Monday, 26 January 2015

"You play for Ireland?"

I can’t remember a day of my entire childhood where I wasn’t kicking a football around, wearing a jersey or planning my future career as a professional soccer player. As a child, the dream was to wear the green jersey. Not a shop-bought one, though – the real deal. The fact that I’m a girl was never an issue, nor did it ever hinder me in my ambitions on the pitch. So you can imagine my delight when I received "the call" for the first time.

I began playing soccer as soon as I could walk, and that is no exaggeration. My poor sister’s first word was “ball,” for God’s sake. My learning of the beautiful game first came from my two older cousins, male of course, who showed me no mercy despite the two and three year age gap between us. I then moved houses and a new neighbour (also two years my senior) became my mentor. He taught me every trick in the book and after five years of playing matches every single evening until dark, I earned my place on my first Gaynor Cup squad with South Munster.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Gaynor Cup, it’s the female version of the Kennedy Cup. And for those of you unfamiliar with both, it’s an annual soccer tournament with teams from every province competing in it, where trials are held in order to make the team. So this was some serious stuff for a thirteen year old, let me tell you.

The Gaynor Cup took place in the University of Limerick at the end of June every year. It was a weekend tournament, so I had experience of staying in Kilmurry Village long before I ever moved here for college. For the first two tournaments that I was at, I was very much a timid player that would be considered a substitute rather than one of the starting eleven. I had no confidence in myself as a player outside of my comfort zone (the Kerry league) and I was intimidated by the big names on my team, such as Clare Shine, Amy O’ Connor, and the likes.

However, things changed dramatically in 2011. It was my third Gaynor Cup and for some reason beyond my recollection, the big names were never at training leading up to the tournament. That in itself gave me far more confidence in the build-up to the tournament because I was no longer intimidated at training sessions. June came, as did the opening match of the tournament. I believe it was the Midlands (or something to that effect) we were playing. All I need to tell you is I scored a hat-trick in the first half of that match and we went on to win the Gaynor Cup that year.

Within a matter of weeks I received a phone call from a member of the FAI with news that I had been selected to attend trials in Dublin for the Ireland U.17 women’s squad. Bear in mind I was fifteen years old at the time. I can still remember the moment I got the news. It was a dark, rainy evening but as soon as I heard, I darted out the conservatory door and ran two laps of the field in front of my house before texting every number in my contacts. I wasn’t excited or anything.

From there I secured a place on the U.17 squad heading to England at the end of August for a week’s training camp and two friendlies against England. It was hands down one of the coolest experiences of my life running onto that pitch wearing the number 17 jersey. I played left-midfield for Ireland, which was a position I was not accustomed to. Growing up I was always either centre mid or up front for Killarney Celtic, so it took a while to get used to my new position. Let me warn you, playing on the wings involves A LOT more running than you think. Than I thought, should I say.

Heading to Dublin for training camps became fairly routine from then on. Harry Kenny, the manager of the U.17s at the time, kept me on that squad because he “saw the potential in me” to be the starting left-midfielder when I was the right age. Roll on a year and I am the starting left-midfield for the U.16 team, playing against Arsenal Ladies, and then the U.17 team playing against Northern Ireland. I was at my ultimate level. Amy O’ Connor in right-mid, me in left-mid – there was no topping us. There was no-one my age in my position in the country that was faster than me, more skilful than me, fitter than me, a better goal-scorer than me; I was feared by every newcomer at every trial. I truly felt untouchable but remained modest at the same time. I prided myself on the fact that I never became an arrogant, cocky bitch, unlike some of the other girls I played alongside.

After the Gaynor Cup of 2012 it was announced that Harry Kenny would no longer be U.17 Head Coach. With cuts being made to the FAI’s budget, of course it had to be taken out on the women’s teams. From then on, the U.17s would be managed by the U.19s coach, Dave Connell. Now at this stage I had built up a pretty nice relationship with Harry. I liked Harry. Harry liked me. He had kept me under his wing and groomed me until I was ready to be unleashed. Unfortunately, I hadn’t a clue who Dave Connell was, nor did he have a clue who I was. This did not work in my favour at all, as you will realise shortly.

Nevertheless we regrouped in Dublin for another three-day training camp, expecting the same routine as always. Gear up, do a lengthy warm-up, a few drills and then full-length matches for the rest of the day. Oh, what a shock we got. Not only were we appointed a new Head Coach, we were also given the news that we would now be training alongside the U.19s. Let me inform you, the U.19s were a different breed. They were bigger, faster, stronger and a hell of a lot more aggressive than the U.17s.

