Continental Tyres Women's National League, General football, Ireland, Women's football

Noelle Murray: “I was highly praised, he’s the play-maker”

The name Noelle is derived from a Latin word, meaning, “birthday (of the Lord)”. So it’s no surprise then to learn that Noelle Murray was born on Christmas Day. Statistically, aside from 29 February, it is considered out of the ordinary to be born on Christmas Day. However, there has been nothing ordinary about Murray’s talent or her displays in helping Shelbourne to the double last season. What’s seldom is wonderful.

Murray’s high performance levels in the red of Shelbourne have been wonderful and anything but seldom. From slotting home from the penalty spot in balmy August – scoring Shels’ first home goal of the season – to stylishly lobbing-in [view goal] the league-clincher against near-rivals UCD Waves on a freezing late-November night. It has been an unforgettable season for the three-time league and five-time FAI Cup winner.

Departure

Murray won’t compete in the Women’s National League next season for the first time since its’ inception, having signed for Glasgow City last week. In a thoroughly deserved move to full-time football, the Dubliner bucks the recent trend that has seen, mainly youngsters move away. Indeed, Savannah McCarthy, Katie McCabe and Jamie Finn – who have recently departed these shores for greener pastures and the lure of professional football – have all done so prior to their 21st birthdays. Murray leaves at 27.

Number One Award

She delayed her departure for Scotland’s vibrant second city, to attend last week’s Continental Tyre’s Women’s National League Awards 2016 in the Guinness Storehouse, where she was nominated for Player of the Year. “I meant to go already, but I delayed it a bit for the awards. I’m just dying to get over now and see what it has in store for me and get to know the girls. I’m dying to get over and just get going now.”
This award clearly meant a lot to her to win and you could see why. It was decided by popular ballot among her peers. There was stiff competition too. Teen goal-scoring sensation and cup final hat-trick hero, Leanne Kiernan and Karen Duggan – whose awards-laden sideboard must be creaking under the strain of innumerable gongs – completed the nominees. Murray’s name was deservedly pulled out of the envelop and she was named Continental Tyres Women’s National League Player of the Year for the truncated 2016 season.

Putting it into perspective, Murray says, “It’s definitely my number one award to date, especially because all of the girls in the other teams voted. It’s a privilege to know that all of the girls are giving you the vote, as they only get to vote for one person and it’s nice to know that they are giving you their vote to win it. We had a great season. You can never do something without your teammates.”

Character

The award comes off the back of a scintillating season with Shelbourne. They completed the league and FAI Cup double – wrestling both trophies back from arch-rivals Wexford Youths, who lorded it over them the previous year. She admits with satisfaction, “doing the double, I think after winning the league and then losing it and then to fight back, it was just brilliant”. Indeed, in the controversial 2015 FAI Cup final shootout, Murray stepped up first and missed, handing the opening initiative to Wexford Youths. Then against the same opposition in the 2016 decider, she missed again, this time in regulation time. However, showing the character that no doubt persuaded Glasgow, she recovered to hook-in the opening goal of the game. She then proceeded to dictate the remainder of the game, providing a platform for her red-hot team-mates to savage a poor Wexford side. Something perhaps Glasgow wouldn’t get from an inexperienced pre-21 youngster? Murray admits the miss gave her, “a kick up the butt to get me going into the final”.

The Play-maker

This central role and mature range of passing in the 2016 cup final caught the eye of ex-Bray Wanderers and Shamrock Rovers manager, Trevor Croly, who was applying the co-commentary analysis for the live televised game. The clearly impressed, Croly drew comparisons of Murray’s display with that of Ireland midfield play-maker, Wes Hoolahan – such was the level of her performance. High praise indeed.

