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'I remember sitting in my hotel room, bawling crying, being like, 'I'm not ready for this''

A move to Durham, injury, chasing the World Cup dream and running a business: Saoirse Noonan has had a whirlwind few months.

THE DEFINITION OF a whirlwind few months.

A first professional contract and move to full-time football in England, a devastating injury, chasing the World Cup dream with Ireland, and a business being run in the background.

It hasn’t exactly been straightforward for Saoirse Noonan, but she’s going with the flow.

sky-announce-first-ever-wnt-bursary-fund-recipients Saoirse Noonan is a Sky WNT Fund recipient. Source: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

“I’m a firm believer in everything happens for a reason,” she tells The42 from her new home across the water, rewinding the clock to January when she first arrived at Durham with a deal on the table.

“I knew I was going to sign, I knew I had to sign because I knew it’s something I wanted to do. But I don’t think I was fully ready. I knew I wanted to be here but because I’m such a homebird, I don’t think I was actually ready.

“I remember sitting in my hotel room, bawling crying, being like, ‘I’m not ready for this. I’m going to miss my family so much.’ This was hours before I had to ring Lee [Sanders, manager] back up and be like, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign’. I should have been delighted and buzzing and ready to go, I just wasn’t.”

A few days later, she was back on home soil after sustaining an injury in training, the entire switch brought to a shuddering halt with the timing of it all particularly cruel.

The Cork star had been impressing in training, and with regular striker Rio Hardy cup-tied for that weekend’s encounter, it was written in the stars, almost, that Noonan would feature.

Until suddenly, it wasn’t.

“Whatever way I went over on it,” she recalls with a frown. “Everyone thought it was my ACL, but I kind of had a feeling it wasn’t because I’ve already done it and I knew what that was like. Obviously that’s the fear.

“I tore my hamstring just behind my knee, and I damaged my kneecap. I did a bit of everything to it really. It was quite a nasty one, but Durham looked after me really well. I was allowed go home and rehab.

“It was a bit like, ‘Ah, I’m back home now and I should be there.’”

saoirse-noonan Noonan has recently starred for Shelbourne. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Slowly but surely, the 23-year-old got back into the swing of things, enjoying the gym for a very short time before missing team training kicked in. Having played with Shelbourne before signing with Durham, she was allowed re-sign on loan until the summer.

“I felt it was right that I would go back to them and try continue and get them on the right track to win the league again this year, and then Champions League preparation,” Noonan explains.

“It was hard as well. Because I was so far away from Shels, I couldn’t just show up to training, because I couldn’t be sitting in the car for a long time when I could barely bend my knee. It was a while before I got back up to the girls. I was nearly partaking in the full session by the time I was actually back up there.

“It was a quite a long process. At times I was like, ‘Am I ever gonna actually get back fully fit? Am I ever gonna get back playing on the pitch?’ Once I got back up with the Shels girls, it was a different mindset.”

She made a full return and found her goal-scoring touch once more, helping the champions remain top of the Women’s National League table.

It was difficult to leave again, with Noel King’s side on the crest of a wave and the Champions League “bucket list” opportunity on the horizon.

“I love them all, and I just wish them the best,” she smiles. 

“It was a process, I’m out the other end of it now and I’m back over here. I’m just so grateful that I get this opportunity, I’m playing with a quality team and I’m just really excited to see what happens.”

There were much less nerves on her Second Coming to Championship outfit Durham. “I think once I got here, I just felt at home. I keep saying to my Mam, ‘I can’t believe I haven’t felt one bit homesick.’ She can’t believe it either!

“I remember my first Irish camp, I had to ring my Dad, told him I wasn’t going to Serbia and he had to fly over with us. I used to be real bad. Now I just love it like, I have no have no homesickness, I’m just happy, I’m enjoying every single thing about it. I think it was meant to happen now.” 

katie-mccabe-speaks-to-the-players-after-the-game Noonan (left) is chasing the World Cup dream with Ireland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Noonan is a recipient of the inaugural Sky WNT Fund, a bursary to support members of the senior Irish women’s team on their paths outside football. The ground-breaking initiative provides invaluable money and mentorship, and allows her keep her business, Freedom Official Clothing, going back home.

Having chosen to concentrate solely on soccer last year after balancing it with Cork Gaelic football commitments for so long, Noonan is delighted with how everything is panning out, on and off the field.

“It’s just feel like everything has fallen into place, really. It’s hectic, but I’ve always lived a hectic life and I enjoy that. I don’t think I would have been able to come over here and keep the business going if I didn’t have have Sky support me. It would be too hard. It just gave me a push to believe that I can still keep working with my own brand and try keep growing it while playing professionally with Durham. 

