Irish goalkeeping great Sue Hayden
Born: 8 July 1962
Position: Goalkeeper / Defender
Debut: v. England (1985)
Occupation: Computer operator (1987), Security printer (1994)
Remarkably, many of Hayden’s early Ireland caps were won as a cultured full-back. That was because The Girls in Green had another brilliant young keeper in the shape of Sue Kelly from Cork Celtic.
On the club circuit, Hayden was a regular face in Ireland’s patchwork regionalised setup. She spent the summer months with Rathfarnham United in the Leinster League, then turned out for Greystones in the winter Wicklow League.
The impression is of a hopeless football junkie: “have boots, will travel” and willing to play anywhere to get a game!
1990 saw Hayden acclaimed as Opel Player of the Year, as Rathfarnham swept all before them. A quadruple of league, LFAI Cup, Presidents Cup and Westport 5-a-side gave the club its annus mirabilis.
In Ireland’s topsy-turvy Euro 1993 qualifying campaign Hayden, now settled in goal, ran the full gamut of ecstasy to agony.
She backstopped Ireland’s incredible smash n’ grab in Spain – repelling attack after attack from stars including Itziar, Jose Maria Bakero’s footballing sister.
Olivia O’Toole’s deft free kick past future Arsenal goalie Roser Serra gave Ireland their greatest ever win. But nine months later in Borås, Hayden started between the sticks for a 10–0 humbling by Sweden.
Ireland’s plucky grafters had no answer to the bison strength and tall, muscular athleticism of the Super Swedes – bronze medalists at the previous year’s World Cup in China.
It was a black day for Irish football and a grave disappointment to all involved. The Football Association of Ireland, previously disdainful of women and girls, hoiked the team out of the 1995 Euros to avert further embarrassment.
A restoration project, mostly paid for by the lucrative World Cup exploits of Jack Charlton’s men, was rolled out under new coach Mick Cooke.
Ireland’s number 9 in that fateful match, who narrowly beat Hayden to the 1993 Opel Player of the Year, was Sue Ronan of the Welsox club. Ronan would one-day (2010) take overall charge of a totally revamped women’s football setup in the Republic.
In August 1994 Ireland hosted a USA XI at Richmond Park in Dublin. They were billed as a ‘USA B’ team, but were apparently an amateur select picked by the USASA organisation, not the American FA (USSF).
It marked the first appearance in Ireland’s senior squad of a gangly prospect from Kildare, Emma Byrne, who had turned 15 earlier that summer and was already a fixture in the FAI’s new under-16 team.
By then Moreen Celtic’s player-coach, 32-year-old Hayden had 29 caps and was the national squad’s senior player. The wise owl took Byrne under her wing. In some ways this mirrored the sorcerer–apprentice relationship between their male counterparts of the time, Donegal duo Packie Bonner and Shay Given.
Byrne’s stellar career with English club Arsenal brought an avalanche of silverware and extended into the FA WSL era. This meant decent press coverage and a level of professionalism, or near-professionalism, that Hayden’s generation could only dream of.
But Byrne never forgot Hayden’s kindness and rarely misses a chance to heap praise and gratitude on her former mentor.
It is said “One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil”.1 During the World Cup 1999 qualifiers Byrne stepped up to be Ireland’s first choice, with Hayden looking on proudly from the bench.
That was not the end, though. Far from it! Honourable patriot Hayden had returned to plug away with Rathfarnham United and humbly answered Ireland’s call during the 1999 World Cup qualifying campaign.
In 2002 evergreen Hayden and her ex-Ireland team mate Siobhán Furlong were drafted into Shamrock Rovers’ UEFA Women’s Cup squad. It was the first time any Irish club had made a sortie into the premier continental women’s competition.
At the mini-tournament in Niš, Rovers beat Croatians Osijek but lost to Serbian hosts Masinac and German cracks Frankfurt.
Women’s Football Archive recently profiled Claire Lacey, who played in goal for England but often outfield for her clubs.
Pauline Cope herself was a sometime centre-half with Millwall Lionesses, where her whole-hearted efforts earned the sobriquet “Chopper”!
Liz Deighan called Cope up to the WFA’s England under-21 team as a goalie, while she was still playing outfield for her club.
Sue Buckett played her first games for Southampton outfield, before pulling on the gloves and becoming England’s original number 1.
Versatile Donny Belles legend Karen “Skiller” Skillcorn wore shirt numbers 1 to 11 during her career with the South Yorkshire giants. She played twice for England.
It seems that the goalkeeper position has not always enjoyed the specialized consideration it does in the women’s game of today.
Even in more recent times, Kay Hawke—a brilliant custodian worth far more than her measly one England cap—had to move to second tier Lincoln because her top flight club had no proper goalkeeper coaching.
Update: Check out our list of Republic of Ireland women’s soccer greats here.
1. Swiss upstart Carl Jung famously wielded this quote from Nietzsche’s Zarathustra in an impertinent letter to Austrian elder Sigmund Freud. ↩