We struggled on and it eventually became normal to train with the U.19s. It was mid-August and we were preparing for a UEFA qualifiers tournament in Macedonia (I think) in October, so there was a great buzz around the AUL Complex.

And then, one sunny Sunday afternoon, my international career came to an abrupt end. We had been doing some drills with the U.19s and in a bid to show I was unafraid and to impress my new manager, I lunged into a slide-tackle with one of the older girls. Needless to say play carried on but for me that was where it all fell apart. I lay on the ground in staggering pain while the physio and doctor rushed onto the pitch to me. They bandaged my ankle and laughed as they assured me I would be back up to training in two weeks, good as new. How wrong could they have been?

That day I tore both ligaments and tendons in my right ankle, meaning I was going to be out of action for a minimum of three months, depending on recovery speed, etc. I was devastated. To be so close to such an important tournament and having to watch as I was replaced on the squad list was torture. I had spent two and a half years travelling up and down to Cork every week for training and matches, going to the gym every other day, spending my parents’ money on trips to Dublin for training camps only to fall short at the final hurdle. It turns my stomach just thinking about it.

My recovery time was far longer than I had anticipated. In total, I was unable to play a full match for 12 months. Even when I was playing for the last twenty minutes of matches I was a shadow of the player I used to be. My ankle was not strong enough to shoot with the power it had in the past, and it also meant my speed and reflexes were greatly inhibited. Basically my overall performance was no longer good enough to play on the Irish team.

The last time I attended a trial in Dublin was this time two years ago. It had been over a year since the injury and I was invited up in the hope I had fully recovered. I had been handed a chance to reclaim my number 11 jersey but my ankle just wasn’t right. I lasted the trials, just about, but I didn’t receive another email after that. I knew what it meant. Managers like Dave Connell don’t wait around for players, they simply replace you. So I was replaced.

That’s the story of my time as an international soccer player. I’ll never forget that feeling when people asked “You play for Ireland?” Even today when I tell others of my glory days I feel pride when they proclaim “You used to play for Ireland?”

Yes, I used to play for Ireland. Yes, I miss playing for Ireland. No, I will never play for Ireland again.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Is same-sex marriage the inevitable next step in 21st century Ireland?

Two years ago my secondary school English teacher suggested I enter a writing competition with the headline above as the essay title. For some reason, though I had plenty to say on the topic, I decided against writing the essay. I guess in some subconscious way I was waiting for the right time to voice my opinion. With the same-sex marriage referendum just around the corner, I believe that time is now.

In just over three months’ time, this small nation will cast a vote which will have massive consequences regardless of the outcome. Should the majority of people vote yes, the constitution will be amended and same-sex marriage will be made legal in Ireland. Should the majority of people vote no, no changes will be made and same-sex marriage will remain illegal. Right now, the main question being asked is how do we know whether to vote yes or no?

First and foremost, a yes vote would be historical. We would literally be making history. Just over twenty years ago homosexuality was illegal in Ireland, punishable by imprisonment. Fast forward a few years and here we are, the power to change the lives of thousands of Irish citizens in our hands.

From my understanding of marriage it is the eternal binding together of two people, made possible only by love. Who are we to decide which couples can love and which cannot? That would be utterly pretentious of us, would it not? Unfortunately, an extremely powerful and persuasive body in Ireland does its best to convince us that we can in fact make that decision on behalf of others.

The Catholic Church in Ireland teaches that marriage is a commitment made by a man and a woman to love and cherish one another “til death do us part.” However, when you consider the large number of divorces filed each year in this country, it hardly seems fair to say that the Church make clear, unbiased judgements when it comes to the union of marriage.

Since the 12th century when marriage became a practised custom in Ireland, the Catholic Church has ruled that only two people of the opposite sex can wed. These teachings cannot be blamed on the Church of today. Today’s bishops of Ireland are simply going by teachings that have been handed down century after century, from a time when homosexuality was unheard of.

The reason, I believe, the Church has always taught that marriage is between a man and a woman is because homosexuals of the 12th century did not even realise they were homosexual. In fact, the term “homosexual” wasn’t coined until the mid-19th century. Back then, it was all to do with “unnatural practises.” Readings in the Bible comment on how sexual relations between two women or two men are “unnatural” and should be punished. However, is it natural for a man to watch porn every day, despite the fact that he lies next to his wife every night? No it’s not, but we accept it because it is part of 21st century culture.

