REPUBLIC of Ireland manager Richard Berkeley and his U15 squad will not get the opportunity to claim a third Bob Docherty Cup in a row this year.
Covid-19 has ended any chance of Berkeley’s Irish U15 side from adding to their two previous tournament successes. Due to time and calendar constraints, the annual three-day Bob Docherty U15 Cup involving the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland cannot be accommodated before the end of the year.
Even more disappointingly, an Irish squad that includes two of Cork’s finest emerging talents, Heidi O’Sullivan (Regina Mundi College) and Ellie O’Brien (Scoil Muire gan Smál, Blarney) look set to miss out on the majority of the U15 international season.
“Everyone associated with the Republic of Ireland U15 squad is naturally gutted,” Irish U15 international manager Richard Berkeley told The Echo.
“This would have been my sixth Bob Docherty Cup so I’ve been around the block a good few times at this stage. It really is a great competition and the girls will miss not being involved. It is always hugely enjoyable whilst also a real challenge from a coaching point of view. The planning and preparation involved is intense but it is enjoyable at the same time too.
“As for the girls, it would have been a lovely feeling to walk out on the pitch with the green jersey on and their national anthem playing. This current U15 group have only gotten to experience that once, against England, in a full international earlier this year.
“To miss out on the experience of travelling, as a squad, to a tournament like the Bob Docherty Cup because of Covid-19 is absolutely heart-breaking. We have been working extensively with the current squad since before last year’s Gaynor Cup in preparation for them making the step up to U15 and the international stage.
“That involved watching, trialling and then coaching those girls after the Gaynor Cup through our various Emerging Talent Programme centres across the country. Next, the girls would have been involved in the annual interprovincial tournament and then more trials at the turn of the year.
"It is an awful lot of work for those girls who have been with us since last summer. So, to miss out on the major U15 international tournament of the year is an absolute killer.”
Luckily, Richard Berkeley’s U15’s partook in two important games prior to the Covid-19 outbreak. The first saw a 20-player Irish selection involved in a two-day training camp at Salthill Devon FC’s fantastic facility and playing a Galway U17 selection in front of a sizeable attendance.
“The trip to Galway involved a squad of 20 players and an overnight stay,” the Irish manager said. “It also acted as a final trial before whittling down the squad to 18 for the Northern Ireland and England internationals. At the end of the two games, barring injury, those 18 players would have been named as the U15 international squad for the rest of the season.
“We were treated brilliantly in Galway and the match itself was a high profile one, attracting close to one thousand supporters on the day. The Mayor of Galway was there and there were a lot of events going on around our visit. The girls thoroughly enjoyed the experience.”
The Irish U15s followed up that game with a cracking encounter against England in the John Read Cup at Abbottstown at the beginning of March. Poppy Prichard handed the visitors an early lead prior to Ellie Long equalising and sending the sides in tied 1-1 at the break. Rebecca Ferguson netted the only goal of the second period to hand England a 2-1 victory.
“We were scheduled to face Northern Ireland in a friendly at the start of February but had to move it to the end of that month because of bad weather,” Berkley noted.
“The original plan was to arrange a number of training sessions after our Galway trip and then play Northern Ireland. That would have been the perfect lead-in to taking on England in the John Read Cup.
“The problem was that our game with the North had to be cancelled for a second time because of all the storms. So, we didn’t get to play an international (team) opponent before taking on the English, which is what we badly needed. Don’t get me wrong, the game up in Galway was a good, competitive encounter but there were roll on and roll off substitutes and it just wasn’t the intensity that we needed ahead of the English clash.
“England were just back from a training camp in Holland where they took on the Eindhoven Academy teams in a couple of friendlies. They were just that bit sharper and quicker to the ball on the day.
“Football-wise, there was nothing between us but I could see that a few of our girls weren’t used to playing at that high intensity and pace. That’s why missing out on a game against Northern Ireland beforehand was so crucial.
“The North are a big, strong, physical side and playing them would have better prepared the girls for the English game. Looking back, not having any competitive game for six or seven weeks caught up with us.”
Despite all the setbacks, this year has proven a great learning experience for the Republic of Ireland U15 girls and their future remains bright under Richard Berkeley’s tutelage.
- In next week’s Echo, Ger McCarthy interviews Rep of Ireland U15 international and Cork City rising star Heidi O’Sullivan