Murray on the comparison, “It was recorded at home and I watched it back afterwards. I was highly praised on the commentary which I was delighted to hear, to be named along with Wes Hoolahan – he’s the play-maker.” Her deeper role on the day allowed her to dictate the play, utilising the pace of Siobhan Killeen, the direct running of Leanne Kiernan and the power of Gloria Douglas to exploit every inch of the vast open spaces of the Lansdowne Road pitch. She admits, “I definitely think I prefer to play in the ten now – just behind the forward – I feel I’m more involved in the game. I feel like I can drop back and help what’s going on behind and then help what’s in front of me as well”.

Future

Put to her that her departure and that of other high-profile names will leave the Women’s National League a poorer place, she instantly replied. “No there’s quality all over the league in fairness. There’s still quality here. The younger ones who are coming up are going to bring it on. It’s going to change over the years, but it’s just going to get better and better, I can see it.”

When speaking about the future direction of the women’s game in Ireland, Murray is confident of a rise in standards and increased professionalism – which is making progress in all areas but the pay packet, or lack thereof. She explains, “People put the effort in, the time and effort people give to football teams is unbelievable, so to get something back out of it is always nice at the end of it.”
She now embarks on her Scottish journey and her first professional contract, earned through effort, hard-work, ability and experience. What’s seldom is wonderful.

Andy Donlan

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Continental Tyres Women's National League, General football, Women's football

Waves sail home

UCD Waves 4-1 Cork City Women’s FC (Nolan 5’, 28’, O’Gorman 23’, Berrill 70’; Desmond 63’)

After enduring 126 days of frustration, the players of UCD Waves finally crossed the white-wash for a league fixture at their home base of Jackson Park – their first of the season. Even more incredibly, it’s almost 10 months since they hosted Peamount United in a home league game at the tail-end of the 2014/15 season. On this occasion they took their frustration out on a hard-working Cork City side, who had no match for Waves’ midfield creativity or guile going forward.

Waves, and indeed the others in the Continental Tyres Women’s National League must face-up to a fixtures backlog, with time running out to complete the 2015/16 league campaign. Their manager, Eileen Gleeson, speaking in the aftermath of their 4-1 victory over Cork City spoke of the difficulties that lie ahead. “The back fixtures will definitely affect us. There’ll be three games per week, which will be hard to sustain for the girls.” She also seemed to pour cold water over the possibility of extending the league season, were it an option. “I wouldn’t think they’ll extend the league, as we have a lot of students with exams, so we can’t afford to extend it because we wouldn’t have the players available. I think it will be tough for everyone. People will have back matches, teams will be travelling mid-week, will they have players available? I think it will change the landscape of the league.” She is adamant though, that following the lead of the men’s game in Ireland is the only logical step for this fledgling league. “I think that’s what’s coming (a switch to summer football). You couldn’t go through another season like this – three months without a game. It’s nobody’s fault but I think a switch would be positive.”

In the match, midfielder Orlagh Nolan helped herself to a brace inside 28 minutes to put this game to bed early. Her first after 5 minutes, was a well-taken effort from a left wing cross, with the second arriving just before the 30 minute mark, aided by a deflection. Sandwiched in between those goals was a typically tidy lob from skipper Áine O’Gorman, as UCD played into the wind in the first half. O’Gorman might have made it four before the break, but she shanked Chloe Mustaki’s cross over the bar when well-placed. Cork City found it hard to live with the incisive passing of Julie Ann Russell, Caroline Thorpe and Jetta Berrill – the latter linking up well with the former in constant raids down the right flank.

Cork briefly rallied in the second half, pulling a goal back through Ciara Desmond, when her rasping shot dropped under the bar and over the line at the back post via Monika McGuirk’s gloves. That goal failed to take the wind out of Waves’ sails though, as a superb Thorpe pass laid-on a fourth for the home side. The Cork City management team – headed up by Frank Kelleher for the first time – must have been pulling their collective hair out. A mix-up in defence following Thorpe’s pass allowed Jetta Berrill to steal in between goalkeeper and defenders, to coolly slot the ball into the bottom corner for 4-1. Berrill then stung the palms of the over-worked Trish Fennelly on 71, while the Cork stopper kept out Thorpe at the near post on 80, before further denying O’Gorman with a smart stop with her foot in injury time.

