WILTON United and Cork City Academy’s Ellie O’Brien is a rising star and capped off a memorable year with a Republic of Ireland U15 international call up.
O’Brien was one of only two Cork players selected by Republic of Ireland manager Richard Berkeley to represent their country at U15 international level during 2020. Heidi O’Sullivan and Ellie O’Brien made the final 18-player Irish squad having impressed at the 2019 inter-provincial tournament and a series of international trials held in Abbottstown, Dublin.
A product of the highly regarded Wilton United Schoolgirls setup, Ellie O’Brien has clearly benefitted from UEFA B qualified Coach Barbara O’Connell and the Cork club’s underage structure. Now part of the Cork City Academy, the young Wilton player has every chance of progressing both her club and international career.
“I began playing with Wilton when I was around nine-years-old,” O’Brien told the Echo.
“Wilton is a very good club to play for and the coaches do a brilliant job looking after all their young players. I enjoyed playing for Wilton from the moment I started and they have been very good to me. I’ve been lucky to work with Barbara O’Connell, my main coach, Patrick O’Driscoll and Pat Bowdren as well. Playing with Wilton has helped me develop as a player and helped me get on Cork and Munster (representative) teams as I got older.”
Success at club level - Wilton claimed CWSSL silverware for six consecutive seasons - brought Ellie O’Brien to the attention of the Munster U15 Schoolgirls. The Wilton and Cork City Academy player represented her province for the second year in a row at the 2019 FAI Schools inter-provincials held in Clonshaugh, Dublin.
Along with fellow Cork representative, Heidi O’Sullivan, Ellie played her part in Munster pushing eventual winners Leinster all the way before succumbing to a 2-0 defeat in the deciding fixture.
“I found this year’s inter-provincials much easier to deal with than the year before,” O’Brien said. “It was still a tough tournament but I just enjoyed playing against girls my own age this time around. We played four games in a short space of time and that meant you didn’t have long to recover from one game to another. Leinster were the best team we came up against but they are always strong opposition and have been hard to beat since I started playing at that level.”
Along with Heidi O’Sullivan, O’Brien performed well enough in her three Munster inter-provincial outings to secure a berth in a series of trials for Richard Berkeley’s Republic of Ireland U15 squad.
Named in an initial 20-player international squad, Ellie O’Brien and her teammates travelled to Salthill for a friendly against the Galway U17 National League squad. O’Brien made the cut as Berkeley named an 18-player squad to face England in the John Read Cup shortly after.
“There were over one thousand people at the game in Galway which was unbelievable,” the Cork City Academy player recalled.
“It was great to be part of an Irish U15 squad that played against the Galway U17 National League team and in front of so many people. We had to attend trials immediately after the Galway game up in Dublin. The Irish management team selected their final squad after those trials and I was absolutely delighted to be picked.
“I came on late against England in the John Read Cup which we lost 2-1. That England team was very good though. They passed the ball so well but I thought we stood up to them and got better as the game went on.
“The weather was awful that day as well which made it difficult for both teams. It was disappointing to lose but a great experience to come on and play for Ireland against such a good English team.
“At the start, I was nervous about playing for Ireland at international level as I am still only 15. My manager, Richard Berkeley, has been brilliant to me and helped me along since I joined up with the Irish squad.
“I always get great advice from the Irish coaches and he told me I should be confident playing for Ireland and that I deserve to be in the squad.
“Richard has helped me to relax that bit more and I have settled into the squad now. I love playing for Ireland even though it is a big step up (in terms of quality) playing against other international teams.”
Unfortunately for Ellie O’Brien and her U15 international teammates, Covid-19 brought an unexpected halt to their season. Thankfully, both the Irish and Cork City Academy setups have kept in touch and there is much to look forward to for the emerging Wilton United talent once the action resumes.
“I play for the Cork City Women’s Academy and they have been sending on training programmes that I am able to complete at home,” O’Brien said.
“I started in Cork’s Academy set up about two years ago. Then, they asked me to train with the U17s. I have enjoyed meeting up with all the girls and training together.
“The quality of the Cork City Academy training has really helped improve my game. Everyone is missing football and looking forward to getting back to it again. I miss playing matches and meeting my friends more than anything.
“My hopes for the future are to just keep progressing with Cork City and the Republic of Ireland, hopefully making the Irish U16 and Cork U17 squads in the coming year.”