Raphoe FC’s under-15 girls participation in the Girls’ Football Festival has been described by a coach who accompanied the team as a brilliant learning experience.
The three-day festival in the Austrian capital celebrated soccer, respect and diversity, and was part of the Football Zajedno – Football Together Project which promotes international exchange, respect and equality.
Sinead Kelly, who headed up the trip to Vienna with fellow Raphoe FC coach, Ronan O’Flannagan, said that everything was extremely well organised.
“Crusaders, who were Northern Ireland’s representatives, and ourselves were greeted at the airport when we got to Vienna and we were brought straight to the hostel. Everything was so well planned out and there was never a time when any of the girls were sitting twiddling their thumbs. It was a great experience for them. We’d advise any club that ever gets an opportunity to make such a trip to grab it with both hands. It really was a brilliant learning experience.
“From the girls’ point of view, it was great socially. There was a bonding session on the Friday when we arrived and they made connections with girls from other countries very quickly. They also enjoyed a meal together,” she added.
“The girls were later divided up into groups and taken into the city and shown the sights. This was another chance for them to meet and mix with new faces. Knowing that everything was safe and that the people looking after the girls were well qualified made the whole experience so enjoyable. Then there was a training session on the Saturday and they bonded again with a different group of girls. So, they had three opportunities to mix and mingle, and every single one of them did. Over the weekend, big friendships were made.”
The Raphoe FC coach continued: “While some teams might have travelled to Vienna with the idea that there was a trophy to win, we didn’t go there with that sort of attitude. We had a mixture of girls at under-15s, so they were coming from two different teams and one or two would float up to the older team now and again. For us, the focus was on the social aspect of learning, on communication and breaking those barriers down. On the sporting side, the question was ‘could they learn something?’ while also coming up against better players in extremely warm conditions. The temperature was 30 degrees when we were there.”
Pointing out that it was the first time for some of the girls to be away from home and away from their parents, she added: “They made new friends and travelled to a different country. It was a great way for them to develop their own mindset. I think all the girls have come back home better and more experienced individuals. They also all have a better understanding of cultural differences. They were able to say ‘we are here representing Ireland’. A lot of girls and boys will never be able to say that or get that opportunity. They might not have been representing their county at an elite level, but they had the honour of representing Ireland and an international event.”
Stating that all the girls had pushed themselves to the limit and performed extremely well in the heat, Sinead added: “It was an action-packed weekend and they were sad to leave. Obviously, the girls bonded quicker with the Crusaders players because there wasn’t a language barrier. I got chatting to one of their coaches, Gillian, who is travelling with a team to the Foyle Cup. We are planning to meet up during the competition in Derry. Hopefully, we’ll get a trip to Belfast and they’ll come to Raphoe at some stage – maybe not this year but perhaps during pre-season next year. Every one of the girls should be very proud of themselves. They represented their club, their county and their country very well and we couldn’t have asked any more of them.”
“We are extremely grateful for the help and assistance we got from the Donegal Sports Partnership and the FAI. We’d like to thank Myles Sweeney and Hugh Carlin from the Donegal Sports Partnership and the FAI’s Trevor Scanlon and Des Tomlinson for their support,” she said.
Raphoe Town FC was the only team from the Republic of Ireland taking part in the girl’s football festival. The other seven European countries that were represented were Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, Greece, Northern Ireland and Austria.