UCD will need to tighten-up at the back ahead of next weekend’s visit of Wexford Youths in the League Cup, as they coughed up a few second half chances to Cork – who look a distance off their opponents. They’ll want to avoid a repeat of their league defeat in Wexford earlier this month, where they shipped four goals, Gleeson admitted, “Four mistakes lead to four goals”.

UCD Waves: McGuirk; Berrill; Cahill; Hackett; Prior; Mustaki; Nolan; Thorpe; Cronin; Russell; O’Gorman.
Subs not used: 2 (unknown).

Cork City Womens FC: Fennelly; O’Donovan; Murphy; O’Brien; Duncliffe; Kelleher; Carroll (69’ Hurley); B.O’Connell (59’ Carry); Desmond; Daly; R.O’Connell.
Subs not used: O’Reilly; McNamara; McCarthy.

Attendance: 30 (estimate)

Andy Donlan

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Ireland in the Mini World Cup in Brazil, 1972
Brazilian Independence Cup 1972, General football, Ireland, Minicopa, Republic of Ireland football team

Ireland in the 1972 Mini World Cup

“It was an unbelievable experience”, describes Turlough O’Connor.

It might be stretching it slightly to say that Ireland’s maiden World Cup victory actually came 18 years before that shoot-out victory against Romania at Italia ’90. But in the summer of 1972 the Republic of Ireland contested the Minicopa (or Mini World Cup/Brazilian Independence Cup) in Brazil. Organisers secured over one quarter of the teams who competed in the previous World Cup for this tournament, which marked 150 years of Brazilian Independence from Portugal. Striker Turlough O’Connor was in between a move from Dundalk back to Bohemians – who he had made his name with previously, earning his cross channel move to Fulham – when he was paid a visit by then Ireland boss, Liam Tuohy.

Call-up
“I’ll never forget the call-up. I came around the corner at home and my daughter, Niamh – only 2 at the time – had walked around from our home in Ardmore Drive and there sitting on the wall with my wife was Liam Tuohy. He asked, ‘How would you be fixed to come to Brazil?’ But it was for 3 weeks. Suddenly I was working around in my head whether I’ll be able to get time off work or not.” He’d secure the time off work to join the likes of: Ray Treacy; Joe Kinnear; Alan Kelly; Mick Leech; Don Givens and Paddy Mulligan, in a strong but small Irish squad on the plane to Brazil.
Ireland got their campaign off to a flier in Recife – where they’d play 3 of their 4 games – defeating Asian representatives, Iran, 2-1. Although it could have been a disastrous start for Ireland before a ball was even kicked. The pre-match national anthems were shelved just before kick-off, when it was discovered the music the band were intending to play was that of, God Save the Queen. Bloody Sunday had occurred in Derry that January.

Hope
Next it was onto Natal – a coastal city – which sits just over 600 km south of the equator – for the mid-June clash with Ecuador. O’Connor describes a bleak scene in the northern city. “In ’72 in Brazil in that northern area, the hardship and the poverty was unreal, it was like nothing I had ever seen or experienced before. It was difficult to see. In Natal they had this ship of hope – it was an American ship with doctors and nurses that went in to help the people. It’s amazing to think that when we talk about ’72 in Brazil and you see this happening in Europe now at this time, it’s frightening that it could happen 40 years later.” The ship, the SS Hope, was a re-fitted US Navy ship whose mission was, “No pill and band-aid handout”, instead leaving a legacy of medical knowledge and training.
In the game Ireland came from 2-1 down to defeat the acclimatised South Americans and it was O’Connor who lobbed in the winner with 6 minutes remaining. Ireland managed to win 3-2, even with the second half sending off of Don Givens. The stadium where the match was played will forever be remembered in World Cup folklore, as the re-built version of that arena was that of Suárez bite fame from last summer’s World Cup.

