You can see the smiles and hear the laughter and chatting a mile off. Republic of Ireland are clearly the most relaxed team ahead of the big kick-off for Trinidad and Tobago 2010, having turned the form book on its head by getting through to the final of the UEFA Women's Under-17 Championship and booking their ticket for the Caribbean in the process.
A day before their opening match against Brazil, on Monday 6 September at the Larry Gomes Stadium, the team and their coach Noel King agreed to share some of their good humour with FIFA.com. "It’s a real honour to be playing in this tournament,” says team captain Dora Gorman. “We’re so excited about finally getting under way, particularly since we’ve been working up to it for what seems like ages now.”
The girls may be relaxed, but they certainly took their preparation for this FIFA competition seriously, including friendlies in England and the United States. “I am proud,” says King. “Proud of what these girls have achieved. Proud to have the opportunity to represent our country at this World Cup. And I can guarantee that we will give a good account of ourselves.”
King will be able to count on a backline which let in a mere three goals in the eight matches it took for the team in green to secure qualification, but defensive stability was not their only attribute. They found the back of the net themselves on no fewer than 16 occasions, Denise O’Sullivan bagging four of those, but King is more interested in "their ability to surprise people, by playing as a unit and thanks to their unparalleled team spirit."
Long road to the top
They needed to be at their very best to defeat European powerhouses and two-time continental champions Germany in the UEFA semi-final, Megan Campbell scoring the only goal of the encounter. They almost went all the way, but Spain edged home in the tightest of finals, winning 4-1 on penalties after the match ended goalless.
"Our win over Germany, which meant qualification for Trinidad and Tobago 2010, changed things for us a little bit. It’s given us a different status," says Gorman, though coach King is quick to underline that they are still among the outsiders. "We know who we are, who know where we’ve come from and there is no way that we are among the favourites at this tournament."
King sees Korea DPR, Korea Republic, Brazil, Canada, Germany and Spain as the ones to beat. "There are too many good teams here – but that is what the tournament is all about! And the great thing for us is that we’re part of it. We’re here to enjoy ourselves, regardless of the results.” The coach also knows better than anyone that the road to the top is a long one. Having been given the coaching reins for the women’s full international team in 2000, he has worked unstintingly on developing women’s football in Ireland ever since.
"The way women’s football has come on in the Republic of Ireland, as illustrated by our qualification for the U-17s in Trinidad and Tobago, is the result of a great deal of effort put in by our federation, a number of years of hard work and significant investments of resources, both financial and human," concluded King, who will be leaving women’s football after the tournament to take over the men’s U-21 side, giving yet another team the benefit of his skill, experience and above all good humour.