Talented Dalkey United footballers shine in MGL and Academy teams

Dalkey United U13 Girls

Dalkey United is proud of all our teams but here we focus on the success of the girls’ teams.

Last Sunday, 3rd October, five Dalkey United players represented the club in the Metropolitan Girls League (MGL) Southside Academy team that beat Wexford Girls 3-1. Anna Butler, Emma Lamb, Lily Noonan, Isabella Smart and Sophie Hardy were selected to train with the Academy in additional sessions at Stepaside each week. Competitive fixtures have now begun and this impressive away win against Wexford Girls was their first match in the group stage of the Gaynor Cup.

Each started their footballing career at Dalkey United, and was delighted to be selected for the Academy, appreciating the higher level coaching with peers from other clubs. The sessions, Emma says, are “a bit more organised” and focus on knowledge of the game, training tactics and skills.

In the Academy, the handbook’s first rule reminds the girls to: play because you enjoy football, not to please your parents or coach. Dalkey United shares this value, so is happy to suggest players for annual Academy trials. There seems no doubt the girls are keen to play as often as possible. However, parents, according to the Handbook, must not force their child to participate in soccer, which seems unlikely with the talented and keen group of girls Dalkey United has.

MGL league games

Dalkey United’s long-established girls U11, U13 and U14 teams play in the Metropolitan Girls League, established over ten years ago: our U9s play in the DDSL. Matches each weekend are against familiar teams such as Joeys, Peamount, Bohemians and Home Farm and as with all Dalkey United teams, are coached and managed by dedicated parents.

Most of the girls playing in those age groups started their careers in our academy for early age groups, sharing the pitches with boys. It’s only at U8 that girls split into their own teams. Simon Boucher, coach of girls U13 team (with Sean O’Connor and Paul Behan) and father of central midfield Sienna (aged 11) believes that, although artificial, that change helps build the girls’ confidence on the ball. He hesitates to make too much of the more physical tackling by boys at that age, whilst also fondly remembering the time the girls U10 team beat the U9 boys.

Talking about their success with Simon and with Mick Lamb (coach of the U14 girls team with Niels O’Flanagan), it is clear that the common ingredients of a strong team are all in place – talented girls, devoted coaches, volunteer parents, effective training sessions – yet added to that, the core of the team has played together for years. In Emma Lamb’s case, on the U14s now, she started at Dalkey aged six, and with many of her football friends, they’ve been with Dalkey ever since. Similarly, Sienna has played alongside Ruhama Gill, Lara Dallaghan, Clara O’Connor and Julia Sheridan for more than six years, creating bonds of friendship on and off the pitch.

That consistency and loyalty over the years clearly makes a difference: results are not the sole aim here but have been particularly good this season so far for the U13 team – conceding just one goal but scoring over 30. The U14 team had a great run pre-pandemic and is still making good progress though struggling at times lately to field a full-strength team given injuries and, uniquely these days, absences caused by reactions to Covid vaccines.

Ruhama Gil converting a penalty kick against Maynooth in September

The progression from Dalkey United to training with others at Dublin level is a major achievement for the Club and the girls too. In autumn of last year, the club was proud to put forward and find selected five girls from for the U12/13 MGL Academy – Ruhama Gil (U13), Lara Dallaghan, Sienna Boucher, Zara Behan and Julia Sheridan (all U12). Sienna really enjoys their weekly sessions, saying they are “so fun and the girls all play at the same high standard.”  Simon agrees about the quality of coaching and believes it is vital the girls hear other coaches’ voices: the coaches plan to put forward even more of their players for MGL Academy trials this autumn.

National talent pathways

National football player pathways tend to be shown in a pyramid, and that is the case for the FAI girls’ talent programme, with the peak of achievement being national selection and the Women’s National League. Dalkey United is immensely proud that so many girls have also already been selected for the programme that forms the base of that pyramid, known as the Emerging Talent Programme (EMT): Anna, Isabella, Sophie and Emma impressed in trials and joined the EMT, providing experience and training at the Dublin centre of excellence, one of 13 nationwide. That adds up to six sessions of football a week for these girls, with three for Dalkey United including matches. The time/kit/transport juggle must be quite real for the girls and their families alike, along with maintaining fitness, homework and other sports.

Emma Lamb in action against Wexford for the U13 MGL Southside Academy

Anna Butler is a player impressing many with her skill and talent and is being noticed beyond the Dublin football set up. Currently aged 13 and at Dalkey United since she was five, she is now also training with the FAI U15 Girls National Academy. This national profile is an impressive achievement and testament to her hard work and the support of her family but also the Club’s commitment to girls’ progression within the wider MGL and FAI set up. That commitment provides valuable coherence across the age groups and the sharing of good practice and experience.

Dalkey United Runs on Volunteers

Clubs like Dalkey United run on the effort and kindness of volunteers, and it is credit to the coaches of our girls’ teams that the players have been noticed and selected for additional regional and national training in such numbers. The role of Girls’ Coordinator also ensures a voice on the club’s committee, a position that is soon to become vacant. The club would love to hear from any parents interested in being the new Coordinator for the Girls teams.

Off the pitch, the club’s girls are witnessing the rise of success in Irish female sport – beyond the boxing ring or golf course. They see role models in the national game: many of the girls attend Ireland Women’s matches together, enjoying the win over Australia last month at the Tallaght Stadium, and looking forward to Ireland playing the Olympic champions Sweden later this month. Back at the Club, more women, including mothers and a local TY student, are coming forward to help with training, noticeably in the younger age groups. At the older age groups, progress is also being seen: several ETP sessions are run by women, and a U13 girls’ recent match was overseen by a female ref.

Finally, it may be a challenge for these young footballers to limit their sporty, athletic selves to one sport – many also play hockey, basketball or GAA, and it is common for a player to arrive straight from another fixture on a Sunday. That conflict between different shaped balls becomes more acute at secondary school – true for boys too – when school sport begins to become more time-consuming and commitment is demanded for the most talented in particular. But the girls’ loyalty and commitment to Dalkey United is notable and as we see a welcome rise in participation and representation in girls’ sport, we are certainly proud of the contribution Dalkey United players are making.

We wish all the girls the very best in training, trials and matches in the coming season.