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'It was a step I had to make - living in Donegal, I didn’t have the opportunities that you do around Dublin'

Roma McLaughlin on how four years in the US have enhanced her Ireland prospects.

Roma McLaughlin pictured at an Ireland media day earlier this week
Roma McLaughlin pictured at an Ireland media day earlier this week
Image: Evan Treacy/INPHO

IT TOOK a move far away for Roma McLaughlin to get closer to her desired destination.

It is five years since the 23-year-old made her Ireland senior debut.

At the time, the then-teenager was impressing in the Women’s National League with Peamount, but the fact that McLaughlin has just five caps in total since her 2016 bow suggests her progress stalled somewhat along the way.

It was only last June for the friendly double-header against Iceland that the midfielder earned her first call-up of the Vera Pauw era after an impressive season in America with Central Connecticut State University (or the Blue Devils, as the team is known), after being in and out of the squad under previous boss Colin Bell due to injury problems.

The Irish coach at the time was very complimentary when asked about the Donegal native’s strengths.

“I was told that she had some injuries previously but we needed to sit down and see how her development went,” Pauw said.

“She was, of course, in the squad before I came, but if you look at her performance last year to where she is now, you can say that she now is dominant in midfield. She is always pressing forward, which is our style of play, and she never loses the ball. When she has the ball, she wants to get forward and is always the motor in her team.

“Defensively, she can immediately come back. She is a strong battler, she could suit our midfield if she can transfer her form to the higher level.

“We cannot judge from videos. She is playing at a lower level to international but the way she’s doing things and what she shows, we really have high hopes that she will be a very good asset to our team.”

McLaughlin was a late call-up for last month’s World Cup qualifiers against Sweden and Finland following Kyra Carusa’s withdrawal due to injury and she has retained her place in the squad for the upcoming home matches at Tallaght Stadium against Slovakia (25 November) and Georgia (30 November). 

Asked about that initial call-up in the summer, McLaughlin says: “I really didn’t see it coming but I waited a long time for it and I was really happy.” 

An impressive stint at college level, having been her team’s captain for the last three years, is coming to an end, as also is her time in America it seems.

“It’s been a really successful four years over there now. I’ll look to finish up in May and hopefully I have a good next move.

“That’s college football finished for me, that’s four years done.

“It’s a long break coming up and I just need to make sure I’m keeping on top of things myself, and keep ticking over.”

Although unsure of exactly where her next move will be, McLaughlin hopes it will at least be somewhere nearer Ireland.

“I love it in America but I think I would like somewhere closer to home. Hopefully, I can sort that out soon so I know my next move.”

Making the switch to the US in 2018 was, she admits, not an easy decision but a necessary one.

Travelling so far away was also convenient in one sense — she no longer had to make regular treks with her parents from her home in Donegal to Dublin for football matches.

“Everything is on my doorstep in America, I don’t have to travel four hours to play a game,” she says.

“It was very daunting [moving over initially] but I knew it was a step I had to make because living in Donegal, I didn’t have the opportunities that you do around Dublin so I thought I needed to make a move to the US.

“It’s definitely benefited me and I would recommend it.

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“[Homesickness was an issue] but I was fortunate enough to have Irish people around me over there, I had two of my good friends over there with me.

“My head coach [Mick D'Arcy] is actually Irish as well so that definitely helped.”

Moreover, one of the few positives of lockdown was that it afforded McLaughlin an opportunity to return home and spend ample time with family.

“I think it was March until August. So thankfully, I made the trip home because I didn’t realise it would go on so long like plenty of other people.

“I had all my family and I live beside the beach where we are in Donegal so a lot of walking was done.

“[Going back to the US after lockdown] was hard. When we arrived back we went straight into quarantine. You’re in dorm rooms, you’re getting food brought in that’s not the greatest. But once you get past those two weeks, it’s not so bad then.” 

Linking up with Ireland again, meanwhile, has enabled a reunion with two other players she knows well from her years on the Donegal soccer circuit — Amber Barrett and Ciara Grant.

“It’s great to be in and around Amber and Ciara, I haven’t seen them in a long time.  

“I think the best thing is being around all the girls that I grew up with playing.

“Hopefully I can stay in and around them, it’s just been really good.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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