As another pivotal time for Women’s Irish Soccer approaches, I had the pleasure of talking to the woman behind the national team, Sue Ronan. She talks candidly about the all-important World Cup qualifiers, and how the sport has evolved plus that brief meeting with Martin O’Neill…
How are the team preparations for the all-important qualifiers coming along?
They’re going ok. We were at a training camp in La Manga in early January where we also played 2 training games v England and Holland, so that was very good prep for us. Are there plans to include new players for the Germany game on the 5th of April? I don’t think a game against the European Champions and World Number 2 is the game to introduce new players. Having said that, there are a number of young new players on the verge of breaking through – we’re actually bringing some of them to the Cyprus Cup with us next week. So if any of them prove they’re good enough in the games out there, they will certainly be included.
The media coverage surrounding Stephanie Roche’s wonder goal for Peamount United was remarkable. It certainly had media and audiences everywhere talking; do you think future coverage of occurrences like these will encourage avid interest in women’s football?
Yes the coverage and awareness of Stephanie’s goal was amazing and certainly helped promote awareness of our game here in Ireland. It’s unfortunate that a lot of the time with women’s sports it takes something like that or some sort of success to gain the interest in the press. But we’ll keep plugging away and hopefully our performances will merit that interest in the near future.
What has been your biggest achievement/most notable moment with the Irish team so far?
My time with the women’s team has really been one of re-building. When I took over from the previous manager, there were a lot of players coming to the end of their careers and a lot of US based players in the squad, so that’s something I’ve had to overcome and I think I’ve done that by introducing a lot of young players, many of our U17’s who wona silver medal in Europe in 2010. So that takes time and won’t give success overnight. But having said that we’ve had some good performances,for example holding Russia to a 1-1 draw at home, was a great achievement. So we’re looking for more success in the coming years.
How can the FAI as a body create a better buzz around a sport that is consistently dominated by men?
That’s a hard one to pinpoint. From ourpoint of view the FAI do a lot of work create awareness of the women’s game. We have lots of female only programmes going on at both grassroots and elite level, those programmes are definitely promoting the gamecountrywide. Also our international squads are treated exactly like the men’s squads in all respects. So hopefully one day all female sports will be treated as equal as their male counterparts are, because female athletes work just as hard and give as much time to their sport!
The FAI training schools such as FAI Aviva Soccer Sisters have provided a great incentive for participation in the sport; do you play any part in the schools?
I would have been involved along with Noel King in starting this programme in 2010 and it has been a great success. At this point I’d say around 18,000 girls have participated in Soccer Sisters, with many going on to join clubs, which is the ultimate idea of the programme – so it’s been agreat success. At this moment in time I’m not directly involved, but I do lend a hand to my colleague Emma Martin, who now coordinates them, in whatever capacity she may need.
Are there any youth team players we should watch out for in the future?
There are a lot of young players on our underage squads to look out for. But I wouldn’t like to single any out of them in particular as it may put them under pressure. I feel sure however that many of our current U16/17 & 19’s will make the women’s squad in year to come if they continue to develop asthey are doing right now.
With the addition of more foreign kids into our youth programmes could we perhaps find the next female Ronaldo or Messi?
Perhaps! There are already many young girls in Ireland with great skills, so you never know. How has the addition of the Women’s National League improved women’s football in Ireland? This has been a major factor in more of our home-based girls progressing to the national squad. In the past before we had a national league, many players who finished with the National U19 Squad disappeared off the radar so to speak. The reason being – they weren’t yet good enough for the women’s squad, but would no elite competition for them to play in, they weren’t challenged so didn’t develop as they could have done. So that gap has now been ‘bridged’, which is great and I’m looking forward to it going from strength to strength!
You played for the Irish National team in the 90’s, how do you think the sport has come along since then in terms of recognition and competition?
I don’t think there’s any comparison between when I played and now. For a start the structure here in Ireland has improved so much since then, that there are now opportunities for everybody regardless of their age or ability, so that’s obviously a huge positive. Also in terms of recognition, even though it can still improve, it’s now mostly taken forgranted by everybody that girls play football as well as boys, which wasn’t the case when I was growing up, so that obviously helps!
Who would be your sporting idol and why?
In football terms, as I’m a big Arsenal fan Denis Bergkamp & Thierry Henry were my idols! But nowadays while I don’t have any idols, I really admire other successful female athletes at home and abroad, teams and individuals. Our own stars like Katie Taylor and the Women’s Rugby Team have achieved great things and while Katie has got a lot of publicity since the Olympics, I still don’t think she or any of the others get credit for all the time, dedication and effort they put into their sport to be successful, which is a real pity.
Had your male counterpart Martin O’Neill any words of wisdom to offer when you met recently?
It was just a brief chat with all the other managers when he came into the job first, so not a one to one meeting as such. But he was very chatty and said to us all that his door is always open, so that was nice to hear.
Congrats on your UEFA Pro licence achievement; what does it mean for you personally and the sport?
Congratulations are a little premature as I’ve only just started it, so I won’t finish it and hopefully graduate until 2015. It’s been a great start so far – we were together this past week for 3 days and I found it very interesting and informative, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the course. But I think to finally have females onthe Pro Licence in Ireland shows how far women’s football has come and I think having that qualification will certainly give both Eileen Gleeson and I real credibility in the game going forward.