American Dream

'I'm very proud of myself for just taking this leap' - Cork dual star taking life as it comes in NYC

Hannah Looney has moved Stateside for work and plans to stay until next summer, at least.

IT’S FAIR TO say that Hannah Looney is living the American dream.

A little over a month ago, she packed up her life in Ireland, and took the plunge into the unknown. Alone.

hannah-looney-after-the-game Hannah Looney. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

One of the biggest names in women’s Gaelic games on these shores, Looney is an All-Ireland winner and an All-Star, a dual dynamo with Cork. But she left all that behind her to open a fresh chapter in New York; her work as a chemical engineer ultimately bringing her to the Big Apple.

The 24-year-old had been twice before — in conjunction with a visit to family in Delaware a few years back, and on the 2019 camogie All-Star trip — but nothing could have prepared her for this adventure.

She basically started from scratch once again, building her new life from the ground up over the past few weeks — quite literally, having moved into a totally unfurnished apartment, left to assemble an Ikea bed.

When she’s not busy with DIY services, navigating the massive supermarkets, or getting the hang of driving on the opposite side of the road, Looney is “trying to really live that New York life” and “make the most of everything” between exploring the city, attending Broadway shows and ice hockey games, and meeting new people. And of course, working.

“It’s absolutely crazy, so much hustle and bustle,” she tells The42. “I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of looking at that Manhattan skyline, or just looking up in general.

“As a kid, my favourite movie would have been The Devil Wears Prada, so to actually be here and live that experience is a bit surreal – minus the fashion aspect! Engineering and science and fashion don’t really go hand-in-hand, but who knows,” she laughs.

“I’m definitely finding my feet. I feel like the Covid experience has actually made it a lot easier to settle in. I suppose we all spent a lot of time on our own in Covid, whether we liked it or not,. We all got used to FaceTiming our friends and family. I guess if I didn’t have that time I probably would have found it a lot harder to adapt, being on my own in new country.

“I know at the moment it’s all surreal, it’s all amazing, I’m just taking it all in, but I do know there probably will be harder times down the road too. I’m just kind of taking it day by day.”

hannah Hannah Looney Instagram. Hannah Looney Instagram.

Before Covid-19 hit and changed the world forevermore, the plan was to head to the Netherlands for employment purposes for a year in 2020. Looney ended up in Carlow and later, Kilkenny, “not quite as exciting, but still a good experience,” she grins, working for MSD, or Merck as it’s known in the US.

Earlier this year, an opportunity to cross the pond came up. One to work on Merck’s new Covid antiviral treatment; drugs for high-risk people who contract Covid-19, which relieve symptoms and prevent hospitalisation. Such is the importance of the work, her visa application was expedited.

Looney’s passion and interest in her job and the wider the field shines through with each and every word she utters, working in a lab for the first time with a focus on research and development and her role specifically related to pediatric formulations.

“It’s a huge opportunity. It’s really out of my comfort zone and it’s really challenging. Obviously, it was hard to turn this opportunity down and to live abroad. There’s pros and cons to everything, but that’s the saying isn’t it: You have to do things that challenge you, so that’s what I’m at. Here I am in the deep end.”

Everything is so new; a massive change from the life she had carved out for herself on home soil, one revolving around her Gaelic games roots and beloved football and camogie.

Leaving her clubs, Aghada and Killeagh, mid-championship was very tough, she says, with “a lot of tears” shed after her last two matches.

While she departed with unfinished business, she went out on a high following Aghada’s draw with All-Ireland champions Mourneabbey after earlier struggles, and with Killeagh’s passage to the quarter-finals secured.

With all said and done now, Looney smiles: “It always goes back to club at the end of the day. It’s quite emotional. But you just have to have to do these things sometimes and everyone at home, and in my clubs, have always been understanding and supportive of whatever adventures I want to do.

hannah-looney Facing Meath this summer. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“And I suppose I had just been focusing on All-Ireland county championship for most of the summer, and when that came to halt then, it was time to kind of switch the focus.”

Ah, the summer. Something she more than likely hasn’t properly thought about through the manic few weeks and months that have followed. But reflection is necessary.

While the outcome for both Cork teams Looney so excellently represents was defeat in the business end of the championship, there are many positives to take. The camógs returned to the All-Ireland final, only to be edged out by Galway, but the young team really impressed in 2021. In the weeks prior to that, the footballers were stunned by Meath’s late, great semi-final comeback — and that still hurts, but the Royal fairytale is certainly a source of hope and motivation for all counties going forward.

