Ireland’s defensive rock at the U19 women’s European Championship, Ciara O’Connell, hits as many right notes off the pitch as on it.
Yesterday, in the wake of Monday’s 2-1 win over Sweden that sets up a semi-final tomorrow against the Netherlands, O’Connell had her team-mates packed around her at the squad base in Lillestrom on the outskirts of Oslo. Sitting at the Thon Hotel’s grand piano, the centre-back was once again centre-stage.
With the panel singing in unison to O’Connell’s tune, a high power Uefa delegation stopped in their tracks to admire the performance.
It was just another demonstration, this time musically, of the cohesion apparent amongst a squad taking the Championships by storm.
“It’s nice to take a step back from all the football and play songs on the piano that the girls all sing along to,” reflected O’Connell yesterday in the hotel lobby.
“It’s something we’ve done since getting together first at U17 level. There was a piano at the hotel in Macedonia and it took off from there.”
Ireland have certainly been the success story of these finals, deservedly beating the top three seeds at the tournament — Spain, England and Sweden — to claim top spot with the best record of all the eight competing nations.
“If you stop and think too much, it might seem surreal that we’ve come this far,” O’Connell admitted. “But the schedule is so thick and fast that we just concentrate on the next challenge. There’s only a two-day gap between matches, which gives less rest than the men’s teams got at the recent World Cup.”
Whatever transpires between now and Sunday’s final, O’Connell has put building blocks in place to facilitate a big future, either academically or in sport. She’ll take her place on the University College of Cork sports scholarship in September, alongside Ireland team-mate Amy O’Connor.
“Most of my friends are already away on their sixth-year summer holiday but I’m perfectly happy here at the European finals,” she professed.
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