Claire Scanlan has turned full circle from a devoted student to an expert soccer coach
Hubert MurphyMANY sports enthusiasts can rightly say they have made a successful career from a passion but Rush woman Claire Scanlan sits top of the class when it comes to the subject – literally.
The first girl to play hurling in Croke Park, the first Irish woman to play professional soccer in Japan and now manager of one of the foremost female soccer academies in Britain, Claire has turned full circle from student to teacher.
Filton College in Bristol has developed a unique soccer academy for students where – between the ages of 16 and 19 – they mix the tough training schedule with study. The perfect life for the would be soccer starlet.
Claire’s role is to develop their skills and further enhance the relationship between the college and the team she plays for and acts as assistant coach, Bristol Academy, a side still linked ultimately to English League side Bristol Rovers.
It was to Rovers that the 33-year-old from Kenure Park moved to last year after three seasons with Leeds United. The role at Filton College also came up and she also keeps busy with the Irish team, for whom she has been capped almost 50 times.
‘I also take charge of the under 16 Centre of Excellence and we are promoting the whole aspect of football for women in general,’ she states.
The Filton College role in the whole thing is huge, having invested 17.5m sterling in development, playing pitches to all-weather tracks.
Women’s soccer is just one of the topics on offer at the academy. Sports mad youngsters can develop their skills in everything from boxing and rugby to cricket, rowing and netball.
‘Kevin Hamblin, who is the principal at Filton College, has given us wonderful backing and we are looking at 36 applicants for women’s soccer this term.’
Claire, who spent a number of years playing in the USA, is working on her coaching badges and hopes to add greatly to her portfolio in the years ahead.
‘Noel King is helping to transform the game in Ireland. He is the best coach I’ve ever worked with and with the FAI now in charge of us we see the profile of the game increasing all the time. There are some great players coming out of Fingal, the likes of Sonya Hughes and the up and coming Diane Cauldwell from Balbriggan. There’s also a few in Rush,’ she states.
However, a recent 5-1 defeat by Russia shows how much things have yet to go.
‘They were big and powerful and really showed what level we have to reach to be a real force. These days training must be every day and having the likes of the academy here is the way to go if people are dedicated enough. I hope we can get something like it in Ireland too in the future.’
However, there is nothing stopping Irish girls from attending Filton if they have the desire to play the game.
‘The course is free but there is a cost for accommodation but people can get sponsors which has happened a good bit here,’ Claire remarks.
After the Filton course, students can then go on to the USA to further their education if that’s what they desire.
‘I went to America for soccer and it has given me a good life. Playing for Ireland has added further to it,’ she reveals.
Her Irish team mate has joined her at Filton as an assistant coach, Grainne Kierans from Drogheda and they’ll be playing together on the professional side this season.
‘We will be playing our home games at a place called Mangotsfield FC and it should be a good year. We have eight new signings and are working really hard to bring some silverware back to Bristol.’
During the season they’ll play the cream of the English game including Arsenal, Fulham, Leeds, Charlton, Doncaster Belles and Everton.
‘The aim is always to get girls involved in sports and soccer and with the Olympics coming in 2012 we can expect huge things here but Ireland should also take the chance to look at the whole issue of sporting academies and get players dedicated to tough training and looking after themselves.’
As for Claire Scanlan, the world is at her feet – as it’s always been.
It was December 1988 when the Fingal Independent first came across a soccer mad 16-year-old who declared ‘I’m off to play professionally when I get the chance.’
It took years of hard work but Scanlon’s dream was unquenchable.
Back then she was intent on making a career for herself in Germany when ladies soccer was muted for 1990 but despite an interest in going to Italy as well, she decided to head off on a scholarship to the United States. And that’s where this great success story took off.
One of the hottest properties on the Irish under 18 team at that stage, she had just bagged both goals in a 2-0 win over Northern Ireland on her debut and the camogie and cricket was proving equally as successful.
‘I would hope to play soccer until I’m 40 and then coach the game,’ the 5th year pupil in Rush confirmed.
In 1997 she flew to Tokyo from her base in Erie, Penn, USA to become the first Irish woman to receive a professional contract in the soccer mad country of Japan.
She had been coaching a number of teams in her adopted home of Erie, where she obtained a BA in Business - Sports Organisation Management at Mercyhurst College.
She is a former player with Rush Athletic, having joined them in 1983. After six years she joined Swords Celtic before returning to Rush. In 1991 she won Leinster Senior League Div 2 honours.