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Dr Dora Gorman: Ireland's football, hockey and GAA star who just graduated medicine at UCD

Dora Gorman discusses captaining Ireland at World Cups and European Championships, playing gaelic for Galway and recently graduating top of her class at UCD.

Gorman made her senior Ireland debut in 2011 and recently graduated medicine at UCD.
Gorman made her senior Ireland debut in 2011 and recently graduated medicine at UCD.

IT’S DIFFICULT TO briefly outline just how much Dora Gorman has achieved in her life at just 25-years-old. But her own words of wisdom offers a concise insight into how she has reached such incredible heights, both in sport and elsewhere.

“You always have to go into something believing that you can be the best,” she says amid an anecdote recalling the success of the Ireland U17 side which captured the hearts of the nation eight years ago in Switzerland. “You have to go into everything believing that you can go out and win.”

The Barna native captained the first ever Irish women’s side to qualify for a Uefa European Championships all the way to the final in Nyon in 2010, following that up by leading her country to the quarter-finals of the U17s World Cup a few months later in Trinidad and Tobago — it was the first time an Irish women’s side had ever even reached a World Cup finals.

She has also won the Women’s National League with Peamount United, was named the FAI’s U17 Women’s International Player of the Year, won Connacht Young Player of the Year in gaelic for Galway, while also securing an All-Ireland ladies minor championship with her county too.

On top of that, she was named the Irish Hockey Association’s U18 Player of the Year in 2010, also helping UCD to win the Irish Senior Cup in hockey two years later in 2012.

Recently, however, she has been busy completing her studies in UCD, finishing top of her class of more than 240 students in medicine.

Dora Gorman In action during a World Cup qualifier against Croatia. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Dr Gorman was awarded the distinguished 1941 Medal (given annually to the candidate with the highest GPA across the final two years of the Medicine programme) as well as the Paediatrics Medal for her efforts, and will shortly begin working in the Mater Hospital in north Dublin.

It’s an inspiring amount of success for someone at such a young age, and even more incredible when those successes have been spread across three different sports in football, gaelic and hockey, on top of academic accolades in the demanding and highly-competitive field of medicine.

She always wanted to be a doctor, she admits. There was never any doubt about it.

Medicine was something I always wanted to do in school,” Gorman says. “I was very drawn towards science subjects. For the Leaving Cert I would have done physics, chemistry and biology. I always had that scientific way of thinking, I wouldn’t have been very creative.

“My mum works as a doctor and my family would joke that I always just wanted to be her when I was a little kid. I would even follow her around with a little briefcase,” she laughs.

“When I was very young it was something that I was exposed to, but then in school I did enjoy science and looked into the prospect of medicine a little bit more. It was the only thing I ever really wanted to do.”

It’s an intriguing balance, she says, medicine and sport. The only issue for Gorman growing up in Connemara was choosing which sport to pursue alongside her studies at school and later at university.

After initially giving hurling a go — “ground-hurling”, she explains — when they would bash the sliotar to and fro inside the school halls as kids, she instead settled for football. And gaelic. Oh, and hockey as well.

All the way up until the Leaving Cert she played all three in tandem with one another.

“In school I was playing them all, but I honestly loved it,” she says. “It never bothered me at all. I love being busy and playing different sports. Hockey tended to be in the winter and gaelic had to be in the summer, and soccer lasted throughout both. So the seasons didn’t clash too much.

Especially in sixth year in school I was playing a lot, but I just loved every bit of it and wouldn’t have changed it for the world. I was quite lucky in that my parents were very supportive. They would bring me to all the different training sessions and would always help me with whatever I wanted to pursue.

“In school I was lucky as well because teachers were always helpful. They were busy days when you might have school during the day and training in the evenings. But even at the end of the Leaving Cert I never felt burnt out or that I was doing too much. It never felt at any stage like it was overwhelming.”

She received a sport scholarship at UCD and continued to play both football and hockey for the college alongside her studies — also playing in the Women’s National League and international football for Ireland. All of this meant gaelic had to take a back seat for a few years.

Gorman admits that you don’t receive too much pity having to sacrifice one sport when you have the option to play three. But leaving the Galway inter-county setup behind for those few seasons was a difficult decision that comes as a unique setback when trying to balance multiple codes simultaneously.

“You’re in a very privileged position where you have the chance to choose between sports. I think it’s something people will never feel too sorry for you about,” she laughs honestly.