In that very same way, we should accept that homosexuality exists and it is an undeniable part of today’s culture. By that I don’t mean homosexuality is a construct of our culture; more so that it is no longer a vice than ought to be supressed or hidden. I’m sure many of us don’t approve of our neighbour’s binge-drinking habits or of our grandmother’s three-legged cat that hisses every time we pass it. But just because we don’t approve doesn’t give us the right to take away the bottle or run over the cat. In that very same way, just because we don’t approve of same-sex couples doesn’t give us the right to take away their right to marriage.

 I could have used this time to inform you of all the legalities and intricacies same-sex couples face concerning custody of children, ownership of property, etc. But I felt at this stage you would have heard enough of that on Vincent Brown, and the likes. Instead I wanted to take you back to when it all began. Are we going to let an outdated scripture dictate the lives of thousands of Irish citizens? Love is the foundation of every marriage, not sexuality. Who knows how long we will have to wait for another opportunity like this if the referendum is not passed. Are we willing to put peoples’ lives on hold any longer than they already have been?

So when I’m asked if I believe the legalisation of same-sex marriage is the inevitable next step in 21st century Ireland, my answer always has been and always will be yes. Would I encourage you to vote yes in the upcoming referendum? Of course I would. As the Bible teaches - true love waits. And it cannot be denied that the thousands of homosexual couples of Ireland have waited long enough for their love to be recognised. Let’s bring that wait to an end this May.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Where I find my inspiration

The past few hours I’ve been wandering around my house in my pyjamas, longing to write but not knowing what to write about. It seems I’ve exhausted almost every aspect of myself on this blog already. As the frustration built and built within me, I realised there is one topic I am yet to write about. Ironic as it is, that topic is where I find my inspiration when writing.

It’s difficult to say exactly what leads me to a blank Microsoft Word document with a mug of tea in hand, but I’ve come up with a few ideas.

First and foremost, the bulk of my inspiration comes from real-life events. Things that have happened to me in the past, issues I am currently working through, or even issues I have watched others go through. I write about my experiences, my emotions, and my opinions. It may sound self-centred and somewhat egotistic, but that’s my style. I don’t just write for the benefit of others’ reading habits and entertainment, I write as a form of expression and release. To be honest, I’d say the person that benefits most from my blog posts is myself!

Another area I draw inspiration from is music. I listen to a wide array of artists and bands, ranging from the likes of You Me At Six and Paramore to Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Not a day goes by without my iPod being played, whether it be Kelly Clarkson in the shower, or Alesso whilst getting ready to hit the town. Music helps me open my mind to stories and experiences I love to remember or long to forget. Either way, it triggers something inside of me and I feel the creativity pouring out.

Oftentimes, people are the greatest source of inspiration. I am inspired by different people every single day, and they don’t realise it most of the time. Observing is a skill and just happens to be something I am very good at. I like to watch people going about their normal routines, or listen to their opinions on anything and everything. You can never tell when someone is going to say one word or one sentence that will spark inspiration inside of you.

One thing that really drives me to succeed in writing is seeing others doing well in their areas of interest. For example, seeing others in my course getting work published or sharing links to their own blogs makes me want a reason to share a link to mine. I don’t mean it in a competitive way obviously, it just works as a source of motivation. For me, that’s a great thing. I can only see it as a positive that we motivate each other to write more often.

Having said that, getting work published is not my main concern. In fact, I have never once tried to get any work published. I write because I enjoy it, and I love making something beautiful from words. Many of you may be wondering how a basic blog post can be beautiful, but I guess that’s something I can’t really explain to you. It’s like when an artist paints a picture or a poet writes a poem. A finished blog post is, to me, lyrical and expressive. Some people express themselves through music; I express myself through writing.

I’m sure there’s one source of inspiration you are waiting for me to state, but guess what? I don’t read. Shock, horror I know. A journalist in the making that doesn’t read. Is that even possible? Of course it is. Back to inspiration, though. I can imagine how much more I would have to write about and how much more open my mind would be if I read any sort of writings, but I don’t. I’ve never been interested in reading and I’m not sure I ever will be. I like to read other blogs and some feature articles in magazines, but that’s literally it. The last book I read was “The Fault In Our Stars,” and that was about two years ago. I can’t even read a newspaper without getting bored. Not your average journalism student but hey, c’est la vie.

