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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019
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'I realised that he never really treated me like a girl or a boy... he completely let me be who I wanted to be'

Ireland star Louise Galvin delves into the positive influence sport – and role models like her late father – have had on her life.

Galvin in Six Nations action for Ireland last year.
Galvin in Six Nations action for Ireland last year.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images.

SPORT HAS ALWAYS been a constant for Louise Galvin. 

Be it Gaelic football, basketball or most recently, rugby; it has always been a central part of the Kerry star’s life. Through the good times and the bad, the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows; it’s been there.

A release, an outlet, a sanctuary from this crazy journey that is life. 

Galvin knows just how important sport is, and the many benefits it offers to one and all. And she’s pleased to be sharing the message through the Lidl #SeriousSupport Schools Programme; an initiative which sees her — one of 10 athlete mentors who are current or former elite level Gaelic footballers — partner with schools on these shores, to encourage teenage girls to stay in sport.

A full-time Sevens international now, Galvin previously did some similar work with the Youth Sport Trust as an athlete mentor, and has seen the many rewards reaped. So once the opportunity arose to go again, and revisit her roots with the Ladies Gaelic Football Association [LGFA], she jumped at the chance.

“I saw the impact first-hand that an athlete mentor can have going into schools and speaking to teenagers, who sometimes are the most vulnerable members of our society, and who are just crying out for someone different who maybe isn’t a parent or teacher or coach, to come in and share their story,” she told The42 at the programme’s launch.

“And share… if they do perceive us to be role models, that there isn’t a linear road straight to the top to success, that actually there’s a lot of ups and downs, there’s a lot of the same insecurities and problems that they feel now that we also felt.

“To bring that back to them and show a life in sport, what messages it can give, what skills it can develop and just how fantastic it can be. I really, really enjoyed it.”

***

For Galvin, the road definitely wasn’t linear, or straightforward by any means.

Barriers, fears, insecurities, challenging times in life away from sport. Recently, she was faced with the latter head on. In the latter days of 2018, her father passed away, and on 2 January, the Galvins buried a very special man in their lives. A week short of his 69th birthday, and a few weeks before his 45th wedding anniversary with his wife.

Screenshot 2019-10-18 at 23.24.11 Source: Louise Galvin Instagram.

But Aidan Galvin comes up in conversation in happy circumstances. At the mention of role models and sporting inspirations. He’s one of two that springs to his daughter’s mind straight away. Her two nearest and dearest.

“I think we always look to our parents,” the UL Bohemian and Munster ace smiles. “They’re our primary educators. My Dad would have been at home at the time, he was a farmer. He actually passed away at Christmas time.

“It was only kind of reflecting that I realised that he never really treated me like a girl or a boy. I don’t mean that in a negative way. I mean, he was like, ‘If you want to work on the farm, you do the job.’

“I have a brother who was a year younger than me so we were quite similar ages, we’d go and play football with the boys and you’d come back and he’d criticise me the same. It wasn’t, ‘Well, you scored 1-2, but you had two wides… but it’s okay because you’re a girl playing with the boys.’ That was dropped.

“And he never said I shouldn’t be doing it. At the same time when I said I wanted to cut my hair or start wearing makeup, those things, that was fine as well. He completely let me be who I wanted to be.”

There’s a few mentions of her father throughout, the last of such brings a particularly warm giggle. Our conversation took place in the build-up to this year’s All-Ireland final between Kerry and Dublin, with the hunt for tickets in full flow.

Aidan Galvin was heavily involved in the local GAA club, Finuge, and, of course, played a central part in sourcing tickets every September. Some of Louise’s fondest memories were the house in complete and utter mayhem pre-All-Ireland: “Now, I have people coming up telling me, ‘He always managed to get everyone a ticket, always, I don’t know how he did it…’”

Her smile widens as she remembers the good old times. As she takes a trip down memory lane, and looks back to those early days.

ireland-v-japan-2017-womens-rugby-world-cup-pool-c-ucd-bowl Galvin with her mum, Kay, after a 2017 World Cup match. Source: Donall Farmer

“Mom and Dad always facilitated me going, whether it was to basketball, football, rugby… they allowed me to go to all of those training sessions. When I think of them being taxi services or trains up to Dublin or whatever it may be, they not only facilitated but encouraged that.

“That’s really important that parents see these sorts of things and see the importance of encouraging their kids to be part of teams, to play sport, to be fit, for their physical health in the long term, for positive habits, and also for mental well-being.”

A physiotherapist by trade, Galvin is well aware of the positive physical and mental health benefits, and how important it is to counterattack poor cardiovascular health in teenagers — something we see nowadays which we wouldn’t have seen before.

Excercise can be boring, she concedes, but sport ties it in and offers all the advantages.

“You get a lot of enjoyment, you can do it with peers, and learn a lot of skills because we know in sport you win, you lose, you learn resilience, you deal with injuries… definitely, what you get far outweighs what you give to it,” she says, discussing how important it is to keep teenage girls in sport. 

Research conducted by Lidl in 2017 shows that by the age of 13, one in two girls give up sport completely.

It never came to that for 32-year-old Galvin, fortunately. 

“There probably wasn’t a time where I fully stopped but there were definitely lots of barriers,” she explains.

“When I started playing football, there was no ladies club at home so I had to play with the boys. I was dogged and naturally had some athleticism and fitness. Even growing up on the farm you’re always rolling around and messing physically. I remember being particularly good on my local club team with the boys at 11 and 12, but then getting to 14 and them getting bigger and faster and suddenly I’m not the midfielder scoring anymore.

