Echo Sport Replay: O’Gorman- agony and ecstasy in 2020, Peamount pride and her Ireland quest

By Stephen Leonard

STRENGTH and tenacity are qualities Peamount United captain Áine O'Gorman is certainly not short of.

And it was those very attributes that the Republic of Ireland player had to draw on in a year that tested her resolve to the limit and ultimately saw her close out a tumultuous 2020 with a beaming smile.

Aine OGorman has been a tremendous servant for Peamount United and the Republic of Ireland 1

Áine O'Gorman has been a tremendous servant for Peamount United and the Republic of Ireland

With 105 senior international caps to her name, O'Gorman is undoubtedly one of Ireland's greatest servants, making it all the more heartbreaking to see her in tears at the final whistle that signalled her country's 1-0 loss to Ukraine in Kiev back in October- a result that effectively cost them a play-off berth for the 2022 European Championships.

For O'Gorman, that defeat was made all the more agonising given that the decisive goal for the hosts came from a back-pass by the Peamount skipper that caught goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan flat-footed and trickled into the net.

And the pain of that experience was compounded less than two weeks later when she accounted for one of two missed penalties in a shootout loss to Glasgow City that saw Peamount edged out of the UEFA Champions League.

Such a difficult period was a severe test of character, but O'Gorman managed to pick herself up and deliver sensational performances for her club that went a long way to seeing Peamount complete a National League and FAI Cup double by the close of the year.

Indeed the former Enniskerry schoolgirl, who emerged from the season with the National League's Golden Boot for the third time in her career, served up some vital goals for her side including a late double that saw them beat Shelbourne 3-1 in a winner-takes-all league encounter in Greenogue back in November, subsequently securing a return to the Champions League for 2021.

Aine OGorman has made 105 appearances for the Republic of Ireland senior international team so far 1

Áine O'Gorman has made 105 appearances for the Republic of Ireland senior international team so far

“It was a typical cup final against Shels and it kind of started like a typical cup final, a bit helter skelter” recalled O’Gorman.

“I think Shels edged it early on in terms of possession, but I think we grew into the game and we were trying to get into our rhythm, but they scored from the tip-off in the second half.

“But then we really dug in and stuck to the process. We just showed our character and drove on.

Aine OGorman and Katie McCabe cannot hide the heartbreak of losing out to Ukraine in the European qualifiers 1

Áine O'Gorman and Katie McCabe cannot hide the heartbreak of losing out to Ukraine in the European qualifiers

“Karen [Duggan] won a free kick and I just put the ball down. Initially I was just going to drill it on target and then, the more it shaped up with the wall, I could just see the gap to the keeper's left and thankfully it went into the back of the net.

“Karen then got a header from a set-piece after Megan [Smith-Lynch] came on and put a good delivery into the box and then my second ultimately came off another set-piece from another Megan delivery as well and that just sealed the game.

“Just the joy and the elation of winning the league a second time, it was just one of those nights you won't ever forget.

Aine OGorman racing into attack 1

Áine O'Gorman racing into attack

“We had a really tough road to the FAI Cup Final. We played Shels in Peamount the week after we had beaten them in the league so they were back-to-back games against Shels.

“We had played really well in Tolka Park and it's always tough to emulate that, but we produced another good performance.

“Then we beat Wexford in the semi final the Sunday after we got back from the Champions League match against Glasgow that went to extra time.

“We had to dig deep that day and Dearbháile Beirne stood up that day and put one in the back of the net. That was a really massive team effort.

Peamount skipper Aine OGorman in action 1

Peamount skipper Áine O'Gorman in action

“In the final I think Cork played particularly well in the first half. They came out at us and I don't think we were particularly at the races. We knew there was a lot more in us, we weren’t passing the ball as well as we know we can.

“So we were quite calm at halftime. We just said 'Look if we get our passing right, we'll get into this game.' We just stayed calm and focused on the task at hand.

“Thankfully Steph' [Roche] stood up and slotted the ball into the net and from there we just relaxed into the game and scored a few nice goals” she said.

