determined to make it.

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