“I’m kind if shoved in a corner and all of a sudden, lads that six months ago were my height are now bursting ahead of me. There is that kind of, ‘Oh hang on, I’m not at the same level here…’ but that builds another little bit of resilience in you.”

therese-mcnally-and-louise-galvin Facing Monaghan in 2011. Source: Cathal Noonan

She continues, then, on how she had to give up football fully when she got to the age that girls could no longer play on boys’ teams. But a different sport remained, thankfully.

“I actually stopped playing football between 14 and 21 because there was no ladies club at home. Even when I got to college in UL they had such a strong team that I thought I wouldn’t be good enough so I didn’t go back playing even though I really, really wanted to. It was only when we started a club team at home at 21 that I started playing again.

“Within those years at school, I was basketball-mad, so I was still getting those benefits of sport. But I did miss football at that time. That was just luck; if I didn’t go to a basketball-playing school, I might have been one of those girls that just stopped playing at 14 because there were no amenities for me to play in or nowhere safe I felt I could play.

“So many teenagers now have so many other things pulling them. There’s people telling them girls shouldn’t play sport, and that is just the thing you hate to hear.”

Hence why ideas like the Lidl #SeriousSupport Schools Programme are so important. Visibility is key, just as the 20×20 key slogan goes, ‘If she can’t see it, she can’t be it.’ Young girls need to see athletes like Galvin on posters, on TV and on social media, and hear their stories.

One like hers is so important. 

While Galvin excelled at both Gaelic football and basketball at the highest level in her early twenties, she left both of those commitments behind her and switched codes after taking up a full-time rugby contract in 2015.

Things were set in stone that May, but she couldn’t leave the beloved green and gold jersey without one last championship hurrah. 

“The last time was August 2015,” she frowns, “coming off the bench at half time in an All-Ireland semi-final against Cork, which didn’t end too well unfortunately. But I’m always keeping a close eye on things.”

She offers a few kind words for the stalwarts in the Kingdom set-up who have helped them bounce back from turbulent times of late, before being asked if she misses it. 

louise-galvin-under-pressure-from-candace-bond-and-laura-pardo Playing basketball for UL Huskies. Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

“Oh absolutely,” she responds before the question is finished. No question about that. But going full time and living a professional lifestyle was an opportunity Galvin just couldn’t turn down at the time.

“I’m really selfish, I’d split myself that much that I could play everything. I’d play basketball in winter, football in summer and rugby around it all. I suppose you make these decisions and have to go with them, not have any regrets.

“You just have to go with it and do it to the best of your ability, because you’ve probably given up another opportunity. I grew up in a mad GAA house so even still, it’s probably the number one sport in my house at home.

“But Sevens is a massive opportunity to maximise my potential as an athlete, in a sport full-time. I got an awful lot from that too; a lot of travelling the globe and exposure to a completely different new way of life. I’m privileged.”

Sport has always been there. It was there when needed, to be used as an outlet. And not only that, it offered perspective.

It also gave so much more than that. The lessons learned from sport can be used in other facets of life; work, college, school; personal and professional capacities. 

“It’s about the whole holistic individual,” she nods. “ If you can work on a sports team, employers know you can work on any team around. You know the benefits of hard work, how to help each other…

“Anytime you take on a new challenge, you’re out of your comfort zone. It’s important that people nearly embrace that challenge, whether it be sport or work or whatever, and tackle it head on.

“There’s been plenty of times I’ve been out of my comfort zone and up against players or teams, not making a team, getting dropped… but if you’ve been playing for long enough and you’re committed to it, it sets you up to tackle those challenges head on, regroup and go at it again.”

“It’s so, so important,” she adds of sport, and how valuable it is in terms of mental health.

irelands-aisleigh-baxter-and-louise-galvin-at-the-end-of-the-match With her Sevens team-mates last July. Source: Inpho/Billy Stickland

“All those other things, those insecurities you have as a teenager, you feel better. You gain confidence in yourself and how you look. You have more positive influences and athletic role models rather than maybe some of the false social media influencers who have these fake Instagram accounts and are absolutely filtered to the heights.

“Even some of the presentations I do in schools, I’d go in and I wouldn’t look terrible, I’d put in a bit of effort… but the first thing I’d do is put up a load of crazy action photos of me where it looks like I’m in terrible pain in the middle of playing.

“I just have a horrendous action face. They’re nearly all gasping and I’m like, ‘There’s nothing wrong with it, this is me in my natural habitat, this is actually me in my comfort zone as opposed to me standing here in front of ye.’ And it’s okay. It’s me doing what I know how to do best and what I’m happiest doing.

“There’s so much emphasis now on the pictures you put up and those sorts of things,” she scowls. “It can be good how you get these messages across to people who can be influenced very easily. It’s nice to influence with them with the right messages.”

She’s doing so now, right at the forefront of eir Sport’s 2019 Rugby World Cup coverage.

Flat out in pre-season at the time of our conversation, Galvin and her Sevens team-mates now have their shoulder back at the wheel and have opened their 2020 World Series tilt. Looking to build after recording a best-ever finish in Sydney earlier this year.

“It’s exciting, it’s our first full season out in Abbotstown in the new centre, our new professional base. It’s another world. The World Series this year has changed from six to eight legs, with added legs in Capetown, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Japan.

“Eight legs, six are doubled with the men and it’s exciting because our men are on the World Series for the first time.”

“We’ll give it another year anyway,” she smirks. 

“I’m still really grateful for LGFA, I’m glad to be involved with this because as I’ve said I’ve worked as an athlete mentor before. I’m really grateful that they have me back on board. And it’s nice to put on the Kerry jersey again today!”

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Emma Duffy

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