They Were My Heroes First!
The narrative around women's sports in Ireland has changed for the better. Young girls are now spoilt for choice when picking out their hero. Katie McCabe, Amber Barrett, and Courtney Brosnan are just a few of the names girls across the country look up to. However, this wasn't always the case, writes Tara Maher
I was eight when I attended my first soccer training session in Camden. That was in 2006, and back then, Women's sport was almost frowned upon. They were rarely mentioned in the media; matches were rarely broadcast, and even if it was, it wasn't well advertised.
Not having a female hero or role model is not something I put much thought into at the time, but I thought a lot about it as I got older. It wasn't until a chat with a work colleague that she told me her seven-year-old daughter is obsessed with Katie McCabe and gave her the honour of being called her hero.
The conversation forced me to reflect on my childhood heroes. And the truth is, I didn't have any female athletes I looked up to.
Boys had loads of role models to choose from. They had their Wayne Rooneys, Ronaldos, and Steven Gerrards, but no female player was celebrated the same way Ronaldo, Rooney, or Gerrard was. Girls couldn't look up to or imitate a player as the boys did.
This didn't stop us from creating our own heroes.
Instead of looking to the Champions League, we looked to the older girls on our team or girls we came up against on the pitch. Lakewood, Wilton, St. Marys, and College Corinthians always produced skilful and talented players. "Look out for her; she's very fast" or "She'll try to score from anywhere" were two phrases my teammates and I would hear in the dressing room before a match.
More often than not, it was the likes of Megan Connolly and Denise O'Sullivan that we had to look out for. Subconsciously, at the same time, these were also the same girls that we were looking up to; we didn't know it at the time.
This Women's World Cup is a momentous occasion for our little island. It is the first time we've made it to the competition, and it's almost like a proud mother moment. I'm watching the girls I used to play against on a Sunday morning in Camden play in a World Cup.
In the days leading up to the game, the FAI released a picture of the squad wearing their childhood club's strip. The word 'wholesome' has been used a lot lately, but it was a very heartwarming picture. Seeing Megan Connolly wearing her College Corinthians jersey gave me flashbacks.
Today, Ten-year-old girls look up to the same girls I looked up to. Not only did these girls inspire my generation, but they are also inspiring all the generations to come. It is bizarre when you think about it like that; I almost want to say to them, "They were my heroes first!".
When I watched the Australia versus Ireland games, I found myself being twelve years old again. I was full of nerves leading up to the game, the same nerves I used to feel before playing a final at Turners Cross. I was shouting at the screen when a decision went against us and holding my breath whenever the ball went near the goalpost.
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