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Sunday 24 February 2019

A golden year in US soccer for Campile’s Mikie

David Looby talked to talented striker Mikie Rowe, who is to be named US Player of the Year after he scored 22 goals in the past season

Mikie Rowe
Mikie Rowe
Mikie Rowe from Kilmannock, Campile with parents Georgina and Anthony and brothers Dylan, Ryan and Devin and some of his awards

Campile man Mikie Rowe has become a soccer sensation in American college football, winning the Player of the Year in all American colleges in his team's division and signing a professional contract.

Mikie will be honoured at the United Soccer Coaches All-America Ceremony and Reception this Saturday in Chicago in conjunction with the 72nd annual United Soccer Coaches Convention.

The son of Georgina and Anthony Rowe, Mikie, 22, from Kilmannock, has been on a scholarship to Young Harris College, playing with the Mountain Lions team in North Georgia for over two years, where he has been studying business and public policy. He kicked his first ball as a child of four years and was soon lining out for Campile United, whom he played with until he was 17, helping the team to the Wexford Cup in 2011. He went on to win a Youth League title and won an All Ireland title with Wexford Youths, also getting to the final of the Youth Inter League.

Mikie made the move to Waterford United when he was 17 in 2014 and the team went on to come second in the League of Ireland at under 19 level.

The former Horeswood NS and Good Counsel College student made his senior League of Ireland debut against Longford Town in 2014, scoring his first goal against Shelbourne FC.

Having made a strong impression on the college's scouts while playing for Waterford United, Mikie was offered a scholarship which covered his tuition, board and food at Young Harris College.

Mikie said: 'It was the best decision I ever made. I am over in Georgia for most of the year and it's around 30 degrees every day.'

He signed a professional contract for Tormenta FC last week. Based near Savannah, Tormenta is becoming a professional club this March. Its management team signed Mikie up as one of its attacking forwards.

When he first joined the Mountain Lions team Mikie went on a pre-season trip to Spain, finding the experience of being among strangers in a foreign country being hard to adjust to.

'That was probably the hardest two weeks of my life. I was so homesick I was almost going to give up.'

Being the only Irishman in the squad, he felt isolated.

'My accent was so strong the other players found it hard to understand me. I was 19 and it was something I wasn't used to. I had played under a lot of coaches that wouldn't have been on my back all of the time. They were really nice people. Then you realise these coaches are doing this for a living. I was being paid to play football and it was no longer a hobby.'

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It was Mikie's first time being in the professional football world and the demands were huge. He trained every day and played twice a week.

'I was playing for money because our scholarships were on the line every day. At the end of every season you have a review and then you are offered a certain amount of money for the following season (based on your performance). It was sink or swim. I went over there and I was a high profile signing for this team and they expected me to hit the ground running but you find yourself up against players from Leicester and West Ham's academies. You would ask yourself: "do I belong here?" when you're not scoring 15 goals like back in Ireland.'

Mikie scored eight goals in his first season and was satisfied with his goal tally only to be told by his coaches that he hadn't met their expectations for him.

He returned home for the summer after the season ended, effectively spending three months without kicking a ball competitively. The lack of pre-season training came back to haunt him in the second season, in which he struggled badly. 'That was a massive reality check and I struggled in my second season for confidence. I had given up on my dream of playing professional football. You make a lot of sacrifices and you are questioning do you want to keep doing it.'

After a poor second season by his high standards, Mikie made the decision to commit himself completely to his soccer career, and to finish out his degree.

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He joined Tormenta FC, base in South Georgia, initially lining out for their U23 team. Mikie said colleges are investing a lot of money in soccer in America where the sport has grown in popularity exponentially in recent years.

The move to Tormenta was fortuitous and timely as the club went on an unbeaten run in their conference, winning it outright. Tormenta went on to lose the national semi-final in the Premier Development League.

'I love the club because professionally everything was done right from the owners, to the people who set up the field. I regained my confidence and knew there were big things coming. I played my first season and was given the captaincy.'

Bursting with confidence, Mikie shone in the Young Harris college soccer season, the US college season running from March until October.