Sarah Clarke and Dora Gorman She won the Irish Senior Cup with UCD in 2012. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“But it can be difficult because you’re playing with your friends and it’s hard to choose because sometimes you don’t know what you want, and you don’t know what lies ahead.

“Sometimes you’re trying to look into a crystal ball, asking what you should do and what you should pick.

“Even coming back and playing with Galway this year, there were a number of girls who I would have played with for maybe eight or nine years. I was returning having not played for four or five seasons, but coming back it was the same as before.

You fit back in because you know everyone so well as you’ve spent years training everyday with them as kids and teenagers. So it’s nice to have that familiarity when you come back into it. The GAA is special in a lot of ways because, well, your county is your county when it comes down to it.”

You get the sense from chatting with Dora that if only there were more hours in the week, she would try and give them all to each different sport. It’s clear to see that there is a devoted grá to soccer, GAA and hockey. But she is forthright when explaining that her proudest achievement in sport so far came during that magical summer of 2010 in Switzerland.

Source: InjuryProne20/YouTube

Led by the management duo of Noel King and Harry Kenny, the Irish U17 football team became the first ever women’s side from this country to qualify for a European Championships. The fact that they made it all the way to the final is frankly an astonishing achievement.

But one which Gorman says came as no great surprise to the players that put in the hard yards to make the dream into a reality.

“We always did feel we had a great squad of players that year,” she says of a panel that featured future senior internationals like Megan Campbell, Denise O’Sullivan, Harriet Scott, Siobhan Killeen and fellow UCD medical graduate Ciara Grant.

I remember there were a few of us involved with the U17s when we were only 14, or 15. From the moment we got together as a squad Noel King always said to us: ‘what do we want? we want to win a medal!’

“He’d say that even before the qualifiers! Even though no Irish team had done it before, we believed that we could get to the European finals and could go out and at least win a medal like Noel said.

“You always have to go into something believing that you can be the best and believing that you can win, and we always had that self-belief and confidence.

“That idea formed the basis of our run in the competition, but I think we also had two or three years behind us where we were building towards it. We would train regularly and everyone knew exactly what their jobs were — we were fine-tuned.

Dora Gorman and Ciara Grant studying for their third year medical exams Gorman and Ciara Grant study for their medical exams while on Ireland duty in 2014. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“We had a talented group, but talent doesn’t get you anywhere unless you work hard and you stay focussed. For us, we had that focus and we were all building towards the same end-goal together.

“What I always remember most was just the togetherness and the bond that we had at that time. We were all fighting for each other. When you’re that age and playing at that level as a teenager at a Euros… it was such a great time in all our lives.”

Manchester City defender Campbell scored a sublime 50 yard free-kick against Germany just before half-time in their semi-final to send Ireland through to the decider against Spain. Ireland would come out the wrong end of a tense final, cruelly losing on penalties following a 120 minute-long battle.

But Gorman attests that the sheer ecstasy of beating the Germans and making it to the final on Ireland’s first appearance at a European Championships meant the side could not have any regrets, but only an immense feeling of pride at what they had achieved.

At the end we were all just absolutely exhausted having played through full time and extra-time and then penalties, so there wasn’t much that could be said. Absolutely everyone had given their all and there wasn’t much more we could have done. When it comes down to penalties it’s a bit of a lottery.

“At the time it’s hard to find the words to say anything that can console your team-mates, but I think looking back on it now you can appreciate just how well we had done. I know some people don’t have time for silver medals, but that was a silver medal we could all be very proud of.”

Dora Gorman Gorman won an All-Ireland minor championship with Galway. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Captained by Gorman, Ireland would make it all the way to the quarter-finals of the World Cup in Trinidad and Tobago three months later — the first and only Irish women’s side to qualify for a World Cup at any age group — beating Canada and Ghana before falling short against beaten-finalists Japan.

There are so many cherished memories to look back upon for Gorman and she is insistent that she is looking forward to returning to sport again in the very near future. Placements abroad in America and England meant she could not commit to football or the Galway intercounty panel in recent months.

Watching Colin Bell’s senior side in their current World Cup qualification campaign makes her miss it all, she says, but giving that complete and utter commitment on a consistent basis is something that has just not been possible in recent months due to work and college.

“With being away so much over the last year I haven’t been able to play in the Women’s National League, but even in the last few months I was in the crowd at the World Cup qualifiers against Norway and Holland,” she says.

