BY CHRIS MCNULTY
ROMA McLaughlin sometimes has to pinch herself when she looks at her surroundings.
The 16-year-old Greencastle native is part of the Republic of Ireland Under-19 squad which takes on Sweden in Jessheim, Norway this evening (6pm) in their final group game at the UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championships with the semi-finals in touching distance.
Dave Connell’s side has beaten Spain and England to go to the top of Group B.
McLaughlin has not featured on the pitch, but as the youngest player at the tournament across all of the sides who have qualified the experience has been invaluable for the Moville Community School student.
“It’s great to be involved in the tournament,” she told the Donegal News.
“The girls have been all great to me. I’ve got another three years left at Under-19 level, including this one, and am still eligible for the Under-17s, too.
“It has been a brilliant week. We’re all on a high since the two results against Spain and England. Hopefully there’s more to come. We have to finish the job off now.”
On Tuesday, Claire Shine netted the winner as Ireland scored a 1-0 win over Spain in Jessheim before the came from behind to beat England in Mjondalen on Friday. Claudia Walker gave England the lead, but headed goals from Savannah McCarthy and Keeva Keenan gave the Girls in Green a famous win.
At the UKI Arena, they know victory over Sweden will make a place in the semi-finals safe.
McLaughlin said: “We don’t fear anyone. We take each game as it comes and are very confident in our own ability, no matter who we’re up against. We go into them all with a good mentality and just try to do the best we can.
“Playing in a tournament is completely different to qualifiers. You just know you’re involved in something special. Coming up against all these top teams is brilliant. This is a massive tournament and we’ve a big chance to get to the next stage. Hopefully we can do it now.”
On the surface, Greencastle mightn’t be regarded as a hotbed, but when you consider that the classy midfielder is following in the footsteps of Niamh McLaughlin (no relation) and Gemma McGuinness, then the production line of the club is doing its stuff.
McLaughlin said: “I’d have looked up to the likes of Gemma and Niamh from the club who have gone on to play well for Ireland. They’ve been an inspiration to me.
“I never thought that I’d make it this far, but it’s been a brilliant experience.”
Letterkenny’s Ciara Grant, also a midfielder, who plays with the Republic of Ireland Senior Women’s team, has been in touch to wish her well.
She first caught the eye of the international management while playing for Ulster at the inter-provincial tournament in Athlone.
She said: “I was selected to go for an Under-15 Schools’ trial and I made it through. It has just gone on from that and it’s been great to keep getting called back for Ireland.
“It’s very nervous at first because you’re away down to Dublin and you don’t know very many of the other players. This is a great bunch of players and I’m really enjoying being involved with them.”
That she has been selected for this tournament despite her youthful years outlines the regard Connell holds her talents. McLaughlin has just got over groin and hip flexor injuries that had her sidelined for eight months.
She said: “It happened after I was out in Romania with the Unde-17s. We were playing against the senior women’s team in a friendly match in training and I got injured.
“It was very frustrating to be out for so long, especially since I didn’t expect to be missing that much. It was really frustrating watching the teams go away to Scotland and England for games and not to be involved. I was doing a lot of rehab work every day and I’m delighted to be back.”
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