He has won over US coaches with his versatility, playing as a winger, a striker and in the number 10 role.

Mikie returned home for Christmas having enjoyed a fantastic season, scoring at stadiums across America.

The free-scoring forward earned the two top individual awards from the United Soccer Coaches last month, when he was named the NCA A Division II Men's National Player of the Year and the NCAA Division II Men's National Scholar Player of the Year.

He is the second Young Harris player to win both awards in the same year since the Mountain Lions became an active NCAA Division II institution five years ago. He became the 13th player in league history to score 20 or more goals in a season with 22 to lead the PB Conference in 2018.

Mikie finished third in the NCAA Division II with 1.16 goals per game, and fourth in points per game (2.58), goals (22) and points (49). His 22 goals was the eighth-highest single-season total in PBC history and his conference-leading 49 points was tied for 11th most. Named the PBC Player of the Week four times last year and the United Soccer Coaches National Player of the Week on September 13, he also led the PBC in game-winning goals and shots.

The 2018 United Soccer Coaches first team All-American, the 2018 United Soccer Coaches first team Scholar All-American, and the 2018 Google Cloud second team Academic All-American, was the fourth Mountain Lion to be named the PBC Player of the Year and kept the award at Young Harris for the fifth time in the last six years. Rowe earned the league's Select Sports Golden Ball Award for scoring the most goals.

In his career in the Enchanted Valley, Mikie played in 78 matches with 63 starts.

In 4,293 minutes of action, he scored 46 goals and assisted on 13 others for 105 points with 12 game-winning goals. He is second all-time in the YHC NCAA-era record book in goals and points, third in game-winning goals and 10th in assists.

The Mountain Lions finished the season at 17-1-1 and ranked seventh in the final United Soccer Coaches Division II poll. The Mountain Lions captured their fourth Peach Belt Conference regular-season and tournament titles as they earned the No. 1 seed from the Southeast region in NCAA Division II Tournament in 2018. It was the fourth trip for Young Harris to the NCAA tournament.

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Mikie said: 'There were 212 teams and 4,500 players in the college set-up. We were ranked number one in division two for most of the year.'

Mikie had to impress the club's coaches and win a professional contract or face into a future of playing in the margins.

'I was never placed in a situation like that before, where my job was on the line. I had a really good season.'

On Mikie's birthday, July 3, his coach offered him a professional contract.

'I nearly took his hand off. That was before my 22-goal season with Young Harris. It was only a verbal offer but I went on to have the season of my life which has garnered a lot of interest over in America. It was something that a lad from Campile doesn't expect, having coming from such a humble background and from such a down-to-earth family. It's just unbelievable.

'Since I started kicking football in my back garden with my Mam and Dad and my three younger brothers, who all look up to me. My parents and grandparents were my biggest influence. When you are 11 or 12 you always want to play for Man United.

'You get realistic around 16 and that dream comes to a halt and you realise that you just have too work so hard to do this for a living. I never had any aspirations to go abroad because I was such a home-bird. When I was with Waterford I gave up on the professional footballing dream because it was so difficult to see things work out.

'Now you see how far you've come and to be rewarded for this is just a dream come true.'

Mikie will be earning a full-time wage and have his accommodation, meals, US visa and college expenses covered.

'I'll be moving in with a couple of lads on the team.'

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He said it is an exciting time to be playing soccer in America.

'Soccer is getting massive over here. Any player in England who gets released from a club is going over so I'm paying against lads who played and trained with Marcus Rashford.

'When you see these lads who have come through Premiership academies and I came from Campile United. My work rate is second to none and after my first year I realised there were so many athletes I was coming up against so I took my fitness to a new level so I ended up being level with these athletes.'

Attributing his success to a never-say-die attitude, Mikie said he knew he was going to score when he pulled on the Young Harris club jersey this past season. 'The ball was coming back to me off the cross bar and off the posts. I was scoring at every opportunity.'

All the games are streamed online so Mikie's family are used to late nights staying up gathered around the television to watch him play, including his grandparents Ita and Michael Walsh.

As he career states-side continues to flourish Mikie will no doubt be the subject of interest from the national team and from clubs throughout the world.

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