Dora Gorman The midfielder captained Ireland to the U17 Uefa European Championships final in 2010. Source: Lorraine O'Sullivan/INPHO

“When you’re there and the team is doing so well it does make you miss it, because there’s nothing better than representing your country. The crowds they’ve been getting at Tallaght Stadium are fantastic and they’re playing some great football, getting great results.

“In my back garden I have a gaelic football and a soccer ball. I still have to make a decision in the next while, but I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do.”

She says that sport and studying to become a doctor have shared skillsets, with the discipline, leadership and team ethos which sport demands also being reflected in a hectic work environment such as that of a hospital.

Leadership is very important and it’s vital to know people’s strengths,” she says. “In sport team-work is incredibly important, as it is in almost every job and every working environment, like in medicine.

“I think being able to work with others and being able to communicate properly is a crucial skill to have. Sport teaches you to be careful with your time, to be organised and it also equips you with skills to deal with things like disappointment and setbacks.

“There are so many important life-skills that you can learn through sport and I think that’s certainly been true for me training to be a doctor.”

Now settled back in Dublin following her placements abroad and with her new job in the Mater beginning in a few weeks, Gorman gives the impression of someone absolutely itching to get back onto the field of play again.

She hasn’t decided which field that will be in, or whether it will be with the ball at her feet or in her hands, but the decision is her’s to make and perhaps a good headache to have for someone so obsessed with sport.

What she will say though, is that she would love the chance to represent her country again and one day live a lifelong dream of securing a senior All-Ireland title with Galway, having returned to play with the county for a period last year.

scholarships_6_1167632152 Pictured after graduating first in her class at UCD.

“For the last while it really has been just taking life one step at a time,” she says. “I’d like to think that I’m not over the hill yet at 25 and that there are a lot more successes to achieve.

“Since September I’ve been away for four months on different placements over in America and in England, so I wasn’t really in a position to commit to any team.

“I played with UCD in the O’Connor Cup whenever I was home, but I wasn’t in a position before Christmas to try out for the Galway county team again because I knew I was going to be away for so long.

But now I’m back in Dublin, am settled and will start in the Mater in a couple of weeks. At the moment I haven’t made any firm decisions on what I’m going to play, but I’m certainly looking forward to getting back into sport.

“Something that I would like to achieve would be to win an All-Ireland with Galway,” she says.

“I think that’s something that a lot of people in the county would love to achieve together and it is something that’s always been an unfinished task in my mind personally.

“It depends what I’ll be able to play in terms of where I’m working and what part of the country I’m based in. But hopefully there is a lot more in store.”

It is a terrible cliché, but the world really is Gorman’s oyster. Excelling in football, gaelic, hockey and now becoming a doctor having graduated at the top of her class, there doesn’t appear to be much that she could and would not excel in.

She mentions a host of stars she looked up to as a child growing up in Barna, including Niamh Fahey, who won an All-Ireland with Galway at Croke Park aged 16 before later going on to play for Arsenal, as well as former Galway captain Annette Clarke.

Gorman says that she drew immense inspiration from each of their achievements growing up and states that coverage of the current Irish Women’s National Team, as well as the rugby team during last summer’s Women’s World Cup held in Ireland, means young girls today have their own new heroes to look up to.

“In gaelic football Galway won the All-Ireland in 2004 and there were athletes like Annette Clarke and also Niamh Fahey. They would have been big role models for me and, even though she’s with a rival county, Cora Staunton and what she’s achieved has just been remarkable for all women athletes.

Dora Gorman She was an integral member of the Irish side which made it to the quarter-finals of the U17 World Cup in 2010. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“There was also Sonia O’Sullivan too, because I can even remember when she won her silver medal in 2000, the whole school in Barna was sat watching it.

“Even now growing up, young girls have a lot more female sports idols to look up to. It’s nice to see that there is more media attention and that younger athletes are exposed to more of their success stories.

That exposure gives girls a lot of encouragement when they are playing sport because it shows that there is a future and that they have something to aspire towards.”

What she is far too modest to admit though, is that her own story will be a source of immense inspiration to many others. From football, to gaelic, to hockey, to medicine, she took them all on and excelled in each and every one without fear or hesitation.

A unique success story like few others and still with so much more to achieve, Dora Gorman has shown it’s all about believing in yourself to go out and be the very best, whatever walk of life you choose to undertake.

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