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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019

'I wanted to be a football coach. The teacher chuckled: ‘Well obviously you can’t do that, Laura.’'

Uefa A Licence coach Laura Ní Chíosóg on her life in Irish football.

Laura Ní Chíosóg at the launch of TG4 and RTÉ's coverage of the Women's World Cup.
Laura Ní Chíosóg at the launch of TG4 and RTÉ's coverage of the Women's World Cup.

LAURA NÍ CHÍOSÓG is a Uefa A Licence coach and currently part of the commentary team for the Fifa Women’s World Cup on TG4.

This is her sporting story:

Tullyallen, County Louth – where I grew up – did not have a football team for girls. All I ever wanted was to play, a chance to score like Robbie Fowler or pass like Steve McManaman. We took our lead from dad. His devotion to Liverpool became a family creed for myself, my three brothers and my younger sister. As soon as a new strip came out, we were brought into town to get the jersey. That was always a big day out for us.

I wore my kit everywhere but did not get to play a proper game until I went to college. Back home, I made do with Gaelic football. Despite the lack of playing opportunities, my passion did not wane. Luckily I stumbled down a different path.

Although I had no club to play with, there came the chance to train a team instead. One weekend, when I was 14, I went on a coaching course with dad. Sean McCaffrey, who sadly passed away in 2017, was then a Regional Development Officer with the FAI. He ran the course. Although the only female there, and the youngest by far, I never felt out of place. Sean was full of encouragement – ‘You can do this’. He filled me with belief. I owe him a lot.

I loved coaching from the start. The U8 boys at Albion Rovers, our local club, were the first team I trained. My brother, Conor, played with them the following year so I became his coach too. I might have been a little nervous at the start but that had more to do with the parents who were watching. At that age, the boys knew me only as their coach. To them, it did not matter that I was 14 and female.

The more coaching that I did, the more I wanted to do. At school, as the Leaving Cert approached, teachers would ask us what careers we wanted to pursue. I remember one day, I put my hand up in class and said I wanted to be a football coach. The teacher chuckled: ‘Well obviously you can’t do that, Laura.’ But in my head I thought: ‘I’m a coach already.’ My stubborn streak kicked in. Other people’s doubt strengthened my resolve.

When I look back, it made no sense for me to think like that. I did not know any female football coach who made a living from coaching. But look at Katie Taylor: she dreamed about becoming an Olympic champion before women’s boxing had gained Olympic recognition.

I had a Eureka moment during sixth year. Packie Bonner, then the FAI Technical Director, presented the FAI’s Technical Development Plan in a hotel in Drogheda. I remember him announcing that a development officer would be appointed for each county within four years. I did the maths: I would be finished college in four years. If I studied something related to sport, I figured on being ready for one of those jobs when I graduated.

Initially I considered studying Football Science at John Moore’s University in Liverpool. Then I thought my career options might be limited. Sport Science at University of Limerick seemed a better bet.

At UL, finally I got to play. I coached the women’s college team too. During work placement one semester, I even managed to set up a women’s side back home for Albion Rovers.

My final year in Limerick, the FAI started recruiting development officers. Some jobs came too soon for me but within a year of graduation, I made the grade. Aged 22, I got the post in Kildare, becoming the youngest development officer in the country. Amazingly, my childhood heroes would soon cross my path.

The following year, 2009, I added my Uefa B Licence. Our course took place in Athlone though there were some Scouse accents among the group. Jason McAteer, then assistant manager to John Barnes at Tranmere Rovers, had a former teammate in tow. Steve McManaman, my childhood hero, sat down beside me.

We were running through one particular scenario when McManaman asked me what to do. My first thought was: ‘You’re a Champions League winner and you’re asking me?’ He said, ‘Laura, I don’t have much coaching experience,’ and I could see it from his point of view then. He helped me realise how different coaching is from playing.

Never tell anyone not to meet their heroes. McManaman was top class – humble, helpful and humorous too. He had a lovely way about him. I loved hearing all his Liverpool stories and he got a great laugh when I told him about this Liverpool necklace I used to wear – his face emblazoned on it.

In 2015, I completed my Uefa A Licence. In terms of pure coaching, that licence is the highest level although I might do the Pro licence at some point in the future. Outside my work in Kildare, I have coached at national level. I spent seven years coaching the girls U17 team. I have seen players like Amber Barrett, Katie McCabe and Leanne Kiernan come through. They are senior internationals now.

For ladies football in Ireland, it is still early days. I had no female role models growing up. When young girls see women play on a big stage like the World Cup, they will think: ‘I can do that.’

– In conversation with Brendan Coffey.

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Laura Ní Chíosóg

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