McCarthy happier in green than white

Given Giovanni Trappatoni’s recent travails, what he would give for a recruit like Sinead McCarthy. While commitment to the cause is questioned on the soccer front, since making the decision to pursue her Irish international dream 24 months ago, the former Poynton player has endured two big upheavals.

Upping sticks from England was an ambitious move, one which she initially felt may have been in vain but the 28 year-old is now preparing, after a couple of test matches, for a first international tournament and is spying a world level event later this month.

And, speaking to the Hook at the launch of the Champion’s Challenge on Monday night, it’s an arena she is thrilled in which to wear a green, rather than white, shirt.

She has worn both. Indeed, the link to her switch to Cork in 2009, Dave Passmore was her coach over a decade ago before suggesting a door was open to follow her passion.

”I’d worked with Dave; he was English U-18 coach when I was at that age. Funnily enough my debut was for England against Ireland in 2000 in Milton Keynes, an U-18 Home Nations. We drew and shared the gold medal. It was very odd because I’d always been an Ireland supporter in soccer and rugby growing up. To play against them was odd.”

That feeling comes with two Irish parents, her mother an Old Ursuline and formerly of St Angela’s in Cork. She retained an Irish passport as a result and when she met Passmore – then Ireland’s men’s senior coach – at the Celtic Cup in Wrexham in 2008, the genesis of an idea was born.

Twelve months later, through contact with her parent’s family friends, she wound up at Farmer’s Cross with Cork Harlequins with a dream of breaking into the Irish team. She suffered an initial setback, though.

“I came over with that intention, it was the reason I came over to Ireland but it didn’t look like it was going to happen really. I spent the season with Harlequins and came up for trials and wasn’t selected for the World Cup qualifiers in Chile and I thought I might not get another chance in many ways.

“I’m older than a lot of the other girls coming into the system and I thought, realistically, I had missed the boat. But I got a phonecall from Gene [Muller] before the Australia and Germany series and he said he’d throw me in the deep end against Australia. It wasn’t a bad way to start! It was an incredible experience, a day you’ll never forget.”

As for that delay, The Hook asks whether she felt there was any sense that playing in Munster and possibly being far from the supposed action may have held her back, Dublin seen as the hub for the international team but McCarthy says while there were difficulties, working in small groups built her game in some respects.

“That was all I knew at the time. For me, it was a great opportunity. Dennis [Pritchard] is a world class coach and to work with such limited numbers with someone of his quality; with Creggy [Eimear Cregan] and Cliodhna Sargent, the quality was certainly very high. There wasn’t the numbers there to do certain drills but I just thought it was a great opportunity and enjoyed it for it was.”

After just a couple of weeks with the panel, the introduction of the CPP saw the landscape change dramatically, necessitating another move. This time, the capital called, a city she says she had no major wont to live, with training set to ramp up significantly.

“The setup we have now is so much better; you can’t even compare the [CPP and the regional system]. It was certainly a shock to the system at the start. But it’s gone really well. I’d always thought Cork would be the place I would have lived in Ireland. I never considered living in Dublin, no connections and had no real interest living here for whatever reason. It’s a great city and it’s worked out brilliantly.”

To that end, she needed a third club in three years with Mary Logue – “just the kind of person you want to work with and, as a former international, someone I felt I could learn from” – snapping up the combative McCarthy to bolster either her midfield or defensive setup.

Commitment to the CPP made it tough to assimilate fully with the Booterstown team but an Irish Senior Cup and IHL final appearance combined with a Leinster league title helped form an emotional bond.

“A season of frustrations in many ways. It was difficult not being able to train with the team, especially coming into a new team and not knowing the players or training with them as often as I’d like. Doing so well to get to the finals of the Senior Cup and the IHL and to be pipped at the post on both occasions was tough.

“Winning the league did show the strength of the squad we had. The Railway game and the Loreto one certainly were the standouts that we [the CPP players] missed but I think every player who wasn’t playing was in the stand that night and celebrated just as hard as those who won it on the pitch and showed the spirit we had in the squad.”

Now, it is her time to take centre-stage, starting with this weekend’s Celtic Cup in Largs, Scotland, a prelude to the big thrill of the Champion’s Challenge.

“Can’t wait. Celtic Cup and playing Scotland and Wales, the old rivalries, really looking forward to that and the Champion’s Challenge is just so exciting and the fact it’s in Dublin, hopefully we can get a lot of people down to watch.

“To be playing against the calibre of teams coming over, it’s been a long time coming. We’ve trained hard over the winter with no matches and now everything we have been building for is just around the corner and everyone is excited to see how far we’ve come.”

The Celtic Cup is part of a busy summer as Ireland build toward the European championships – the first Olympic qualifier to boot – the three-team tournament getting underway on Friday night with Ireland looking for a first victory in the competition since 2006.

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