Trailblazers reflect 50 years on from Ireland’s Women’s first official international game

Jackie McCarthy-O'Brien, Linda Gorman, Olivia O'Toole, Ellen Molloy and Sue Hayden during the Ireland Women's National Team 50-Year Celebrations Announcement at Merrion Square in Dublin© SPORTSFILE

Seán O'Connor

In just over two months time, Ireland’s Women’s National Team will make history when they step onto the field at Stadium Australia in Sydney to face the Matildas in their very first match at a major tournament.

But a half a century ago today, 11 Irish women wrote their names into the history books by taking to a pitch in Llanelli, south-west Wales for their first official senior fixture, as Ireland defeated the Welsh 3-2 courtesy of a Paula Gorham hat-trick.

That day in Llanelli was obviously less glamorous as July’s World Cup opener will be, and probably less well-known among the public, but it was just as important a moment in women’s sport in this country.

Linda Gorman was one of those pioneers, lining out in midfield that day in Wales. While Ireland’s 2023 World Cup squad will jet off to their Brisbane training base soon, before lining out in the 83,500-seater Stadium Australia, Gorman paints a very different picture of the Women’s National Team a half a century ago.

“We all paid our own way for everything that we did,” said Gorman, speaking at the 50-year reunion for the Women’s National Team in Dublin last week.

“We weren't put up in hotels, I stayed with a lovely family (in Wales). I couldn't believe the people that came out. I read in an article there were about 3,000 people at the game. Once it was over, back on the ferry home and back to work the next day.

“Some of the players I haven't seen in 50 years. It brings back so many memories.”

The FAI have tracked down every player involved in the first match in Wales as well as Ireland’s first official home senior game, a 4-1 win against Northern Ireland in June 1973.

The FAI will award a one-off commemorative cap to every player who has represented the team, with around 250 players found so far, as Gorman reveals her efforts to help track down those who are in line for caps.

“I have spent a bit of time in the National Library, researching and going through who played,” added Gorman, who later became Ireland’s first female manager in 1991 and was inducted into the FAI Hall of Fame last November.

“Sadly, a couple of people have passed and I am trying to get proof (they played).

“One girl, Tina Jones, passed in 2018. I played with her. She was the first Irish girl to score a hat-trick in Tolka Park, against Northern Ireland. I found a clip in the National Library raving about her for her performance, so she is safely there.

“I had another girl who said ‘it doesn’t matter, I only came on a substitute and I don’t have any proof.’ I knew somebody in Galway and asked if they had any paperwork. Lo and behold, in the local paper, there was an article that said Jackie Bradish replaced Yvonne Lyons in the 73rd minute, so she’s through the door.

“I want the historical records to be accurate while we are all still alive.”

Breda Hanlon lined out in midfield in the maiden home fixture and is delighted to be recognised this year, with all 1973 players also invited as special guests for Ireland’s World Cup send-off game against France at Tallaght Stadium on July 6.

“I came home early from my holidays in Spain last night because I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” said Hanlon.

“When we played, we didn’t expect anything. We just wanted to play football, it didn't matter that we had no nets or unmarked pitches

“I scored against Northern Ireland (in 1973). I could say it was a screamer from the halfway line but I’d be lying.

“I had hurt my ankle the previous week in the Phoenix Park. John Doran (former Bohemians defender) strapped my ankle on the morning of the match.

“He told me not to allow the Ireland manager to see the strapping because he wouldn’t let me play, so I put my socks on in the bathroom. I still played the full match and scored. You put your heart and soul into it”

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