Strong foundations, several near misses and a tonne of hard work have made Peamount United a force to be reckoned with in Irish domestic football.
Based on the south side of Dublin, the current champions have been on a character-building journey to success. Despite winning the inaugural league title back in 2012, heartbreak followed, finishing runners-up on three occasions.
However, 2019 was finally their year again, sealing the title with a squad that included the likes of Aine O’Gorman, Niamh Farrelly and Eleanor Ryan Doyle. They were pushed all the way by Dublin rivals Shelbourne but finished the season unbeaten in the league to claim the trophy by two points.
“It’s probably one of the few clubs where we treat women’s football equally. It’s 50/50 in terms of the resources and stuff which you don’t often see”
JAMES O’CALLAGHAN, PEAMOUNT UNITED MANAGER
Over the extended break, they have bolstered their ranks with a mix of experience and youth. Talented youngsters Sadhbh Doyle, Alannah McEvoy and Tiegan Ruddy came into the fold, while Stephanie Roche has returned to her old club after time at Fiorentina.
They have kicked off the 2020 season with their foot on the gas, beating Treaty United and Cork City 5-0 and 3-0 respectively. A spot in Champions League Qualifying Round awaits in October while they will also have their eye on a establishing a run in the cup.
We caught up with manager James O’Callaghan to find out more about him and his team ahead of a huge season for the club:
GOTB: So obviously it’s been a strange situation with the league and coronavirus. What was expected of you as a manager during lockdown?
James: Lockdown was a crazy time. No one really knew what was happening. I suppose at the early stages we were thinking maybe we’ll be back in a couple of weeks and then the whole lockdown kicked in. You hear about a lot of sad things and a lot of mental health issues happening, so really, we were just trying to keep in touch with the players and make sure they were ok. We gave them programmes, not really soccer-based programmes but challenges, like 1k challenges, just to get them out. We were having competitions to see who gets the best times – can you get under four minutes doing a 1K, that kind of thing – and doing it in a fun way more than anything. It was trying to give great positivity and keep the squad together. And there were fitness circuits we were doing on Zoom. One of the players, Aine O’Gorman, was doing it as she’s fitness instructor. That was a good way of getting everybody together and keeping up the fitness as well.
GOTB: And how great has it been being back with the squad:
James: Yeah, it’s great. We’re back a good while now. We thought we were going to be back for Champions League which was originally due to take place in August but got switched to October. The first couple of weeks was very strange. We had FAI COVID officers watching our sessions and making sure we were applying all the COVID restrictions – we had COVID type drills, so no contact type of thing. That was a bit weird, but we got used to it and things have loosened a bit since then.
GOTB: As you mention, you also have the Champions League qualification coming up. What can we expect from Peamount this season?
James: We just usually approach things one game at a time. The Champion’s League is not until October, so we have kind of parked that to a degree. We would be expecting to focus on each game and give it a hundred percent and work really hard to try and do what we were doing last season but just doing it better and just keep working hard.
GOTB: You were brilliant last season, but it was close with Shelbourne in the end; there was two points in it. The FAI WNL is developing every season isn’t it?
James: Yeah, I think so. We went unbeaten for a large portion of the season but, in fairness to Shelbourne, they kept at us. We couldn’t rest at all and we had to go to the last game of the season. We were delighted to get there at the end.
There has been a bit of a gap in the league between the top and bottom half. But I think that’s getting narrower every season and this season, I think once they have their full-strength teams, everybody can take points off each other. It’s going to be an exciting season.
GOTB: Are there any fixtures that you’re relishing in particular?
James: I suppose you have to treat every game the same, but the local derby is often a very tough exciting game against Shelbourne. They are the north side of Dublin whereas we would be the south side of Dublin and that does become an exciting game. And obviously we got beaten by Wexford in the cup so would like to get revenge on them, I suppose.
GOTB: How would you describe the ethos of Peamount United?
James: Peamount is a very family-orientated club – there are a lot of schoolboy and schoolgirl teams. It’s probably one of the few clubs where we treat women’s football equally. It’s 50/50 in terms of the resources and stuff which you don’t often see – it’s usually the boy’s/men’s teams that dominate things, so it’s great in that regard. It’s mainly volunteer-led in terms of the committee. It owns all its facilities as well, which is a good thing – there are two really good grass pitches and an astro pitch, clubhouse and changing rooms. It’s a phenomenal club in terms of the development of girls’ football.
GOTB: So, with the current lack of live sport, we think there’s a great opportunity for women’s sport to gain more news space in the coverage. How do you think women’s football in Ireland can capitalise on this?
James: Yeah, I would like to think there is. I suppose in general over the last few years, the promotion of the league has been poor and the funding of the league is poor compared to the men’s. You would like to think that, especially with the reduction in other sports, maybe there is an opportunity. But it needs more leadership from the FAI and the government to make sure games do get promoted better. There is very little happening in the national newspapers – there is very little coverage of the women’s soccer games. Maybe there is an opportunity to get more coverage, but the leadership has to be there from a higher place to make sure it happens.
It would be a great opportunity to have a little highlights package done of the league. The clubs themselves could do more in promoting themselves on social media, putting up highlights of the goals and matches and stuff like that because the quality of play is really improved. There are some fantastic players in the league; young players coming through and experienced players that have been there since the beginning of the league. There’s a great product on display; it’s just the promotion of it needs to be pushed into people’s faces a bit more.
GOTB: You are sort of seeing it at a national level. We know the World Cup was on RTE and TG4 even when Ireland weren’t in, which is great. So, it just needs to filter down doesn’t it?
James: Absolutely. The amount of people I heard during the World Cup saying that women’s soccer was really good and they found it really entertaining. These were people that never really looked at women’s football before that. That was great but I don’t think it filtered down into the national league. I think there was probably a missed opportunity there. I am still hoping that we can catch up with it because the product is there. It just needs to be advertised better and more often really.
GOTB: Is there anything else that you think the domestic league needs now to take it further?
James: I would like to think for ourselves at Champions League level, that we could maybe make the next round. It’s been a good few years since a team from Ireland got out of the group stages. I think if that could happen, people would take more interest in it and there would be a bit more excitement
It would be good to see the national team get out of their group and qualify for the European Championships because winning does breed more popularity. If the girls do deliver with results and get into competitions that could really help. As I said it is promotion and funding. I would like to see the game in Ireland go semi-professional. I don’t think it’s going to cost a major investment for that to happen. So, if somebody did really focus on it and made it a priority, I think it could happen. That could really transform the game here because there are great players in this country.
GOTB: How would you sum yourself up as a coach? What attributes do you think makes a coach successful?
James: That’s tricky. I also work as a youth worker and there is a lot stuff in that in terms of listening and interpersonal skills. I think they are big things to have as a coach in the modern game – to be able to talk to players, to listen to them and develop them, and develop a collective mentality. To be knowledgeable about the game as well is obviously very important but the days of coming in and shouting at players I think are in the past.
GOTB: And finally, what has been the highlight of your coaching career so far?
James: I hope it’s yet to come. I suppose winning the league has been a major achievement. It was great excitement for the club. This has been building for the past four years – where the under 16s came into the senior team and we have been developing them as players. We have attracted more players along the way. More experienced players have come in and eventually we got to the stage where we won the league last season. That was a great achievement for all the players and the management of the club.