Star Savannah shines at awards
Olympic hero presents award to our local soccer international
SHE has had many high points in recent years, but Thursday fairly took the biscuit for Savannah McCarthy when she was presented with the Irish Traveller Pride Award 2013 for sporting achievements by her long-term role model Katie Taylor.
Irish under-17s girls' soccer captain Savannah described the whole experience pretty succinctly: "It was unreal!"
The Listowel lass is one of the great sporting success stories of Kerry in recent years, coming up through the ranks of Listowel Celtic soccer to international captaincy in an amazing trajectory that kindles deep pride in Listowel; particularly among the Traveller community.
Meeting Katie Taylor on Thursday at the Irish Traveller Movement event was the cherry on the icing of that remarkable story to date for Savannah.
"I looked up to her since her days playing soccer, long before the Olympics, so it was unreal to meet up with her on Thursday. We chatted for ages and she told me how nervous she was as she still doesn't like public speaking that much. But we talked about the boxing and soccer as well and she is just a fantastic person, very down to earth," Savannah said.
Mom and dad, Theresa and Stephen, are probably prouder than anyone else in town this week. "We're extremely proud of her," Stephen said (who was once a leading soccer player in Listowel). "She's been playing since she was seven and while I used to play a bit of soccer I certainly couldn't keep up with her now!"
The awards were, of course, all about celebrating the Traveller community, something of huge importance to the McCarthy family. "It's very important to us and very important to Savannah, she has always been proud of her Traveller background," Stephen explained.
"It definitely means a lot to me, and to have all the young ones looking up to me now I suppose," Savannah said.
The awards also highlight the obstacles that many young Travellers have been forced to overcome to achieve success in wider society. Thankfully, Savannah's experience suggests that prejudice and nasty attitudes in general towards the Traveller community are waning.
"I've never, ever experienced any abuse based on my Traveller background and I have to say the whole community in Listowel have been incredibly supportive and proud of me always and I'm delighted they are still proud of me."
Celtic coach Dominic Scanlon is one of the 16-year-old's longest mentors in the game; a man immensely proud of Savannah's success.
"She's amazing and we noticed her talent from a young age. We're dead proud of her in Listowel Celtic always."
Apart from her talent, Savannah's personality has blossomed through her international role as well as she has come to relish her leadership role. She has captained Ireland at under-15s, under-16s and now 17s, with a year left in the age category before the under-19 squad selection.
"Being captain of Ireland is an unbelieveable experience and I love being in a leadership role. I see it as my job to keep the girls working well together by always telling them to keep their heads up through the matches."
Her efforts are working a treat, with the squad beating Wales 1-0 on Friday. Meanwhile, they are now focusing on the European Championships in August, which will see the side jetting out to Russia. If that's not all, Savannah's also in the middle of her Junior Cert at Presentation Secondary Convent Listowel.
"I'm pretty happy with how I'm juggling the school work with the soccer though!"
This week's award marks an important achievement for far more people than simply Savannah, as Damien Walshe of the Irish Traveller Movement explained.
"She's a fantastic role model herself and has an awful lot in common with Katie Taylor to that end. The awards are held to recognise people's achievements while overcoming the barriers often placed in front of them by society and apart from this, Savannah's success also reminds Travellers that there is a huge amount of talent within the community and a lot to be proud of."