Marie Hourihan knew the stereotypical ‘plastic paddy’ banter from her Ireland teammates wouldn’t last long once they discovered her deep affinity to the country.
While the Manchester City goalkeeper only won her first cap a week short of his 30th birthday in March, her interest in declaring stretches back to Noel King’s term in charge.
Even after King left to become Ireland U21 boss in 2010, discussions with his successor Sue Ronan continued but it was only after Colin Bell took control earlier this year that Hourihan’s status was rubberstamped. All four of her grandparents were born in Ireland, her mother’s from Roscommon and her father’s parents in Cork, with men’s international Conor Hourihane a second cousin despite their surnames being spelt differently. Her broad base of connections still had to be set against a goalkeeping legend in her way.
Emma Byrne, a Champions League winner with Arsenal, was the undisputed Ireland No 1 and a real window of opportunity only appeared after the stalwart quit in August with 134 caps. Hourihan was already on board at that stage, assembling for Bell’s first assignment at the Cyprus Cup where any doubts over her eligibility were put to bed.
“I’m hardly a plastic paddy given all my Irish relations,” she asserted ahead of today’s World Cup qualifier away to Slovakia. My late grandmother, Nancy Byrne, moved back from England to Arigna in Roscommon and we used to fly into Knock for visits every year. It would have happened a lot sooner but I couldn’t travel to America when Noel King first got in contact many years ago.
“Then, I was playing for England’s U23s and on the fringes of the senior squad. When Colin was appointed, he was straight onto me and I was delighted to come on board. I wasn’t expecting Emma to retire and she’s left big boots to fill. That’s a pressure I enjoy and my competitive debut against Northern Ireland last month was very enjoyable.”
A 2-0 win in Lurgan was essential for Ireland’s prospects of reaching their first ever major finals in 2019 but another three points are required today. Like Northern Ireland, Slovakia are ranked below Ireland and must be conquered before a much sterner test awaits away to the Euro champions the Netherlands on November 28.
Women’s World Cup Group 3 qualifier: Slovakia v Republic of Ireland National Training Centre, Senec. (4.30pm Irish).
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