Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow have blazed a trail, but the next generation are coming and they’re coming fast.
To put it simply, can’t see, can’t be.
With the appropriate investment, women’s soccer in this country will explode following the impact of the recent FIFA Women’s World Cup and the qualification of the Ireland team. Girls around the country will be kicking the ball against the wall hoping to become the next Katie McCabe, Abbie Larkin, or Denise O’Sullivan.
Skip to another thriving female sport in Ireland and we are already seeing the next generation break through.
Leona Maguire and Stephanie Meadow have carried the flag for Irish women’s golf for a long time, looking up to the likes of Pádraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell.
Now, they have become the female role models they never had, particularly Leona, whose exploits on the LPGA Tour, two wins and two Solheim Cup victories – including a record breaking Solheim Cup rookie performance in 2021 – have inspired the next generation of girls.
What is most exciting about this is that the next crop of elite amateurs and young aspiring professionals are starting to appear and do it on the big stage – in professional tour events.
After some personal problems, Olivia Mehaffey is back on the horse on the Ladies European Tour, and she has shown green shoots of recovery, while Castlewarden’s Lauren Walsh waved goodbye to a glittering amateur career after a trophy-laden period with Wake Forest in order to pursue her LPGA Tour dream.
Walsh has impressed in her early starts on the LET Access Series as she dips her toe into the professional ranks.
Sara Byrne of Douglas and Elm Park’s Anna Foster have also stepped up to LET Access Series level as amateurs on invites, with both threatening to win before the latter qualified for the AIG Women’s Open in Walton Heath.
Byrne has kicked on since, winning the low amateur after a thoroughly impressive display at the KPMG Women’s Irish Open before striking gold to win her maiden collegiate title in the United States while representing Miami last week.
The Cork star has made a blistering start to the World Amateur Team Championships this week, sharing the lead after a four-under 68 in Abu Dhabi while the Ireland team (Aine Donegan, Beth Coulter, Sara Byrne) are lying in third overall.
“It’s a really good feeling winning, so having the Close and getting my first collegiate win, which was a massive goal for me coming into college golf, getting that under my belt is a really good feeling and getting low-amateur at the Irish Open, all the goals that I have I am ticking off,” said Byrne.
“Then coming into this week, just building off the last couple of weeks, going into the World Amateur it’s great confidence boost and great momentum. It’s a bit like I’m in cruise control.”
Kirkistown Castle’s Beth Coulter and Roscommon starlet Olivia Costello have both won big titles in their burgeoning careers and also impressed in Dromoland Castle, as did Kate Lanigan (Hermitage), Emma Fleming (Elm Park) and Lahinch duo Aine Donegan and Aideen Walsh.
Coulter, Byrne and Foster continuing to thrive in university Stateside but it’s the exploits of Donegan at the U.S. Women’s Open that show the gulf between college golf and the elite in the women’s game isn’t too wide.
Donegan herself has had a superb first year at LSU after transferring from Indiana, qualifying for the Regional and National Finals before earning an honourable mention in the NCAA All-American at the end of the year.
The 21-year-old captured the hearts of golf fans both at home and in America with her infectious performance at Pebble Beach and who is to say she won’t be the next amateur to join Walsh in taking the leap into the professional ranks.
“One of the biggest things I learned is that it’s not that different than college golf – most of the players there have come through college golf in the US which is nice to know that the step up isn’t that huge in terms of the golf. Everybody I played with they were all amazing but there was nobody who really stood out as ‘oh my god they’re unbelievable,’ so it’s nice to know that I can compete at that level.
“I knew college golf was hard and stressful and the quality of it is really good; like the girl who won the U.S. Women’s Open only graduated from college last year so that’s how I look at it, you can get there.”