That 6-0 demolition of the Leesiders in the decider in Tallaght Stadium marked the end of a rollercoaster ride for O’Gorman in 2020 and helped sooth the anguish suffered on the international front following that loss to Ukraine.

Peamount United captain Aine OGorman and Alannah McEvoy with the Womens National League trophy 1

Peamount-United-captain-Aine-O'Gorman-and-Alannah-McEvoy-with-the-Women's-National-League-trophy

“It's a tough experience to even talk about” sighed O’Gorman. “We're going into the game against Ukraine who the girls had beaten before and if you get a result, you're into a play-of spot to qualify for the first ever major tournament.

“So there's all that pressure and everyone is buzzing for the game and looking forward to it. We've done all the preparation and we're feeling good going out and we're playing well.

“And then I suppose it's just one moment that happened. My decision was to give the ball back to the goalie and in just slow motion I could see it rolling into the net.

“At that moment I just wanted the ground to swallow me up, but I had to get back up and keep going, keep playing for the team.

“There was still a long time to go in the game. We were creating chances and then the peno’ we got hit the bar. The game just kept going on and when the final whistle went, the floodgates just opened and I let all the emotion out.

“It was just a very tough period, but I was surrounded by good people, friends and family and team mates. We're all in it together. Yeah it was tough.

“My dad said to me 'Áine, if they didn't know you before, they certainly know you now' with it being all over the papers, not that I'd be reading any of that now. He was just keeping it light-hearted.

“Everyone was ringing me to make sure I was alright. My phone probably exploded more that night with people making sure I was ok and with messages of support than it would have if we had qualified.

“But it was a long trip home, really mentally draining. I suppose it's what all players dream of- playing in a major tournament, and then that dream is all kind of taken away in one game.

“But I got back and I love Peamount. The girls were great and we got back training, focusing on the Glasgow game which was obviously a really good distraction for me, to focus on that and just get back in the zone.

“People were afraid to even mention the goal to me, but we had to make it a little bit light-hearted to just shake the shackles off.

“So we went to Glasgow and put in one hell of a performance, but then it came to penalties and I stepped up and missed my peno’.

“I suppose the own goal, everything, just came to the fore for me and that was even tougher off the back of that as well. It was tough for the team and personally for me.

“But we came home, and you just reflect on it and you take what you can and move on and just keep focusing on the task.

“Thankfully we beat Wexford in the FAI Cup [semi finals] and then we beat Shels to win the league.

“I suppose it just shows you the highs and lows of football. You just have to stick with it and stay strong and believe in yourself. I was delighted to get the league and cup double.

“We have Europe to look forward to again and we can learn from our experience against Glasgow, such valuable experience.

“And with the strength and depth of the squad, there's no reason why we can't be successful and really put Ireland on the map in European tournaments. So I'm just looking forward to getting back” she said.

Since returning for a third spell with Peamount back in 2017, O’Gorman, who had spent time with Doncaster Rovers and UCD Waves, has got her hands on every piece of domestic silverware possible.

“We missed out on the league in 2018, but we won the National League Cup, beating Wexford in the final down in Wexford.

“That was the nut Peamount were trying to crack for a while. They had come so close the season before in the league. I wasn't playing with them then.

“But once we beat them in that League Cup I think that's when you find that this team can win things.

“We got that kind of inner confidence and the next season we beat them for the league, but then unfortunately fell at the final hurdle in the FAI Cup to do the double that year.

“That was my first National League and it was more a feeling of relief that we got there. It had been a long time coming for Peamount to win the League again so it was just a great feeling.

“Success breathes success and brings that confidence and winning mentality out in people.”

And it is that winning mentality, O’Gorman hopes will take root in the Republic of Ireland squad and see them soon qualify for a first major international tournament.

“I think that's ultimately the goal since we started playing for Ireland. We're just getting so close it's frustrating at this stage.

“It's always the hard luck story, we're just there or thereabouts, so it's the mind-set that we need to change in order to go to the next level and bring women's football in this country forward.”

