Irish footballers speak out on sexual harassment and homophobia in new investigation

Amongst those speaking out is Jackie McCarthy-O'Brien, the first Black queer woman to play for Ireland's senior women's football team.


A number of Irish footballers from the country’s first state-funded all-women soccer course, which took place in the 1990s, spoke out against the sexual harassment and homophobia they allegedly experienced at the hands of their Football Association of Ireland coaches as part of a new joint investigation documentary. Titled The Girls in Green, the investigation was conducted by the Sunday Independent and RTÉ Investigates.

The list of harrowing accusations against the FAI coaches includes testimony from Lynn Winters, a then-18-year-old footballer who was made captain of the course’s team when then-head-coach, now-football agent Eamonn Collins allegedly made non-consensual sexual advances toward the player. Winters claims that she went on “dates” with Collins, who promised to open doors for her football career. 

Winters went on to allege that Collins “pinched” her crotch at a dinner with football-legend Alan Ball, the England World Cup winner, who was unaware of the alleged assault. 

Collins has similarly been accused of sexual misconduct by then-21-year-old footballer Bridget McDonald. 

McDonald, who identifies as a gay woman, claimed that she was “emotionally distraught” after a night of drinking allegedly ended with sexual intercourse with the head-coach. McDonald went on to claim that after the alleged incident, Collins warned her that she might be pregnant. 

In an interview with HerSports discussing the alleged abuse, McDonald said: “I blamed myself for everything…I would’ve started drinking heavily after that and I struggled with years of addiction.

“I was in my first AA meeting with a year of leaving the course – a year and a half maybe, and I’ve struggled with that for years. I’ve been in three rehabs and I don’t know if I have ever spoken about that [night].

“Because I blame myself,” McDonald concluded. 

Collins, who received a “stand down” order from the FAI in March as a result of the numerous allegations poised against him, is now subject to Garda investigation. 

The new investigation similarly looked at the experiences of international footballers during the 1990s, who trained under then-manager Mick Cooke. 

Jackie McCarthy-O’Brien, the first Black woman to ever play for Ireland’s senior women’s football team, told RTÉ Investigates that she was never selected to play for Ireland again after she was allegedly assaulted by Cooke in the 1990s.

According to McCarthy-OBrien, Cooke approached her in his hotel room and kissed her.  “And then the next thing, it’s like he’s leaning over and grabbing you by the shoulders to kiss you and kisses you on the lips.

“And I’m like, gobsmacked. How do I get out of here? What do I do? Do I give him a kick? Do I give him a slap? Oh, there’s the end of your career – it’s kind of a life flashing before you in a few seconds and you just go numb,” McCarthy-O’Brien told HerSports

McCarthy-O’Brien, who identifies as a lesbian, served as the Grand Marshall of Limerick Pride in 2023. 

Cooke was similarly accused of homophobia by course footballers, with former FAI CEO Bernard O’Byrne claiming that the former-manager once showed up unannounced at the FAI HQ to deliver a “homophobic rant” about the squad’s lesbian members. 

Amongst these players were Ireland’s record goal-scorer Olivia O’Toole and now-University of Ulster lecturer Katie Liston. Both O’Toole and Liston reported feeling exiled and stigmatised by Cooke on the basis of their sexual orientation. Cooke allegedly told Liston that he planned on “getting rid of the lesbians” in a private conversation. 

These accusations resulted in Cooke facing a “stand down” order from the FAI earlier this year while he was acting as manager of the DCU women’s football team. Cooke has since denied all allegations leveraged against him and is challenging the stand-down order. 

Collins has similarly denied all accusations, claiming that he “emphatically and unreservedly denies any improper relationship or conduct by him while he was involved as a coach on a football training course in west Co Dublin that commenced in 1996 which is more than 25 years ago”. 

While neither Cooke nor Collins have been charged in relation to the accusations made in the Girls in Green investigation, David Courell, interim CEO of FAI, released a statement apologising to the Irish footballers for the alleged actions of its former coaches. 

“We are sorry for what you had to endure, we’re sorry that anyone could have ever felt unsafe,” the statement read. “We are sorry that the modern practices and reporting structures that we now have in place were not there for you when you needed them.” 

The FAI have sent out a call asking any Irish footballers who have experienced sexual assault or homophobia at the hands of FAI staff to contact [email protected] to provide more information for its ongoing investigation into all allegations made in the RTÉ Investigates documentary.

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