“The first couple of weeks over here pre-season, obviously, it’s been a big step up, we’re training every day, you’re busy and you’re coming home tired, you don’t want to take out the laptop and what not. But it’s all worth it when when things start falling into place. Now I’m a bit more settled in, it’s just flowing and I’m really grateful for that.”

It’s a “24/7 job,” trying to grow a business, she’s come to realise, her sister Aoibhe helping her with in-house duties from these shores while she does the online work.

“It’s going well and I’m just enjoying the process,” she adds. “I always say it: if tomorrow I stop, I can always say I did it and I tried. I would never regret it. I enjoyed every single hiccup, every single stressful day and every good day as well. It’s been great.”

There’s been similar ups and downs and highs and lows at Durham so far. She’s joined by Irish goalkeeper and good friend Naoisha McAloon at the club, and lives with another shot-stopper in Tatiana Saunders and defender Hannah Greenwood.

McAloon was her taxi for the first week as Noonan found her feet, she laughs, and she can’t say enough good things about the Dubliner, and their coffee and beach hang-outs.

“She’s one of a kind, a legend, and it’s really nice to have someone like that just down the road you can talk to,” she smiles, as she continues to bond with her new team.

Durham finished sixth last season, after a fast start but a “bit of a hiccup” in the second half of the campaign. They’ve made their intentions clear for 2022/23, as Noonan outlines. 

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naoise-mcaloon-and-saoirse-noonan Noonan and McAloon in Ireland training. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“They’ve made a big statement, going full-time. That’s just shown that they’re not messing around anymore. Everyone’s buzzing to be in every single morning, it’s been brilliant.

“We’ve seen it during our preseason already, that we’re here for for serious business, and everyone has the same goal. What makes Durham special is the people here; they’re not playing for a big name or a big club, they’re just playing for the team that they love and they all fight for the jersey. That’s what sold it to me. There’s no big-headed players are no Big Time Charlies, they’re all in it together and they’re all one big team.”

It’s the same with Ireland, she enthuses, as attention turns to a massive September double-header.

The World Cup qualification dreams could hit new heights as Vera Pauw’s side welcome Finland to Tallaght Stadium on 1 September, before facing Slovakia away five days later.

A coveted play-off spot is on the line, and it’s crucial the Girls In Green do the business.

“We’ve been close before, but haven’t got over the line,” Noonan deadpans. “The last couple of weeks, every single one of us has been watching the Euros, so I think that’s really hit home, being like, ‘We could have been there’. It does hit a trigger point that everyone’s like, ‘God, we can’t leave this is slip through our fingers.’

“It’s in our own hands. We need to go and put in a big performance, it will be down to us at the end of the day. It’s in our own backyard, a sell-out crowd. It is going to be probably one of the biggest games of some of our lives. Create a bit of history and hopefully, go on from there.

“Everyone’s definitely keeping a close eye on it and counting down the days and the minutes. Everyone wants to be part of it. It’s just gonna be amazing, really. Over the last year, you’ve seen how this team has grown and how the fan base has grown and that’s thanks to Sky as well. It’s definitely going in the right direction, and now it’s our turn to shine and show everyone why they have been supporting us and what we can do.”

Noonan herself has undoubtedly done that over the last few years, from Cork City to Shels and now, through her next chapter. 

She marked her second international cap last November by scoring her first senior goal in the 11-0 hammering of Georgia, and is a regular feature in Pauw’s squads.

saoirse-noonan On the ball for Cork in 2019. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Her rise has accentuated since focusing on football, each and every word she utters a reminder that she’s living the dream.

But Gaelic football is never too far from her thoughts, and she still has those, ‘What if?’ moments when she looks at the Cork team she represented in two All-Ireland finals.

“Look, I think I’ll always miss it,” she concludes. “I was showing the girls hurling yesterday and they were like, ‘What?’ I’m gonna do huling for my initiation.

“I do miss it so much, but I’m also grateful that I did choose to take this route and that I have achieved my dream of getting into the Irish team, now I just need to keep working harder to stay there.

“I’m always trying to stay in contact with the girls, they’re a strong side, and I would hope that they go further next year and push on. They work so hard, they give so much and it’s just a tough one to take [their All-Ireland quarter-final defeat to Mayo].

“I love watching it, I’d love to be part of it but we can’t do it all and I had my stint. Hopefully in a couple of years. I’ll be back playing with them again.”

For now, it’s full steam ahead with Durham and Ireland.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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