Certainly O’Gorman has been competing on the international scene long enough to have witnessed first hand the series of near-misses Ireland have endured in their pursuit of World and European qualification over the past 15 years.

“My senior debut was the last game in the Algarve Cup in Portugal in 2006. It was against Denmark and I came on for a few minutes. I only got one or two touches on the ball, but it was still nice to get your first cap.

“The next year I scored my first competitive goal against Poland in the Algarve Cup and in the last game of the tournament as well.

“I remember my first start for the senior team. We were playing Germany in Richmond Park and I suppose that was a significant moment.

“Birgit Prinz was playing in the opposition team and she was the best player in the world at the time.

“I suppose I always was professional and driven in my approach. I was surrounded by great people like Olivia O'Toole, the highest goal scorer, Emma Byrne, the Arsenal keeper and Ciara Grant. Noel King was manager at the time. They were all really welcoming and made me feel comfortable.

“Just the chance to learn of them, the likes of Olivia O'Toole who scored goals for fun, I was just so happy to be part of it all. I was just delighted with the opportunity and I wanted to grab it with both hands.

“I remember in 2008, we got to a play-off for the 2009 European Championships with Iceland and we went over to Iceland level at 1-1 so qualification was still within our grasp.

“But we went over to Iceland and, no joke, the pitch was ice. There was a man banging a shovel in the middle of it and it wouldn't crack.

“I don't really know how the game went ahead, but we were like bambi on ice and sure they [Iceland] were well used to it. It was a bit of a disaster and probably a really big opportunity gone.

“I was quite young at the time and the significance of it now is quite heartbreaking, for the players who had worked so hard to get to there at the time, it was just such a shame. If that match was on now I don't think it would go ahead.

“I scored a hat-trick against Montenegro in the 2017 Euro qualifiers and I also scored an important goal at the time away to Portugal in the European group.

“Megan Campbell went off injured and I had to go and play full back and that's probably when my full back career started, off the back of scoring a goal.

“We got the result we needed at the time, but then we went on to play Finland away and we didn't get the result that we needed there.

“I got my 100th cap in the 2019 World Cup qualifiers against Norway. It was the last game of the campaign and I remember just being in the changing room before the match, looking forward to the game and Katie McCabe saying 'Jeeze Áine, you've done this now a hundred times.'

“It's a bit mad when you think about it, but yeah, obviously it's a huge honour to represent your country and to do it a hundred times is very special. It's something I appreciate more the older I get.

“It was in the back of my head at the time that I was going to take a step back [from international football], focus on my own life and enjoy my football with Peamount and let the younger players come through.

“At the time I was happy enough with the decision, but things change.

“Obviously I have a good relationship with Eileen [Gleeson, current Republic of Ireland assistant manager] and then Vera [Pauw] got in touch with me to get me back into the squad just to cover the full back position and stuff like that.

“I suppose I had the hunger in me to come back and play again. It's a great honour and if I turned down that opportunity I'd probably regret it forever.

“It was great to get back out in the green jersey although it didn't pan out the way we would have wanted it to, but look, the future's still bright and we're building towards something special.”

O’Gorman is hopeful the women’s game can continue to grow in Ireland, but believes the domestic league is in need of more support in order to bring it to the next level.

“It's great to see that there's more girls playing football than ever.

“There's a lot more opportunities to go abroad to play the game and there's a wealth of talent coming through.

“For me, I think it's just to strengthen up our league so that in time we'll be able to go into a semi-professional environment so that there'd be the option for players when they get to an age that they can go away if they get a good opportunity, but that they can also be an elite athlete and play at an international level by staying in Ireland.

“I think things are changing and people are working hard in the background to make things more professional, but ultimately it does come down to finances and resources as well.

“The international set-up is great now. There's a good management set-up in place and we get well looked after when we're in camp as well.

“It's just about changing the status from amateur to semi-professional in time, but there's a lot of steps we need to take to get there. Clubs do the best they can, but they just need that bit of support.”

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