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'I have a hurley over in Glasgow. It's nice to switch off from football and lose yourself in another sport'

Ireland striker Clare Shine opens a new season with Glasgow City tonight.

Clare Shine enjoyed a huge end to the 2019 season at Glasgow City.
Clare Shine enjoyed a huge end to the 2019 season at Glasgow City.

“VERY BRAVE,” IRELAND manager Vera Pauw smiled earlier this week when asked about Clare Shine opening up on her mental health struggles a little over a month ago.

“She’s very brave and I’m very proud of her, the way she came out. She let me know before that she was planning to do so, and the only thing that you can do then is support her and to be there for her if she needs me.”

The Ireland striker confided in Pauw and her Glasgow City manager, Scott Booth, beforehand, and the two bosses have been in contact since.

“I was checking up if she was doing okay, if she needed anything from me but he reassured me that she was so strong, she’s absolutely okay,” Pauw added, before offering an insight into what the Cork native can bring to the Ireland squad ahead of two crucial Euro 2021 qualifiers.

“Her playing level is going up. She could become a key player again. She is so strong in her determination to get something out of her sport and that sport is the frame in which she wants to live. That brings an extra strength to her.”

***

14 January, 2020.

Clare Shine had just finished telling her story. Her personal story. One of how she battled the devil on her shoulder head on, and emerged from her darkest hour. 

One can’t imagine how difficult it was for her to open up like that, but her main reason for doing so was to help others. On the day, there were nerves but there was also a sense of excitement of what would come thereafter. That excitement shone through most as she wanted nothing more than to talk football afterwards. 

Shine is thriving at Scottish Women’s Premier League [SWPL] outfit Glasgow City once again, where she finished 2019 on a high. She scored an incredible last-minute winner in the cup final, and was central as City were crowned 13-in-a-row league champions. 

The 24-year-old is thoroughly enjoying her second spell at the Scottish kingpins — she played there from 2015 to 2017, and then spent two years at Cork City before returning to Glasgow in February 2019 — and is ready for their 2020 season opener against Celtic — for whom Keeva Keenan plies her trade, though is injured — tonight [KO 7.30pm].

“It was amazing, it was,” she smiled when that late, late cup final goal was mentioned. “We hadn’t won the Scottish Cup final since I was there in 2015. It was a long four years waiting to come back to Glasgow, but finally we got there.

clare Shine is ready for another season at Glasgow City. Source: Seb Daly/SPORTSFILE

“It was a long season. We had a lot of games running up to the cup final and I think it just showed a lot of character within the team. Everyone dug deep and thankfully that went into the back of the net and we were able to celebrate afterwards.

“We have Champions League in March, and trying to get the league and the two cups back with us as well. It will be a big year for us as a club and I’m looking forward to tackling that.”

With two SWPL sides going fully professional in the off-season, Shine is relishing the challenge even more so.

There’s no two ways about it; City have been remarkably dominant through the years, so there’s question marks around a possible change of landscape this season.

“The standard, it is better than here,” Shine conceded that afternoon in a Dublin hotel. “Celtic and Rangers have gone professional now, so there is a bit of money being pumped into the women’s game over there, which is only good for the league. It’s good for women’s football over there.

“There’ll be more of a competition and players will have the hunger if they’re going to be training full-time football and around each other all the time. Next season is going to be interesting and I’m really looking forward to the challenge ahead.”

She’s thoroughly enjoying life across the water, both on and off the pitch. While the first time around, she struggled mentally and with home sickness, Shine has learned from her past mistakes and set herself up nicely in her home away from home. 

Through the years, she’s come to learn that football is not the be all and end all.

“I’m living with my friend, Emily, she used to play for Glasgow but she had to retire early due to injury. She did something bad to her knee and she’s just not able to play any more. It gives me a massive insight into outside football as well, that there is another life.

glasgow-city-v-brondby-uefa-womens-champions-league-round-of-16-second-leg-petershill-park Shine on the ball in the Champions League last-16. Source: Jeff Holmes

“People have jobs, people do X, Y and Z. When I signed, I actually got a job with JD and I was in there three or four days a week, which was nice. It was good, I made new friends, other friends and I really enjoyed myself to be fair.