Seeing red
The squad journeyed back south to Recife for the third match against Chile, which was to be O’Connor’s last game of the tournament. The striker received a straight red card for slamming into a Chilean opponent, showing his frustration after he adamantly claims Ireland should have been awarded a penalty. Even now, over 40 years on, there’s animation in the Athlone man’s voice when he speaks of the incident. He didn’t go quietly at the time either, as a match report in the Irish Times describes. Whilst making his way towards the dressing rooms, “On the way, O’Connor tore off his shirt and waved it at the jeering crowd”. Ireland had succumbed to their first defeat of the tournament, 2-1. That red card meant that O’Connor would sit out the final group fixture against Portugal, although Ireland were effectively out – needing to win by a considerable margin against the group favourites.

Unlucky
“Portugal would have been one of the favourites at the time, especially with the squad of players that they had”, explained O’Connor. Mick Leech scored for Ireland in what O’Connor describes as a disappointing 2-1 defeat [view goals]. “We played very well against Portugal and were very unlucky not to get a result. I was really looking forward to that one. I would have loved to play against Portugal and Eusébio too.”
Portugal went on to win the group and qualify for the 8-team elite phase. Then after seeing off: Argentina; Uruguay and Soviet Union, they rather ironically qualified for the Brazilian Independence Cup final against hosts, Brazil. Before a baying audience of over ninety-nine thousand, Brazil defeated their once colonial masters, 1-0 at the Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro. Jairzinho’s 89th minute deftly flicked header sealed an emotional triumph for Brazil, as 150 years on, Portugal were once again sent back across the Atlantic empty handed.
O’Connor went on to a distinguished club career as a player and a manager, although he only picked up a handful more Irish caps.

Film stars
Sipping on his tea and nibbling on a digestive, O’Connor reflects on the tournament as a special time. “There was a great atmosphere in the country (Brazil) for football. One thing, because you were representing a country, immediately they were in awe of you and they treated you like film stars more than footballers. That was one of the first times that I ever experienced that”.

For the love of it
The Julies Rimet trophy may not have been on offer for this tournament, but for O’Connor international football was about more than trophies and medals. “Today’s world when you think about some of the guys who have no enthusiasm to play for their country. It saddens me. With the finance and the money, it seems to have taken preference over the pride of actually playing for your country. You are going on a tour of Brazil for three weeks and playing for your country, money didn’t come into it at all. Being picked and presenting your country was far more important than money”.
Today, international cry-offs have become all too common place, as the modern footballer makes vast sums of money and views the evasion of international football as a means to extend their club careers, in a bid to prolong their earning power. However it is O’Connor who will re-call rich memories of pulling on the green jersey in the summer of ’72, when an international cap was priceless.

Andy Donlan

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Europa League, General football

