Seventeen-year old Saoirse Noonan scored 2-5 in Cork’s All-Ireland minor football final win this month. Since finishing with Cork, she’s been called up to the Irish senior soccer squad and played up front with Stephanie Roche in last week’s 2-1 win over Wales.
Q: Ladies football wasn’t on your radar at the beginning of the year so how did you come to link up with the Cork minor squad?
From January to late March, soccer, split between Cork City and Ireland, was my focus. We were over in France during March for the Elite Phase of qualifying for the European U17 championships. There was only one place up for grabs between ourselves, Hungary, Czech Republic and France. Unfortunately, we finished second and that was the end of our campaign. The following week, I was on the sideline [in Ovens] watching Cork play Tipperary in the Munster semi-final. This is a group I had won an All-Ireland U16 title with in 2014 so I was keen to show my support. The manager, John Cleary, came straight over after the match and asked me how the soccer was going. I didn’t take any notice of it. John is friendly like that. He came over to the car then afterwards and said, ‘will you come back to us’. I was shocked. I turned him down. He rang me again that night. I told him I’d think about it.
Q: Had you an inkling to get back involved?
I always wished I could have started off with them, but given they had been training since the summer previous and the fact that I didn’t play ladies football in 2015 because of soccer, I felt my chance was gone. I just didn’t want to stroll back in and use soccer as an excuse for my absence. I was still playing with Cork City when John approached me, but there were no international matches on the horizon and these were the games that had been taking up a lot of my time so I reluctantly agreed to go back.
Q: The domestic soccer league was still ongoing at this point. How did you manage to juggle both?
Last season was a rough season for Cork City. There had been a change in manager just before the season began and even though we were putting in a big effort, we weren’t getting the results. I told them that I was after getting the opportunity of a lifetime with the Cork ladies and that my focus would be on them. At that stage, we were near the bottom of the table and the league was coming to a close. Now, I still played any matches I could and attended training so there was still a fair bit of double-jobbing.
Q: A busy diary. Return to May and the Munster minor final, did you start?
I did, corner-forward. I had been training really hard as I felt I needed to prove myself every evening. I went in full-forward for the All-Ireland semi-final against our great rivals, Galway. We beat them [3-14 to 3-12] thanks to an injury-time save by our goalkeeper, Máiread O’Sullivan.
Q: The final was played on August 1 in Pearse Park, Longford. Talk me through your afternoon?
We had beaten Dublin in the All-Ireland U16 final so they wanted revenge. Their captain was on me and I could tell she was up for it. When I got my first touch, I just felt everything was right; the pitch was right, the day was right, there was good support for Cork and it just all fell into place. I scored 2-3 from play in a very short amount of time in the first-half so that helped with the confidence. It is any player’s dream to score in an All-Ireland final but to score 2-5 and come away with the player of the match award is unreal. I think about it a good bit now. I wish I could relive it. After we lost in France in the European Elite Phase, that was so heartbreaking because we knew we should have pulled through and I really wanted to put my mind to something and achieve success.
Q: During both the All-Ireland semi-final and final, you had something else on your plate that you kept from your Cork team-mates. What was it?
I was on holidays with the family in Spain before the All-Ireland semi-final in July. It was my first family holiday in quite a while. And, of course, I had to fly home early because of the match. I was just after landing in the airport when mam ring. She told me the FAI had been in touch and that I had got a call-up to the senior team. I knew I couldn’t say anything to anyone as Ladies Football was the priority. I went up to Dublin for a training camp with the Irish U19’s around two weeks after that. The senior manager, Sue Ronan, approached four of us and told us we would be going to Wales in August. It doesn’t matter what you have on, you just say ‘yes, I’ll be there’.
Q: How did it go?
We only landed back home there on Monday. It was such an incredible experience. We played Wales on the Friday evening and last Sunday morning. I got half an hour in the second game. It was Stephanie Roche and I up tops. When girls talk about soccer in this country, Stephen Roche normally comes into the conversation. I was so nervous going into the camp, but she couldn’t have been nicer. Even when I was warming up, I nearly had to take a second to actually process that this was all real.
Q: So, what’s next for Saoirse Noonan?
We are already back in training for the first qualifying phase of next year’s European U19 championships. We travel to Macedonia next month. Macedonia, Italy and Wales are in our group. We need to get into the top two to make the next round. We’re training around once a week at present so I’d get the 7am bus to Dublin from Patrick’s Quay on the day of training and get back to Cork around 10pm that night.
Q: And ladies football, has that again been put on the back burner?
Ephie Fitzgerald was on to my dad and I have a few of the younger senior players on to me, but, at the moment, my love is soccer. I would love to play ladies football, but this group believes we can win the European Championships. The new domestic season has just started back too. It would be a hope to win an All-Ireland senior title with Cork, but we will have to wait and see. I definitely want to play a senior international. I’d love to get over and play club soccer in England too. We’ll see how it all works out.
Q: How does school fit into this fairly crammed schedule?
I was in transition year in Christ King, in Douglas this year so that was a help. When I was doing my Junior Cert last year, it was a tough balancing act. Each Friday after school, used to get on a bus to Dublin for training with the Irish U17’s and return on Sunday night. There wasn’t much time for study. I’d probably go mad if I had only school and no sport to look forward to for the next nine months. Like, Nemo Rangers are playing away now but I don’t have the time to get involved. The same with the camogie and St Finbarr’s. I like being this busy, though. Everyday there is something on. I love it. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I hate being at a loose end.
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