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Football: Drain follows dream of professional career.

CHRISTINE Drain's name was at the centre of heated debate at a recent Northern Ireland Women's Football Association gathering.

The Belfast-born goalkeeper had declared that she no longer wanted to be considered for Northern Ireland after joining the Republic's ambitions of reaching the European Championship finals.

Drain played her final game for Northern Ireland, her third cap, against the Republic as the curtain raiser to this summer's Milk Cup competition.

Her last appearance was a good will gesture to the IWFA, as it struggled to find a squad for the game.

The west-Belfast girl has, as expected, been questioned as to why she decided to quit Northern Ireland and pledge her allegiance to the Republic at a time when the IFA and the FAI are at loggerheads over the movement of male players from North to South.

She points out that there is only one reason for her switch.

"I'm a footballer and I want to achieve as much success in the game as possible. I asked the FAI for a trial because I knew I could play under the passport rule and felt I would have a better chance to succeed."

Drain plays her football with the Newtownabbey Strikers club in the Northern Ireland Women's League, a club she describes as one which could teach the IWFA "a few lessons".

Despite being selected for the European Championship qualifiers, starting next Wednesday in Sopron, Hungary, Drain remains in awe of the professionalism surrounding the squad managed by Mick Cooke.

"The FAI is doing a fantastic job with the women's team and have recognised that it is a fast growing sport," said Drain.

"We are under strict instructions regarding the trip to Hungary next week. There is time for fun but this is a very serious squad and we do have a very strong chance of reaching the finals.

"I was surprised when I was handed gear, expenses and accommodation for travelling from Belfast to Dublin. You don't find yourself asking for anything and we are treated like professionals.

"It's so different to playing for Northern Ireland.

"I just got fed up arriving for a game and there were no players and very little effort made to support our game. Even when I play for my club, I am treated like a professional and we could actually play as Northern Ireland.

"I got some grief from some people involved in the game in Northern Ireland but I think they have come to understand that the Republic offers me a better chance to see the world and succeed in the game."

Drain is one of two goalkeepers in the Republic squad but is expected to be named first choice against Hungary, Iceland and Estonia.

She harbours the dream of playing in European competition in the Irish shirt, and playing in the World Cup Finals in 2003, and she intends to earn a living from the game.

"I want to complete a soccer scholarship in the US, where the game is professional, and I want to become a coach. I love the game and I love coaching kids and hopefully my career will help promote the game in Northern Ireland too."
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Title Annotation:Sport
Author:McGREEVY, ALEX
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Aug 11, 1999
Words:528
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