herald

Tuesday 17 October 2017

Raheny Ladies dreaming of playing mighty Barcelona

Raheny Utd Ladies training.2/10/2014
Raheny Utd Ladies training.2/10/2014
Keeva Keenan from Raheny Utd Ladies.2/10/2014

The 'Raheny Pandas' have gone where no Irish football team has gone before.

Move over Manchester United, the women of Raheny United football club are making their mark on the Champions League.

The squad of soccer players are the first Irish team - male or female - to win all three matches in their first group of Champions League games.

This Thursday night they begin their bid to get to the next stage of the competition with a home match against UK team Bristol Academy at Inchicore in Dublin at 7.30pm.

Should they win that and stay on top after the away leg a week later, they'll face the might of FC Barcelona.

Progress

"Unbelievable" and "something else" is how the youngest member of the team, Keeva Keenan (16) from Ballymun, describes their progress to date.

Keeva joined Raheny United last June. "I started playing soccer when I was eight or nine. I never would have seen myself here at this age. You have to work hard but its all worth it in the end."

Rachel Graham (25) is from Donaghmede and is studying sports management in Carlow. She has to travel back to Dublin three times a week for training.

She has been with the Pandas for the past 11 years but "never thought I would be playing at this level".

Camaraderie among team members is important to Clare Shine (19) from Cork, who is also studying sports management in Carlow and travels to Dublin with Rachel. "The team members would do anything for each other," she says.

Clare, an All Ireland Camogie champion, is "very excited for Thursday's match. "I know we have the talent but the standard is high".

The players range in age from 16-27 years and in addition to their tough football schedule, hold down jobs or attend College or both.

Manager Casey McQuillan from Kilbarrack says his team is "setting the standards" for women's soccer in this country. "They have achieved things other people haven't."

He points out how tough it is since the Pandas are the only team in the Champions League who are not full time and paid for their efforts.

Donal O'Dwyer of the club says without the sponsorship of E-flow "the team simply wouldn't be here".

csheehy@herald.ie

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