Relaxing amidst the constant chatter which reverberates through the team bus on a Friday afternoon as we travel north, I will never forget the pleasure of watching fall quietly roll out like a red carpet across the forested canape that is the Canadian landscape in the early weeks of the new soccer season. As I excitedly engage with the sights and sounds of Canada from the comfort of our team coach, I am interrupted only by the timely input of an educative team mate, eager to ensure that I grow to appreciate the raw beauty which defines this naturally rugged part of the world. Such moments have grown to represent my tenure in Canadian soccer, which has allowed me to travel and experience, win and lose against some of the most jaw-dropping backdrops I’ve ever been privileged enough to visit.
Since moving to Toronto, Canada in September 2009, I have had the pleasure of representing and currently captaining the Varsity Blues Men’s Soccer Team at the University of Toronto. As reigning champions of the Ontario University Championship (OUA), I have received accolades such as the 2010 OUA Most Valuable Player, 2010 OUA First-Team All-Star, and most notably 2010 Canadian All-Star Defender of the Year Award across an incredibly rewarding two seasons on and off the field of play. Before commencing my time in Canada, I have experienced the highs and lows of professional and semi-professional football in my native Ireland, representing Derry City and Finn Harps in the League of Ireland – even gaining national honors with the Republic of Ireland along the way. As a result, I often get asked to compare my experiences of playing the game on two different continents, and while I romanticize about the manicured grass fields of home and the adrenaline rush of competing at the highest level, I have gradually begun to realize that the journey really is more memorable than the Inn. When one decides to hang up their boots, it will be the long road trips, extra-time battles, training ground banter and lasting friendships that will comprise the ‘good auld days’.
As I continue to progress as a scholar of the game, I have seen myself become increasingly intrigued by the challenge of coaching – of seeking to encourage, mentor and translate my love and knowledge of the game to the little kickers as they begin their journey into what can be an incredibly rewarding and fruitful personal pursuit. However, as I seek to balance the disturbing insights of my academic endeavor into sport alongside the euphoria I’ve experienced on and off the field of play, I can’t help but feel that sport, unlike many spheres of social life, represents a medium in which the forces of good and evil are so deeply balanced that a slight shift in either direction can all too often make the difference.