By Chloe Mustaki (@CMustaki)
The Ireland Women’s Universities Squad recently took part in the 2019 FISU Summer Universiade in Naples. Dave Connell’s side defied the odds by reaching the semi-finals, losing on penalties to Russia. Ultimately, the Irish girls had to settle for fourth place, a remarkable achievement in itself.
The squad was made up of some of Ireland’s top Women’s National League talent, and was captained by Shelbourne midfielder Chloe Mustaki. Chloe took the time to tell us about the experience
‘One could say our trip to Italy didn’t get off to the best of starts! We arrived in Naples with one less luggage bag and were eventually greeted at around 1 am in our accommodation with not the most appetising food bags, leaving us all with a hungry tummy going to bed on our very first night. However, being Irish we made managed to make a laugh out of the whole situation and from the next day onwards, the experience progressively got better and better.
Heading into the tournament expectations, especially for us girls, was that we probably wouldn’t make it out of our group, as we faced 2017 champions Brazil, and South Korea who are always a very tough side to play.
However, I don’t think there was ever a doubt in our minds that we wouldn’t qualify for the quarter-finals. Despite having only trained a handful of times as a team in the weeks leading up to the tournament, there was such a strong belief amongst the squad that we could cause a real upset at this tournament, and that level of enthusiasm in my opinion stemmed from our coaching staff.
From the moment we met up as a squad in Limerick in early June, the two Daves (Connell and Bell) along with coach Keith (O’Halloran) instilled that belief in us in a way that I’ve rarely experienced before. From there on out, it was a case of myself and the girls wanting to prove them right, but also wanting to make a name for ourselves on a world stage because that’s what we felt we truly deserved.
Being able to represent your country in a worldwide tournament is not an opportunity that comes around often and I don’t think any one of us took it for granted. Every single member of the squad gave everything they had in each of those games, whether it was the 11+ individuals who were lucky enough to play or those on the bench that kept us going on the side-line, in 32 degrees of heat.
Being able to lead out my country against such big nations was an incredible honour for me, but to be able to do so with such a fantastic bunch of girls and staff around me made it all the sweeter. As a team we really came together. We spent most of our days either in stitches laughing together, or else singing aloud on our journeys (to the detriment of other people’s ears!). I think as the days went on other nations came to respect us, not only because of the results we were producing on the pitch but because of how much we rallied around one another at every moment of every day. I think I speak for everyone involved with our women’s team that the bond created between us all on that trip is one that will live on amongst us for years to come.
The matches themselves were extremely demanding physically. Combine 30+ degrees of heat, a mere 48h recovery and a very challenging opposition and you’re left with incredibly tired legs, with only your mental strength pulling you through, game after game. Yet that unrelenting belief that we could get a medal kept us going day-in-day-out.
With every win the dream of becoming world university champions was becoming more of a reality, and of course, also played a major part in blocking out all the feelings of tiredness and soreness we were all experiencing. Not to mention the level of support we were receiving back home and in Italy, which was a huge boost in keeping us mentally fresh and ready to go again no matter who we were to face next.
Ultimately, in the end it wasn’t to be this year in terms of making the podium, but that’s the way it is with sport sometimes. If we’re honest with ourselves, we probably had a bit of luck along the way in getting to the semi-final and it seems as though the Russians stole the luck back off the Irish in our third-place play-off match. To lose out on a Bronze medal after some brilliant performances, especially when I feel we were the better side against the Russians, was gut-wrenching to say the least.
Nevertheless, it put Ireland back on the map in this competition and guarantees Ireland’s women’s team automatic qualification in the next World University Games to host football, which is fantastic.
We’re the fighting Irish and we’ll go again next time!’
Team Ireland Women’s Squad;
Goalkeepers: Amanda McQuillan (IT Carlow), Naoisha McAloon (TU Dublin)
Defenders: Chloe Mustaki (UCD), Ciara McNamara (UCC), Jessica Gargan (Quinnipiac University), Lauren Dwyer (IT Carlow), Lynn Craven (DCU), Sadhbh Doyle (NUI Galway), Shauna Fox (NUI Galway)
Midfielders: Ailbhe Clancy (DCU) Aislinn Meaney (NUI Galway), Eleanor Ryan-Doyle (TU Dublin), Gemma McGuinness (Ulster University), Megan Smyth-Lynch (IT Carlow), Niamh Farrelly (DCU), Zoe McGlynn (Letterkenny IT), IT Carlow’s Lauryn O’Callaghan and Letterkenny IT’s Zoe Green
Forwards: Elle Rose O’Flaherty (NUI Galway), Lauren Kelly (Maynooth University)
Team Ireland Women’s Staff: David Connell (Head Coach), David Bell (Assistant Coach), Keith O’Halloran (Coach), Barbara Bermingham (Equipment Officer) Kathryn Fahy (Physiotherapist)
Photo Credit: Third Level Football http://www.thirdlevelfootball.ie