Northern Lights Dazzle Europe

A team more noted for their goal celebrations erupted onto the European stage in July with a series of eye catching Europa League performances. Tiny Stjarnan F.C. of Garðabær town in the Reykjavík capital area of Iceland are making waves in the early stages of the Europa League. They reeled in Bangor City, Motherwell and Polish runners’ up, Lech Poznan before landing the catch of the day: Inter Milan.
Having brushed aside Bangor City 8-0 on aggregate with relative ease, an impressive first leg away draw (from 2-0 down) and extra time home victory accounted for Scottish side Motherwell, while Lech Poznan were defeated without even the concession of a goal (1-0 on aggregate). Having now reached the last qualifying round before the group stages, Stjarnan must now overcome a home leg deficit (0-3) to advance past the mighty Inter Milan. It’s a tall order, underscored by the fact that Inter have won the competition three times and that the entire population belonging to the where the Icelanders play, would squeeze into Inter’s home – the San Siro – nearly six times over.
Improvement
This is Iceland’s joint best performance – along with 2013 – in a European season since UEFA expanded the number of participants five years ago, allowing the mid-to-low ranking countries – such as Iceland and Ireland – four instead of three teams into the Champions League and Europa League. Performance is measured by a co-efficient ranking system based upon a five year average of points allocated by UEFA – 0.5 points for a draw, 1 point for a win and double that should progression beyond the qualifiers be achieved. Iceland are currently ranked 35th out of 54 in UEFA’s co-efficient ranking system, five clear of Ireland, with a sizable gulf in between.
The Icelandic national team is profiting too. A rise of 85 places in the last two years to number 46 in the FIFA World Rankings (20 places ahead of Ireland) had propelled Iceland to a World Cup play-off with Croatia. However, they failed in their attempt to qualify, losing 2-0 on aggregate. That begs the question, why Iceland are achieving their current levels of success?
Government investment
One man who knows about football in Iceland is Skerries native and current Bohemians player, Steven Beattie. Beattie (26) spent two seasons playing in the Icelandic second tier with Tindastóll, arriving from America via Puerto Rico. He believes there are a myriad of reasons for their current success, the first unsurprisingly being investment. “The economy is thriving right now and they’re pumping that back into sport, which was first on the list apparently (following the country’s economic collapse). The big thing that I noticed over there is that you could be driving through the smallest town you’ve ever seen and there’d always be a 5-a-side astro turf pitch that the Government put in and a full-sized football pitch. The town may only have 800 people in it, but they still had the facility. The kids would play there ‘til all hours. You’d be driving home from games at 1am, it would still be bright and there’d be kids still out there kicking a football.” Those pitches – and the type he played on each week – were singled out by Beattie for special praise, “It was like playing on a snooker table week-in, week-out, whereas over here you kind of don’t know what to expect. I think that also helps them, you get a good surface, you want to play football and a lot of teams always had that attitude, so the standard improvement is not a surprise.”
Fishing for success
Beattie also adds that the fishing industry plays a large role, “The fishing industry is a major sponsor there and the main source of income for a lot of the teams. Fishing is a multi-million euro industry and the vast majority of the teams would be sponsored by the big local fishing companies”. Beattie, although at a second tier side was well looked after during his time in Iceland – taking a substantial drop in wages to join Bohemians. He states, “I was in a town called Tindastóll and the population was only about 2,500, but there was a massive fishing port from which they put money into the team, which allowed them to bring over foreigners and pay for a decent coach”.
Coaching
Having the infrastructure and backing in place would prove futile without a competent skipper to steer the ship. Beattie acknowledges that as well as the foreign imports – attracted through sizeable salaries – the highly trained coaches also aid the country’s footballing development. “My coach was quite young, but quite experienced, he had his UEFA pro licence (Europe’s top coaching qualification) by the time he was 30. He’s only 32 now but he was able to communicate in both Icelandic and English, he was a great man-manager and the sessions he put on were second to none.”
Different light
The lack of government investment in facilities, the absence – in the main – of financial support and the hand-to-mouth existence of Irish clubs no doubt explains why only a handful are full-time and only one team pays their players 52 weeks of the year. With the resources available and the fact that the top tier and half of the second tier in Iceland are full-time, it’s no wonder football in the country is prospering.
“I think people don’t really know very much about Icelandic football and I didn’t know much about it before I went over. I thought I’d go over there, do very well and stand out in every game, but that wasn’t the case.” An honest opinion that probably tallies with the wider football communities’ opinion of football in the country. Finally, the energetic Beattie muses, “Playing there definitely improved my game though”.

Maybe the sight of Stjarnan taking to the field at the colossal San Siro Stadium against European heavy-weights tonight, may make people sit up and take notice of the Icelandic game. Either way, expect to see the Northern Lights shine brightly for many years to come.

Andy Donlan

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