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Mèabh de Burca is currently a member of the Irish senior squad and is not just living the dream of a professional sports person but following that dream - ‘globetrotting’ and playing the game at the highest level she can.
Growing up in Galway, playing on the road in Newcastle with the neighbours – lads mostly, Mèabh could not have imagined in her wildest dreams that she would one day become a professional footballer.
Her first introduction to the organised game was at Salthill Devon where Pete Kelly (author of this article) and Tony Johnstone managed the ladies team and there were scarcely any other young girls playing. The 13 year old young ‘DeBúrca’ with the incredible engine was too young to play in the team but nevertheless trained diligently for a year or so until she got her chance. Mèabh had actually started with Salthill Devon when she was 11 years old, even though there was no team to play with. That strength of character that she displayed at a very young age would stand her in good stead in the coming years.
Mèabh has her head screwed on in more ways than being a top international footballer. Following her school days in Taylors Hill in Galway she moved on to NUIG where she studied Commerce. Along the way she was amassing in excess of 30 caps at various underage levels for Ireland in addition to helping Salthill Devon and the Galway District teams. Amazingly Mèabh also found time to play Basketball, Gaelic Football and do ‘a bit of running’.
The United States beckoned for Mèabh and she accepted an offer from the University of New Haven, in Connecticut. She stayed there two years earning a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in Sports Management.
At New Haven Mèabh experienced first-hand what it is like to be a ‘student athlete’ which in the American context is different to anywhere else.
"You are literally working as an athlete six days a week. The season is short, but very Intensive and I learned a lot about the value and need for conditioning," explained Mèabh.
On completion of her course of studies Mèabh had the opportunity to stay on in the US and she played with CFC Passion in 2010 and the following season with Boston Aztecs who were a semi-pro outfit.
Perhaps Mèabh will include a travelogue as part of her memoir when she has the time to write one in years to come with ‘Next Stop Norway’ as a chapter title. The Scandinavian adventure had begun, Mèabh had started her professional career and Amazon Grimstad FK was the club.
The stint in Norway “added greatly to my playing experience” said Mèabh.
“I was one of only two foreigners in the Amazon squad last season - it was a total focus on soccer even though we only a part-time coach.”
Mèabh has now moved on to Sweden, where she has signed for Eskilstuna FC in the Swedish second tier league.
“The standard of play here is very good as is the professional approach. It’s great to be able to earn enough to live and concentrate completely on being a player.
“I hope to gain some experience of coaching at youth level – in fact we will be going into local schools and doing some coaching.”
Mèabh has completed her UEFA Youth Cert coaching qualification and undoubtedly had a career in coaching if she wants to go that route. She is likely to play however at the highest levels for perhaps the next ten seasons so that is well down the road.
On the immediate horizon for Mèabh and the Irish squad are the World Cup qualifiers. The Irish squad are in transition really, but they will be hoping for a good showing. The Woman’s game is at its strongest in Europe so it will be a ‘big ask’ to qualify for Canada in 2015 and Ireland have been drawn a very tough group.
In many ways Mèabh DeBúrca continues to be a trail blazer on so many levels. To the U10's in Salthill Devon she is the player in the picture on the wall in the clubhouse that they can aspire to be. To women in any number of sports Mèabh personifies what sporting endeavour is all about, but above all her career to date is testimony that nice people can make it.
Peter Kelly mainly covers Salthill Devon for Extratime.ie
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