Top soccer award for Rush star Claire Scanlan
Rush soccer ace Claire Scanlan is flying high after her achievements in international soccer were capped by her selection as the FAI Opel...
By Noel Ward
Rush soccer ace Claire Scanlan is flying high after her achievements in international soccer were capped by her selection as the FAI Opel International Womens Player of the Year, and on her birthday too.
It was a great present for the 28-year old, who has been capped 12 times for Ireland, and she was watched proudly by her parents Avril and Eddie, as Opel’s Chief Executive, Arnold O’Byrne presented the award at the recent FAI ceremony in Dublin’s Burlington Hotel.
It’s a fitting tribute to the dedicated mdifielder who first donned the green jersey back in 1989, and 11 years later she is still one of the key figures in Ireland’s attempts to qualify for the European Championships next year.
It’ s also a tribute to the strength of soccer in Rush and Fingal that Clare was joined in the Burlington for the awards by fellow towns-folk, David Worrell of Dundee United and Stephen Capper of Ireland Youths and Sunderland, with the gifted Stephen McPhail only absent due to injury, and Claire was delighted with the local support.
‘It’s great to see that Rush has been put on the map in the socer world in this way, and it was excellent to see so many familiar faces on such a nervy occasion.’ said an over-joyed Claire, who is still trying to come to terms with what was an unexpected honour.
‘The award is really the highest accolade you can get in the game and it’s a real career highlight for me, close to the feeling you get from wearing the green jersey itself. I really couldn’t believe it when it was my name that was called out on the night.’
It may have been a shock for the Rush woman but there were no complaints from those who have watched her career over the years, as she competed in all parts of the world for Ireland, aswell as spending a year as a professional with Oki FC Winds in Japan in 1996-7.
Claire is now based in Alabama, where she is undertaking a Masters programme in Sports Management, but this isn’t going to get in the way of her most important goal - helping Ireland to the 2001 European Championsjhips.
She says: ‘I’m working hard and loving it in the US, but I’m completely focused on my football, with this year being one of the biggest ever in my career. Last year Ireland played several qualifiers, and also a game against the World Champions, the USA, which was a great honour, but the next few months see the vital final three games which could see us qualify for Europe, and that’s the main ambition at the moment.’
Ireland are due to meet Scotland, Croatia, and the Czech Republic in their final qualifiers in April and May this year, and the first game against the Scots is the real crunch encounter, with the winner of that game likely to go through to the finals.
To qualify would be a great boost to Claire who is preparing to stay in the game for several years to come, despite her long service to date. The 5’2” midfield powerhouse spent four years playing in the US, aswell as her year in Japan, before returning in 1998 to tog out for the Shelbourne ladies side, in a year where they were runners up in the League Cup. She returned to her studies in the US last August.
Although she is now training in sports management and coaching, she definitely has no intention of slowing down her playing game and sees herself going strong for some years to come.
‘I really want to play for some time yet - I haven’t lost the buzz at only 28 - and I think my future probably lies in the proposed ladies professional league in the US, which is a place I know well at this stage.’ she says.
‘In the long-term I would hope to return to Ireland and get involved in coaching, but I’ll need to be a few yards slower before I start giving that any serious thought.’
Our new FAI International Womens Player of the Year has already returned to her studies in Alabama since recieving her award , but it won’t be long before she and the Irish team are back in action, with the crunch game against Scotland kicking off on April 29, at Richmond Road at 2pm. The Ireland womens team’s last two group matches take place in May, with the team meeting Croatia on the 7th, and the Czech Republic later in the month, on the 28th.