Hoops Girls in Green on fire

Lia O'Leary (left) and Joy Ralph in action for Shamrock Rovers in their scoreless draw with Shelbounre in Tolka Park on Saturday 13 April

Lia O'Leary (left) and Joy Ralph in action for Shamrock Rovers in their scoreless draw with Shelbounre in Tolka Park on Saturday 13 April Credit: Matthew Lysaght (ETPhotos)

Despite the scoreless draw at Tolka Park on Saturday, Shamrock Rovers’ Lia O’Leary and Joy Ralph had the Reds rattled in spells on their respective right and left lanes over the 90+ minutes played in Dublin’s Ringsend Derby.

Neither of the playmakers showed signs of tired legs following their international duties in the previous week (along with club teammate Aoife Kelly) where their joint link-up play across three fixtures helped Ireland secure qualification to the UEFA Women's Under-19 European Championships for the first time since 2014.

Speaking post-match inside the entrance gates at Tolka Park, extratime.com asked O’Leary how she felt about the squad's international achievement. 

“Yeah, we’re all buzzing,” she enthused. “It was such a great camp. We came in as third seeds and we were such huge underdogs but we just really put the performance in. We all believed in each other and the motivation going into the game was unreal for all three games - we’re just all absolutely over the moon.”

On how the Portmarnock native viewed the Hoops' battle with Eoin Wearen’s XI, O’Leary was balanced in her reflection.

“Yeah, I thought it was a good game. I think we definitely pushed on. We had chances that on another day we would finish but I think it was a great game from both teams…we both gave it everything.”

In the 67th minute, the left winger (who earned her place in the LOI team of the week for her impressive performance in Drumcondra) had the Hoops' best chance to score. Her sparring partner Ralph stretched to win a header and expertly controlled the ball with her chest.

The number 19 raced inside the penalty area and lured in the Shels backline who forgot momentarily to protect their back post, where her teammate had stealthily moved into position but O’Leary was unable to keep her shot low and under the crossbar.

“It just bounced as soon as I hit it,” O’Leary reflected, recalling those crucial seconds in her mind's eye. “I’m raging but yeah… myself and Joy love playing together…we just read what each other do."

The test at Tolka was a physical one, much like the Hoops season curtain raiser against DLR Waves at the UCD Bowl, where the Dublin 24 women were held to a 1-1 draw.

Rovers next welcome Waves to Tallaght Stadium for their second All Island Cup fixture this Saturday, a contest that is likely to be physical from the kick-off.

When asked whether their tussle at Tolka will stand Rovers in good stead for another robust contest, O’Leary said:

“Yeah it’s always a good challenge playing DLR so we’ll learn from the first game of the season and hope to bring what we’ve been working on into the game next week.

"We just need to move the ball quickly - that eliminates the physical challenge at times so if we just move the ball and play how we know we can play, then I think we have a great chance.”


Back to Sesvete, a district of the Croatian capital Zagreb, where a second-half goal from Ralph on April 6th fired Ireland into this summer's European finals in Lithuania.

Ralph’s strike proving to be the difference in a game where both teams had a player sent off - Freya Healy picking up two yellow cards late on for the Girls in Green.

Speaking to Ralph after the final whistle in Tolka on Saturday, extratime.com asked the Greenhills native for her thoughts on the European success of the Under 19s.

“It’s unreal,” she beamed. “I’m absolutely buzzing with how the week went - probably one of the best camps I’ve ever been in.”

On whether the squad had time to relax and watch Ireland and England go toe to toe at the Aviva, Ralph said:

“We all just watched it together... they [England] are one of the top teams but I think we put them under serious pressure, especially in the second half and I think we'll just build on that.”

Earlier in the week Ralph’s manager Collie O’Neill spoke about the contrast between the teenager's quiet nature off the pitch, and her ability to switch once her boots cross that white line.

Having watched the pacy forward play live, and interviewed her post-match, your extratime.com reporter can confirm that the dichotomy is legit… yet so is the youngster.

For 45 minutes in the second half, Ralph spun the Drumcondra debonairs, weaving, chasing and challenging for the ball time after time on the right channel, leaving her marker for dust.

Ralph is a puzzle that Shelbourne’s Leah Doyle could not piece together until the final ten minutes of the Ringsend Derby, while the formidable Jessica Gargan never looked to have O’Leary’s number.

Despite Rovers’ frustratingly slow start in this league campaign with four draws from four matches, both O’Leary and Ralph are a flammable threat for the Dublin 24 outfit and could very well pull a rabbit out of the hat for O'Neills side as the season progresses.

To rewrite the lyrics of the Alicia Keys smash hit ‘Girl on Fire’  - “these girls are on FIRE.”

Ireland are lucky to have them - and so are the Hoops.