Fourteen years ago, at just the age of 16-years old, Aine O’Gorman was drafted into the star-studded Ireland squad by Head Coach Noel King. Since her debut, O’Gorman has donned the green jersey over one hundred times and has seen women’s football in Ireland go through drastic changes.
Football became a passion at the tender age of six. As an inquisitive young girl with big dreams, O’Gorman followed her brother down to watch his training sessions. It was there where she got her first ‘call-up’.
“I started out when I went down to training in the Bog Meadow in Enniskerry with my brother,” O’Gorman said gleefully.
“I was always watching the training sessions attentively when I was six. The manager, Ger Barton, would ask me if I wanted to join in at the game at the end of the sessions.
“That’s when I first found my love for the game and it’s something I loved ever since as well. I used to follow my brother down to training and he never gave out to me anyway, so I used to just stand on the side-line waiting for the call-up.”
Growing up, O’Gorman played with a boys’ team and was never phased by her opposition. At times, she was verbally targeted by some of her opponents for being a girl but learned to use it as a motivator. Playing in the back garden with her brother is an important factor which she highlights as being the making of her.
“Playing in the garden at home, he’d never go easy on me. He would treat me like anyone else and sometimes even harder. If I got around him I knew I was in for a tough tackle.”
Opportunities and initiatives for girls in football have come a long way. Aviva Ambassador, Aine O’Gorman launched the Aviva Soccer Sisters Mid-Term Virtual Skills Hub, which is designed for girls to take part in during the upcoming October mid-term. Initiatives like these play a big factor in developing Ireland’s next superstars.
“It’s great now that the girls have this opportunity to go out and maybe get a love for the game and make new friends,” the Peamount United skipper said.
“There weren’t any of these opportunities when I was growing up. It’s a really good initiative to get girls out to the AVIVA Soccer Sisters camps and enjoy playing football in a really good environment.
“There’s a lot more girls participating. It is great the opportunities they have now. Even at my old club now in Enniskerry, they have just as my girl’s teams as they do boys. It’s great, that’s obviously going to improve players. The more players you have the better players are going to be developed. I think girls get better opportunities now with the Soccer Sisters and even the Emerging Talent programme. It allows them to grow and develop technically and be more tactically aware as well.”
Just over a year ago, O’Gorman was in Tallaght Stadium for Vera Pauw’s first game in charge of Ireland as they took on Ukraine. Bizarrely for O’Gorman, it was with a microphone in hand as she was in the studio as a pundit. This came as she hung up her Irish jersey after she earned her 100th cap against Norway.
The itch to get back on the pitch was too much and a few months later, she returned to the Irish set up and has since played an impressive role in Ireland’s European Championship qualification process to date.
Ireland sit second in their group knowing a draw or win tomorrow against Ukraine will secure a play-off spot. Should Ireland manage to qualify, it will be the first time they have qualified for a major tournament in their history. This is big.
“It’s great. Once I went back into the squad it was like I never left. It was interesting watching the Ukraine game (as a pundit), you can learn by taking a step back and just having an overview as a supporter as opposed to a player. That win was obviously a phenomenal performance and brings a lot of confidence going into the next game,” she said.
“Playing for Ireland is a huge honour. I think after I retired and came back, I appreciate it that bit more. It’s a massive honour. You are representing your family, friends and country. It’s probably everything you dream of as a kid; you’re playing football and living your dream.”
With over fourteen years competing at the highest level, O’Gorman would be forgiven to have forgotten some of the finer details. Yet, to this day she still vividly and fondly recalls her debut for the Girls in Green.
“I remember in the Algarve Cup coming on and making my debut for a few minutes. My first start was in Richmond Park against Germany in a qualifier. That was against some of the best players in the world, so it was a great experience,” the joint 2020 Women’s National League top-scorer said.
“When I got the call-up it was a great opportunity for me to go in and learn from the likes of Olivia O’Toole, Emma Byrne, Ciara Grant and Yvonne Treacy. These players playing at Arsenal at the time and it was something I really enjoyed and relished. I always wanted to really challenge myself and eventually get into the team and eventually I did get the opportunity.”
O’Gorman has come through the Irish set up and has been as the fore fighting for parity over the treatment of the women’s team over the years.
In 2017, she was part of the squad who threatened to strike over a lack of basic facilities. The facilities and conditions the women had to endure at the time was nothing short of ridiculous. Changing in car parks or airport toilets, getting hand-me-downs from the Men’s U21s and not being allowed keep jerseys to name a few.
Now, the next step is pursuing equal pay as they look to follow Brazil, Norway, England and New Zealand in aligning the appearance fees for both the men’s and women’s national team.
There has been progress in parity. For tomorrow’s match against Ukraine, the FAI have facilitated for a chartered flight for the 36 person team, including back-room staff to travel. It is the first time that’s been done for an Ireland women’s team and represents a shift in treatment.
The growing push for parity and the new opportunities afforded to girls is undoubtedly leading to an improvement in standard which O’Gorman is optimistic about.
“I think it’s in a great place at the moment. It’s a talented bunch of players. Young Ellen Molloy coming through is fantastic. She’s great to watch. She destroyed us when we played her, it’s a touchy subject!”
“When I was growing up, until I saw Olivia O’Toole playing in Richmond Park I would have had only male role models that we see on the tele. With the media exposure now, it gives girls that female role model as well and it might give them that little more of an edge and confidence to drive on and achieve their dreams.
Ukraine v Republic of Ireland
UEFA 2022 Women’s European Championship Qualifying – Group I
Friday, October 23
Obolon Arena, Kyiv
KO 17:00 (Irish Time)
LIVE on RTE2