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An ode to a great game

Sport

An ode to a great game


Column

Aoife Herbert

“Football is a whole skill to itself. A whole world. A whole universe to itself. Me love it because you have to be skilful to play it! Freedom! Football is freedom”
– Bob Marley

I’M a huge fan of the reggae master, who once said that when he played the world woke up around him. That’s exactly what I felt soccer has done for me. It has opened up the world and given me a chance to be expressive, have total freedom, travel, feel alive, and develop friendships and bonds across borders and continents.
It started as soon as I could walk, and I grew up to love Liverpool, wrecking all my runners kicking ball at school and until dark against the best and biggest wall in the world and dreaming of playing in America on scholarship like the girl off ‘Bend It Like Beckham’.
As it transpired, that was a dream I ended up fulfilling, and it set me upon a journey and a love affair with New York and the USA.
The thing they don’t tell you about dreams when you are growing up is that they are damn hard work, and sometimes they hurt like hell. In my first season at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, New York, I struggled with the physicality and athleticism of my counterparts.
I was better technically, but we played 25 games between August and December, and I ended up with a pretty serious shin problem.
It was devastating to get all the way to the final four (semi-finals, I love my America talk) and lose to San Diego. We had won the conference and region that year, but we wanted the big one – the national championship, eternal glory.
The following year we got back to the finals again. Despite being injury-free, I was not seeing as much game time as I’d have liked. It was killing me inside, because I knew I was good enough, but I was patient, and in the end I was one of the main players, playing nearly the entire national championship final on the left wing.
All the pain, internal and external, every single moment of sacrifice was worth it, as we beat Grand Valley State University 2-1 and went crazy celebrating on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Upon the final whistle, I collapsed to my knees and felt the victory ripple through my system. It was caught on camera and I get such a slagging about it from the girls, but the moment was epic and I will never forget it as long as I live.
I still have the ring, jersey, newspaper cuttings and t-shirts. My team-mates are still a big part of my life and I try get over to the States as much as I can. We went on one hell of a journey together.
After graduation, I played with Women’s Premier Soccer League side New York Athletic Club. My coach there, Kim Wyant, is a former US goalkeeper and I played some of the best soccer of my life under her guidance. I’ll be returning there either this summer or next summer, and I’m looking forward to competing in that league again.
For now, as the Mayo League gets back into full swing, our Women’s National League campaign with Castlebar Celtic is winding down. The league is definitely moving Irish women’s soccer in the right direction. It was brilliant playing with my hometown Ballina last summer too, especially winning the All-Ireland in Cork and receiving a team award at the Western People Sports Star Awards.
So the beautiful game is still special for me, even if supporting Liverpool can sometimes be quite the heart-stopper/breaker. Whatever happens, I will always love this club. Onwards and upwards.
Comments via Twitter @aoifeherbert20 or see www.adventuresofaoife.com