By Dave Donnelly
It’s been a long time coming but Peamount United captain Aine O’Gorman is looking forward to finally getting back to competitive action on Saturday in the Women’s National League away to Wexford Youths (2pm).
The Peas swept the board last season with a league and FAI Cup double – the first in the club’s history – and competed in the Champions League.
They came out the wrong side of a penalty shoot-out away to professional side Glasgow City but, amid the chaos of the pandemic, it’s been a very successful 12 months for the Newcastle side.
She’s well aware there will be a target on the Peas’ back this season – even more so than when they won the title in 2019 – but she’s looking forward to the challenge.
Shelbourne, who the Peas pipped to the title with a winner-takes-all game at PRL Park in November, have strengthened considerably.
Along with new manager Noel King – O’Gorman’s former national team boss – they’ve brought in international quality in keeper Amanda Budden from Galway and striker Saoirse Noonan from Cork City.
Wexford Youths will be strong again, with the league’s red-hot talent Ellen Molloy supplemented by experienced new arrivals like Kim Flood.
And DLR Waves may be the surprise package of the season, having pilfered league winners like Louise Corrigan and Niamh Barnes from Peamount, and Jess Gleeson from Shels.
Rather than worry about what’s over her shoulder, however, the prospect of a more competitive league is exactly what the Ireland centurion wants to see.
“I think Shelbourne have obviously strengthened their squad up a little bit as well, got a new manager in of the calibre of Noel King,” says O’Gorman, speaking at the launch of the AVIVA Soccer Sisters Virtual Skills Hub.
“[It is] great – it’s another big positive for the league to have someone of that calibre back in coaching and managing.
“DLR – a few of our players have gone over to them and they’re gonna have strength in depth and they’re gonna be a tough team to beat.
“They have good coaches over there, so they’ll be tactically well set up as well.”
The issue of pay-for-play has been a hot topic in the off-season, with many observers surprised to learn all the league’s players have subs to cover, either through sponsorship or out of pocket.
That’s no longer an issue since the FAI stepped in with additional funding and, with SSE Airtricity extending its sponsorship to the women’s league, a route to semi-pro ball now looks possible.
“This year is probably a landmark year, obviously with the sponsorship coming on board and I think the streaming is going to be great for the exposure of the game.
“Hopefully it will create a really good interest around the game. Hopefully when crowds can finally get into the games, there’ll be more fans at the games.
“It has to come back to us as players, that we maintain a professional attitude and elite mindset, that we always want to get better and improve our standards and push each other to improve.
“We make sure we’re preparing the way we can and that our games are competitive and attractive to watch as well.
“Hopefully with that then the set-ups and the clubs will become more professional, and then we can start looking at maybe players turning professional and becoming full-time.
“That would be the ultimate goal for me, that that environment can be provided in Ireland.”