“Our schedule with football is changing this year but last year we had Saturdays and that off, so I was able to explore and do my own thing which was nice too. This year I’m looking to start driving, so that’s my next task,” she grins. 

She, more than anyone, knows that football is not sustainable in the grand scheme of things, and doesn’t go on forever, unfortunately.

Being happy is her main priority, but Shine is looking to do different events and talk about her personal journey in schools over the next while, and she’s interested in furthering her education for life after football.

“I think an education is really important for people who are coming up now,” she nodded.

“I know football is taking flight in terms of being full-time and professional and the money that’s involved in it now. There will be a lot more opportunities for young players coming through which is exciting, and exciting for women’s sport in general too.

“Personally though, I definitely would [pursue education too]. I am interested in getting a college degree in something along the lines of football and that. I want to talk about my mental health, and open that door but other than that yeah, football.”

She wants to give back, after all the sport has given her. 

While soccer certainly took over in her teenage years, Shine is never too far from her Gaelic games roots. A talented camogie player, she was involved with the Cork set-up in the past and featured in an All-Ireland senior final in Croke Park in 2012. 

Does she miss it?

claire-shine-and-mary-leacy Facing Wexford in Croke Park that day. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Yeah, I do,” she concedes. “It’s a completely different ball game really. It kind of came naturally to me, playing camogie. I loved every minute of it.

“I actually have a hurley over in Glasgow with me. I like to have a little puck-around so it’s nice to be able to switch off from football and have another sport to lose yourself in, let’s say. I miss it.

“The All-Ireland final that I played in was the last game that I played in camogie… I nearly broke a rib in the first five minutes — something I will never forget, that!”

“It just kind of happened,” she adds when reflecting on how she fully focused on football. There was no real decision for the Ireland underage prodigy. It happened naturally.

“Football was always something that I wanted to do long-term, and there’s only so far you can go with camogie. More opportunities and exploring, I suppose…”

In November, Shine got the chance to explore Athens with Pauw’s Ireland side ahead of their 1-1 Euro 2021 qualifier with Greece. It was a special trip for the Douglas native, as it came as her first international call-up in quite some time. 

Her first since 2017 came in August ahead of the campaign opener against Montengro, but Shine was forced to withdraw from the squad through injury.

She’s named in the provisional squad ahead of the return visit of Greece and trip to Montenegro, and Shine is just delighted to be involved again and back in the mix.

“It’s amazing,” she beamed. “It has definitely changed since I was in the last time. It’s obviously something that I’ve always wanted to do and something to push towards.

“With the campaign and the results — one of them didn’t go our way — but I think this year the girls are in the right place to go ahead and get the results that we need to progress. It’s definitely something that I want to be a part of.

katie-mccabe-and-clare-shine In Ireland training with Katie McCabe in 2016. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“Vera has been really supportive towards me personally anyway. She’s a great person to have involved with the FAI and to be looking after us. Her knowledge of the game is incredible, and she’s just bringing that spark to women’s football in Ireland that we needed and that we’ve been waiting for. It’s exciting to see where we can go from here.”

There’s a real familiarity in the set-up with plenty of Women’s National League [WNL] players involved, and Eileen Gleeson working closely with Pauw, and Shine is delighted to be part of the wave of talent.

It’s a really exciting time for women’s football in Ireland, as the national team push on with the goal of reaching a first-ever major tournament.

And Shine wants to be there each and every step of the way, alongside those she’s enjoyed good times with in the past.

“All the familiar faces, it was nice to catch up with them,” she concluded with a smile.

“Our goal is to reach a major tournament. It is something that we will definitely do as a group. I’m fully confident in that. With the personnel that are involved in the team and in the coaching staff, we’ll definitely strive to do great things in the future.”

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Emma Duffy

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