INTERNATIONAL recognition in sport is extremely rare but for the Under 14 Sacred Heart School girls in Westport it will become a reality when they represent Ireland in the Under 14 International Rod Heuston Cup in Lilleshall, England, this weekend, writes Padraig Burns.
The Westport girls, who qualified on foot of their superb All-Ireland first years triumph last season, will be meeting school teams from England and Wales. They will depart from Westport tomorrow (Friday) and play three games over the weekend at the iconic Lilleshall centre before returning back to Westport on Sunday night.
It's been a mammoth effort by all associated with the team to ensure that the girls made it to the finals next weekend. Ever since last May, when qualification was secured, an extremely dedicated group of players, management and parents have been busy fundraising to raise the money required to cover the weekend expenses.
Parents themselves have not just given of their time in helping raise funds; they have also been very generous in their own individual contributions to the overall costs of the trip.
Fiona Casey, who as well as being one of two teachers accompanying the girls (Ann Marie O'Malley is the other) has her daughter, Cliodhna, on the squad, cannot speak highly enough of all those who helped in any way at all to make the trip a reality for the girls.
"Lots of our girls play for Westport United and we want to thank the club and chairman, Myles Staunton, for their support. But our school catchment area extends far beyond the town of Westport and we have girls from the Newport, Mulranny and Achill area as well as all the areas on the outskirts of Westport and we had huge support from everyone in those places," said Fiona.
She said that the efforts put in by the girls themselves and their families was inspiring. "It's been great seeing a group work so closely together with one goal in mind. The girls have had a fantastic experience so far and they are very proud of the fact that they will be playing for Ireland next weekend. We've had so much help and support from everyone and we will be individually thanking all our sponsors when we get back home from England.”
Lilleshall, which is now the National Sports Centre for England, was the precursor to St. George's Park, the new headquarters of the English Football Association. It was home to the very first FA School of Excellence and laid the groundworks for the academy system that is a intrinsic part of the sport today.
Some of its alumni include renowned stars like Michael Owen, Sol Campbell, Joe Cole, Andy Cole, Jamie Carragher and Jermain Defoe.
That puts into context just how prestigious the venue is that the Westport girls will be playing in at the weekend and the famous footsteps that they are following in.
"We're very proud of our girls that they will be playing for their country and we will be doing all that we can to ensure that the Rod Heuston Cup stays in Ireland for another year (last year it was won by a school from Kilkenny). So many fantastic sports people go through entire careers without getting international recognition so we understand just how precious an achievement this is and how privileged the girls are," said Fiona.
She is anxious to acknowledge the huge efforts put in by the backroom team involved with the team and pays tribute to Ann Heraty, coach/parent, Liz Chambers, parent, and the very dedicated coaching team of Declan Moran, Jenny Coghlan and Megan Nugent.
"This would not be happening without everyone pulling together and on behalf of everyone in the school community I just want to say a huge thanks to all who have helped us. It's been a brilliant few months and no matter what happens on the pitches of Lilleshall next weekend the girls have done themselves, their families and the school proud and we can't speak highly enough of them," she said.
The English Schools FA will be represented by Bohunt School, Wokingham, and St. Ivo School, Huntingdon, while Wales will be represented by Ysgoi Gryraeg Bro, Morgaannwg.
The Sacred Heart School squad is as follows: Katie McNea (captain), Ella McHale, Aenea Breslin, Sophie Scahill, Ashling Duffy, Sorcha McCarney, Aoife Staunton, Leila O'Malley, Maggie Chambers, Laura Moran, Cliodhna Casey, Abi Conway, Maya O'Toole, Emily Chambers, Milly Allen, Laura Masterson, Eimear Geraghty. Management: Fiona Casey, Ann Marie O'Malley, Ann Heraty, coach/parent, Liz Chambers, parent, Declan Moran, Megan Nugent and Jenny Coghlan, coaching staff.
* Read Padraig Burns' Under the Clock column in our print edition every Tuesday