The Irish teen living the American dream

Éabha O’Mahony on her big decision to move to the US.

Éabha O’Mahony pictured at yesterday's media event.
Éabha O’Mahony pictured at yesterday's media event.
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

Updated Nov 23rd 2021, 8:31 AM

THERE ARE TWO typical paths for highly promising young female Irish footballers who excel in the Women’s National League.

They can either move to Britain and join an English or Scottish club or go to study in America and continue to play in the top footballing colleges.

There are occasional exceptions, such as Claire O’Riordan, who joined the German side MSV Duisburg from Wexford Youths in 2018, but for the most part, the US and UK seem to be the favoured destinations.

This general preference is reflected in the makeup of the current Irish squad — it comprises Women’s National League (6), England (11), Scotland (2), the US (5), Denmark (1), Germany (1).

The US was almost the go-to destination for a period, but the growth of the sport in England and the greater opportunities presented by the professionalisation of the Women’s Super League have made it an increasingly popular destination.

For Éabha O’Mahony, however, America was always the preferred choice. The chance to combine educational opportunities with footballing ones, she says, was too good to turn down.

“Firstly, I was always going to go to America — the education my parents wanted for me, just to have a backup plan, touch wood in case of injuries and things like that. But to get the football and the education, it’s great, you get the two in one.”

And is education as important to O’Mahony as football? She laughs while trying to be as diplomatic as possible in her response: “Personally, I prefer football. But I’ll say education is just as important.”

It was still a big decision, of course, and O’Mahony did consult some Irish teammates with experience of life in the US.

“Yeah, one of the girls, Kyra Carusa, when she was in college, I actually rang her for advice. I didn’t even know her and hadn’t even seen her in person, but she kind of gave me advice on colleges to choose from and things like that. And obviously Heather Payne [who currently plays for US college football team Florida State Seminoles] as well, kind of following in her footsteps, so it was great to have examples for me.”

Having impressed with Cork City in the Women’s National League, O’Mahony moved over to Boston in the summer and is undertaking a four-year degree. She is currently studying in business school but is considering changing to applied science with some business aspects.

On combining education with football, she says: “It was tough to get the balance but once I found it, it was great. We have allocated time on away trips to do our work and stuff. I think if you keep on top of your schoolwork, you’ll keep on top of your training, so it just all falls into one.

“Basically, when we’re in college, our soccer commitments come first. We kind of work our classes around that, which is great. Especially on game days when we have a 7pm kick-off, we tend to have no classes. We try to put them on the other days and more on our recovery days and things like that. But it’s great, we also have tutors and everyone kind of works together for us.”

O’Mahony continues: “To be honest, I haven’t been homesick yet, which is quite a surprise. I love the professionalism about it. Waking up every morning, having somewhere to go, practising, playing against the likes of Jaelin Howell from the US Women’s national team, that calibre of player is great. It’s always a learning experience, especially after one season, I’ve learned a lot, I can develop my game a lot over there.”

It is very different and ultimately tougher than the level the 19-year-old was accustomed to in the WNL.

“Soccer is different over there. It’s more running and things like that. Even if you talk to Denise [O'Sullivan], she’ll tell you that it’s just the pace of the game is very fast. I’ll just develop so much. I personally want to improve my aggression on the pitch — I think that’s the place to do it.

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“We all have international players in the squad and teams like North Carolina, they have girls from the Arsenal academy getting their education, graduating early, heading back to the Super League and things like that, so it’s a step up but I’m really enjoying it.”

On another note, there have been issues in the past with Irish players getting permission from their college to regularly fly back and forth for international duty, but there is no such problem for the Corkonian. 

“They’re 100% okay with it,” she says. “Before I even signed with them, they were like: ‘International duty comes first.’ And I think that is a great thing to have them understand. We also just had a girl, Laura Georges, talk to us. She got inducted into the hall of fame and she was a French international star. She graduated in 2007 and they always put her international duty [first].”

For now, though, O’Mahony will push all thoughts of university aside and focus on Ireland’s two crucial upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Slovakia and Georgia.  

The teenager did not feature in the opening game against Sweden and was one of four players to miss out as the squad was whittled down for the recent trip to Helsinki.

But as fellow defender Savannah McCarthy has shown, it is possible for a relatively inexperienced player to break into the starting XI, despite the vast array of caps earned by the likes of Louise Quinn, Niamh Fahey and Diane Caldwell.

“Yeah, there’s hope,” she adds. “Again, it only comes with hard work and I have a lot of work to do to try to establish my name, but I’ve got to trust the process. Hopefully, by putting in the work, good things will happen, but you never know.” 

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Paul Fennessy

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