What inspires and motivates me most to keep this blog going is my love of writing. From serious to light-hearted, poetry to personal essays, I am in love with the English language. It is the reason I’m in the course I’m in. I’ve never been interested in reporting facts and writing without an opinion – that bores me to death. I write what I write not because I feel it’s relevant and current in society, but because it’s relevant and current to me. And that’s the way I will write for the entirety of my career. If you read otherwise, I’m most likely a POW in a Nazi newspaper and you should really come help me out.

Monday, 12 January 2015

13 things I won't do next semester

1.  Pay more than €3 for a taxi home 

Taxi drivers can be really decent human beings, from time to time. Other times, they’re utter assholes. They prey on the intoxicated, already devilishly poor students that they find stumbling down Ellen Street, in search of any means of getting home. The reason taxi drivers target these students is because they view them as an easy profit. Any young person, if adequately inebriated, will fork out anything between €5- €10 each in order to get themselves home. Boom, a nice jackpot there for the lucky taxi driver. 

This semester however, I will point blank refuse any taxi driver that is not willing to take me home for €3, provided there are four of us in the taxi. He should be thrilled by the prospects of €12 for a short, less-than-ten minute drive out to the university. If not, I’ll simply walk two metres down the road to the next taxi. By the time you’ve shut the door on nine taxis, the tenth taxi driver definitely won’t say no.

2.  Go out wearing heels 

Not that I ever did that during the first semester. I’m just restating the fact that I refuse to wear heels in Limerick. Towards the end of the first semester I honestly tried my best to wear a pair out one night. I got as far as the house twenty metres from mine and couldn’t endure the pain any longer.

I don’t know how I used to do it in Killarney. Every night without fail I would wear heels on a night out. Now I can barely look at the damn things without a blister forming on my heel. I guess when it boils down to it, going out in Killarney is all very pretentious compared to Limerick. It’s all about who you’ll see out, what they’ll see you wearing, who they’ll see you with, etc. In Limerick, it’s all about that bass, ‘bout that bass, no trouble… Okay no it’s not, but it really is all about the dancing and the drinking. How it ought to be, in my opinion.

3.  Buy chicken from Lidl 

Since coming to college and realising that Lidl is a far shorter walk than Aldi, Lidl has become my bae. Chocolate, ice cream, drink, cookies; you name it, Lidl has it. And for way less than the likes of Tesco or Super Valu, my once preferred choice of supermarkets.

With the development of this newfound love for the German super-company, I made the decision to trust it with my main source of nutrition in the whole college week – chicken breasts. Chicken curry, chicken stir-fry… I expected my list of chicken-based meals to be longer, but that’s it. But yeah, I like my chicken. So you can only imagine my disgust when I realised the chicken I had bought (with five days left before the use-by date, btw) was entirely gone off. Now imagine my horror at the thought that I am chickenless for the entire week. That’s a good three dinners out of five gone out the window. Chicken balls.

4.  Miss more than 10 hours of college a week 

Probably something I shouldn’t have to put on this list. Nevertheless, we all know there are times in the week when you have zero motivation to make that ten-minute trek to a lecture you know will be online the next day. Especially when it’s raining. And getting dark. And the housemate asks who wants tea. And you really would love a cup of tea.

Maybe then it’s okay to miss an hour here and there, but certainly no more than that. Last semester was pretty reckless and although there were only a few weeks where I missed a significant amount of hours, I’m going to redeem myself this semester.

Last semester, I devised the idea of a drink jar. For every hour of college that is missed, a euro must be placed in the drink jar. At the end of the semester, the money is spent on, well, drink. Unfortunately, I contributed a large sum of money to the drink jar. That won’t be happening this time around, though. My housemates laughed when I told them I plan on going to every college hour of semester two. Well, I’m determined to prove them wrong. For my pocket’s sake, at least.

5.  Say hi to the village manager 

Quite simply, he’s a bit of a bollocks. Many an evening I have walked past him, made eye contact in an attempt to say hello, and he has glided past me as if I wasn’t even there. I don’t know if he suffers from massive blind spots in both of his eyes, or if he’s just a miserable fucker. Either way, I won’t be caught almost wasting my breath on him again.

6.  Go to the library 

You would think, what with all the time I missed of college last semester that this would be on my list of things I WILL do this semester. But no, it is not. I don’t know about you, but I hate the library. It’s always full no matter what time of the day you go there, and there’s always a bloody queue greeting you when you get through security. Because yes, that’s what it feels like to me when I walk through the library doors. I feel like I should be whipping out my passport as a second form of ID in case my student card fails me.