Both teams reached league finals, and Looney was nominated for All-Star awards in both codes, while also in the running for Camogie Senior Players’ Player of the Year. It wasn’t all bad, it has to be said. She nods to agree, but a certain feeling can’t be shaken.

“Disappointment is probably the main word to sum it up. I’m grateful… I suppose, previous winters where you don’t come home with an All-Ireland medal you’d spend a lot of it wintering, as we say, and dwelling on it and feeling sorry for yourself. I’m kind of glad that I’ve had no choice but to park it and move on to the next adventure.

“When I do look back, camogie was definitely probably one of my most enjoyable years. Even though we didn’t win the All-Ireland, I just think there’s such a good group of girls there. And obviously the year before, we were such a new team, it was so hard to get to know anyone but this year, we really did gel and feel there’s so much potential in the young group coming through. Every training was a joy, it was a great experience in that sense.

“Football, obviously, I haven’t thought twice about it to be honest. I haven’t thought about it at all. It was just a shock when it happened, and then I had to refocus on camogie. But again with football, it’s not like there’s not an All-Ireland in that team at all. So much young talent, so much experience, it’s just about getting it right and finding that edge that we need, but we’ll get there hopefully.”

The big question: will Hannah Looney be on board for the 2022 bids, with clean slates in situ in the two camps after the departures of Paudie Murray and Ephie Fitzgerald, both whom she speaks so highly of?

hannah-looney-celebrates-after-the-game After the All-Ireland camogie semi-final win. James Crombie / INPHO James Crombie / INPHO / INPHO

How long does she plan on staying Stateside for, or is it just a case of rolling with the punches and playing it by ear?

“At the moment, it’s very much take it as it comes and see. I’m not ruling anything in or ruling anything out. I will stay in touch with both new managements, football and camogie, which which will be interesting. I’ve had both managers since I’ve been playing with Cork, so a change will be interesting.

“I will keep in touch with both squads, but at the moment, I’m just trying to focus on what’s ahead of me here. I’m very proud of myself for just taking this leap. I could have just stayed at home, maybe moved to Dublin or stayed in Cork, and always wondered why or, ‘What if?’

“I’m here until the summer anyway, and we’ll see after that. If I come back, well and good. If I stay on, well and good too. There’ll still be plenty of years left of me in the Cork jersey either way, but for now, I just have to take this opportunity.”

She’s more than happy with where she’s at, enjoying the off-season of all off-seasons and the sporting comedown from one hundred to zero while keeping herself ticking over with a few gym classes and jogs, for mental health benefits more than anything.

“Traditionally, if I look back the years, when things would wind down, that was always a time I’d struggle,” she nods. “Especially playing both because you literally don’t have time to breathe, and then all sudden, it’s dark and there’s not a lot going on. But I can’t say that over here. There’s too much going on over here, it’s the total opposite.”

With everything opening up and very few Covid restrictions in place, “There’s still that hustle and bustle in the city that never sleeps,” she beams.

She’s linked up with Orla Cotter, her former Cork team-mate who made the move last year, living near one another just across the River Hudson in Jersey City.

The door of Cotter’s apartment is open every evening, with Barry’s teabags, Taytos and Dairy Milk among the sideshows to the main attraction, her two-month-old baby, Siún.

aoife-murray-amy-oconnor-katrina-mackey-gemma-oconnor-pamela-mackey-hannah-looney-laura-treacy-chloe-sigerson-and-orla-cotter Cotter (far right) and Looney (fourth from right) on the 2019 All-Star trip. Dan Sheridan / INPHO Dan Sheridan / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s been amazing having her here. I didn’t really realise it until I got here. I was all set on doing this adventure myself. I obviously miss my family, I miss my girlfriend terribly. That’s probably one of the hardest parts. She’s coming over the 10th of December, so the countdown is on. And then we’ll fly home together for Christmas, that’ll be exciting.

“But having Orla has just been amazing. Even just calling up for a cup of tea. I get to have the chats with Siún, Orla and her husband, Mark. It’s been brilliant, just having someone to show you around and introduce me to her friends.

“It’s actually insane how many Irish are over here. That’s probably been one of my goals internally, to be diverse and meet people that aren’t Irish, but it’s just great having that Irish community here.

“Meeting her friends, trying to avoid the [chat about] which GAA club I’ll join – that’s a story for another few months! – but it’s been great here with Orla.”

While the next chapter is looking very different for Hannah Looney, there will more than likely be some semblance of normality with her beloved Gaelic games following her each and every step of the way.

She’s living the American dream, but that pull is never too far away.


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