FOOTBALL The Mayo senior squad return to training this week to begin the build-up to the Connacht SFC Final against Sligo.
SOCCER Kiltimagh teenager Jessica Nolan played three games for the Republic of Ireland U-17s in Iceland last week.
THE FIRST ELEVEN The Republic of Ireland team pictured before last week’s opening game against France in the UEFA U-17 Championships. Kiltimagh’s Jessica Nolan is pictured in the back row, second from left.
The wearing of the green
Kiltimagh’s Jessica Nolan played for Ireland in Iceland
FIVE years ago last Wednesday, Killala’s Aileen Gilroy made national headlines when she sat her Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science exam at the UEFA headquarters in Switzerland during the UEFA Women’s U-17 Championships. Ireland reached the final of that competition before losing to Spain.
Fast forward to 2015, and the current Ireland U-17 squad includes another Mayo player, Jessica Nolan, who had just finished her Leaving Cert at St Louis Community School, Kiltimagh before heading to Iceland for this year’s competition. When she pulled on the Ireland number 11 jersey for the opening game against France last Monday week, it was the end of a long wait.
The 16-year-old was born in Stockport, and moved to this country at the age of seven. She hadn’t played with a girls’ team in England, but having made her mark with Manulla FC, she played for Ireland in the Bob Docherty Cup at under-15 level, scoring a goal against England. When in England for an under-16 double-header, however, it emerged that she had a British passport, and getting the Irish one she needed to represent this country took ‘a long, long time’.
“All in all, it took nearly two and a half years,” she told The Mayo News by ’phone from Iceland last Tuesday. “But I’ve come into this camp for a few months, just waiting on it, and when I was finally [told] ‘Yes, you can play’, I just got the head down.”
The good news that she had been cleared to play only arrived last Thursday week, two days before the flight to Iceland. Having been named in the squad, she was in Castlebar, getting ‘a few bits for going away’ when the call came from team manager Dave Connell.
The official FAI player profiles describes Jessica Nolan as being ‘equipped with frightening pace’, and ‘superb at breaking past the last defender and either finishing a move or setting up a team-mate’. Having started in her preferred position of left wing against France, she was later deployed at left back, where she played last season for Castlebar Celtic. Ireland lost their opening game 1-0 after conceding a late goal, but the Mayo teenager says there was little between the teams.
“The tempo was … very intense for the first ten, 15 minutes, and it kinda caught us off guard a bit,” she admits. “The French were passing one-twos around the park, so it was very difficult for us to get our own rhythm into the game, and to get on the ball. But once we did, we did prove to be good in the middle of the park … the French had two great players up front, so it was difficult for us to deal with them. But they did find it hard to get the ball off us as well.”
The Ireland management team watched a 2-2 draw between Switzerland and Norway – the group’s other game – that evening. A meeting about set-plays, training and match analysis were all scheduled for after the interview. Ireland lost their second game to the Swiss 1-0 on Thursday, undone by a long range strike, and went down 2-0 to Norway in their final match on Sunday.
The team hadn’t had a chance to do much sightseeing when we spoke on Tuesday. But their post-training recovery was done in the sea, and the weather had been really nice – “Ye brought the summer with ye!” one Icelandic person told the squad. “The mountains have ice on them, but the rest is pretty green!” Jessica laughed, when asked if the name Iceland was, in fact, a bit misleading.
Her previous honours include winning the Under-16 Connacht Shield, League and Cup, as well as Player of the Year awards at under-14 and under-16 levels. Representing Castlebar Celtic in the Women’s National League was a big change from Manulla, both in training sessions under coach Adrian Carberry and playing with and against adult players. But she feels her fitness and skills have both improved as a result.
Home is ‘a five-minute walk’ from the Kiltimagh school, though she’s also lived in Swinford, Ballina and Ballyclogher, near Craggagh. She led Craggagh NS team to a runners-up place at the national five-a-side finals in 2010. For good measure, she scored 3-4 (out of 3-5) in helping the school’s Gaelic football team win their first ever Cumann na mBunscol county title.
“I love all sports,” says Jessica, who only turns 17 next month. “I’ve played a lot of basketball; I’ve played table tennis. I like every sport. But for rec time, I love listening to music – Avicii, all that upbeat music, especially on the bus going to training. We always put that on, that gets us pumped for matches.”
Though it was ‘tough’ to combine study with weekend training sessions, she’s happy to report that her Leaving Cert went ‘really well’. Now she’s planning to do a Kickstart (coaching) course, and has applied for a PLC in sports and leisure at St Louis before going on to study at GMIT Mayo in Castlebar. A bright future awaits
Name: Jessica Nolan
Position: Left wing/left back
Club: Castlebar Celtic