On top of that, I haven’t a fucking clue where anything is in there. For those of you that need to find a book but haven’t been into the library yet, don’t bother. Seriously, don’t. It’s too big. You’ll spend longer trying to find your way back out of the library than it would take to order the book online and have it delivered by standard mail from China.

7.  Order pizza twice a week 

Or even once a week for that matter. The amount of fivers I have handed over to the men in little cars is ridiculous. Not only that, it’s so unhealthy. There’s a reason those pizza deals are five euro, and it’s not because they’re made with only the finest ingredients.

I know what you’re thinking. “But it’s so convenient and it’s relatively cheap and it means no cooking for the night, woooooo.” Oh believe me, I love seeing that anonymous number appearing on my screen as much as the next person but cutbacks must be made this semester.

I know what you’re thinking. “Boo, you whore.”

8.  Leave my bedroom door unlocked overnight 

Somehow I survived the whole of the first semester without having my room raided and destroyed. The other not so lucky housemates had toothpaste on their mirrors, chairs stuck out their windows, clothes thrown everywhere and even a fortress made out of their whole room. How I escaped the wrath of the “lads” is pretty obvious – I put the fear of God into them. I know damn well they’d be too afraid to even breathe in my room for fear of me noticing.

I hope to maintain this fear factor right through to May, so as to safeguard my personal belongings and most importantly, my food. Having said that, I will still take precaution and lock my door at night. You know, just in case.

9.  Stay up until 6am on a Sunday night 

Ah, Sundays. The day of rest. The day we all arrive back in Limerick for the week. The night we all go to bed before 12am because we all have 9am starts the following morning…

WRONG. Even though literally nothing exciting ever happens on a Sunday night (unless we order Chinese. That’s pretty exciting), I somehow still end up awake at all hours of the night. It actually bothers me. Why do we do that to ourselves?! I don’t even… Anyway. Let’s hope for better sleep this semester.

10.  Have a midday shower 

You know that thing in the hot press that allows you to put the hot water/ heating on earlier or for longer? Yeah, ours doesn’t work. Maybe it’s this way for every house in Kilmurry, but in our house the hot water takes about three hours to heat up from the time it’s actually switched on. So every time I leave the hot water on for an extra two hours in the mornings to accommodate my afternoon showers, I still end up having a lukewarm shower. And we all know how miserable one feels after a lukewarm shower. It spoils your mood for the rest of the day. That 5pm lecture looks even more depressing than it did before your lukewarm shower. Then it starts raining. Then your housemate offers you tea…

11.  Rejoin badminton 

Remember that feeling of anticipation and excitement at the start of the semester, as you signed up for different, exotic sports you had never tried before? That was me when I joined badminton. No, let me rephrase. When I wasted a fucking tenner to play a sport I don’t even like for about three weeks.

This semester I will be wiser. I will tread with caution at the Clubs & Societies registration day. In fact, I might just stay at home and eat. Yeah, I think I’ll do that.

12.  Arrive late to a lecture 

From what I’ve seen of students that arrive late into a full lecture hall, they immediately regret it. They are usually greeted with a sarcastic remark from the lecturer, followed by sniggers from the hundreds of people staring at them.

I can understand why someone who is two minutes late to a lecture the whole way down in Kemmy would go in, but those people that stroll in twenty minutes late with a blank expression on their face? They bewilder me. My face winces just watching them open the door (that always creaks when you're late, might I add) and try to creep in unnoticed. Oh no my friend, we all see you. We will continue to see you as you search for a seat amid the rows of staring faces. And we will laugh when the lecturer picks on you and makes fun of your hair or your flowery shirt. You pussyshit.

13.  Get a bus at 5pm 

Oh merciful Lord. For those of you craters that are forced to get a bus from the Stables at 5pm every day, you will know what I’m talking about. All’s well and good until the screen shows “304 Ballycummin – 2 mins.” Then people start getting anxious. The crowd swells around the outside of the bus shelter, each person trying to estimate where the front door of the bus will stop. When the red light of the bus comes into sight, all hell breaks loose. If you’re with someone, grab their hand or you’ll lose them in the crowd. It’s like a stampede of elephants racing to get to the watering hole first. Getting that 5pm bus is a safety hazard.

Finally, after squeezing every last person onto a bus that should only hold about fifty, you sit there uncomfortably for forty-five minutes before you reach the city centre. I kid you not. I’ve taken that bus at least four times and timed it each time. So after all the chaos and mayhem of getting onto that 5pm bus, you probably would’ve gotten into the city faster on the 5:15pm bus. Oh, the irony.