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Savannah determined to grab her second chance with both hands


Savannah McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Savannah McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Savannah McCarthy. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Vera Pauw may have recognised the face at the last home-based training session before the friendly against Australia in September but she didn’t necessarily recognise the player.

I asked ‘who is that?’ and someone said that is Savannah McCarthy,” says the manager. “No, she was in before, who is this? And I was told again it was Savannah McCarthy.”

The Galway defender had a bank of experience behind her but they seemed to have been locked away in a vault of fading memory, seemingly impossible to retrieve.

Three Scottish league titles with Glasgow City accompanied the three senior caps that had followed a stellar underage career for her country until life and death cut a swathe through her ambitions.

She returned home to be with her ailing grandfather in Listowel, abandoning her professional career, before injuries mocked the resumption of her part-time vocation.

And so as she coped with life, sport, as it must, went on without her; drift, seemingly inevitable.

Still, she was just 24, too young to discount a return to the big time, even from the relatively unpromising vista at Galway United, in the slipstream of the big-hitting domestic guns.

“I was away with Glasgow and then my granddad got ill, so I made a decision to come home. It was a tough time. My dad wasn’t well and stuff.

“I had a lot of stuff going on, family stuff. I’ve obviously come out the other side of it.

“I’ve worked really hard outside of football and inside of football, and I feel like I’ve done the right stuff to get here.”

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And so it was when she met Pauw for the first time, she emptied herself of a desire that had remained unexpressed for some time.

“I let it go,” she told the Dutchwoman. “I was just going through the motions. Just playing and not doing much extras for it. But I want to be involved again.”

She longed to play for Ireland again.

“I’m always confident in my own ability, but it takes hard work off the pitch as well as on the pitch,” the Kerry women says.

“When I went to Galway, they’ve been great for me on and off the pitch. I just did the extra stuff myself, training with the boys and doing my own gym work and doing the extra stuff that was needed.

“At the start of the season, one of my motivations was to be called back into the national team and then I got called up for the home-based sessions.

“So just playing well and training well, week in and week out, for Galway, and the opportunity would come up. And when it did, I would grab it with both hands.”

“It was all or nothing. So I grabbed the chance.”

First, she had to be given it. Despite housing the experience of seasoned pro Diana Caldwell in her defence, Pauw was suitably impressed.

“She decided she wanted back in and she started training every day. I was reading in the papers that she started training with boys, and put on a regime for top-level sport of food, recovery, gym work, aside from all her work with Galway.”

And so a different Savannah McCarthy pitched up earlier this year.

“So, her level of play went from a player who was going through the motions to something more,” says Pauw.

“And that was her talent, of course. It was somewhere hidden. And now, she is training more determined and ready to achieve her goal in life. And she immediately showed that.

“So, we recalled her. And she did so well, Never had a fear of failure because she is good. And we needed a left-footer in that backline, she has done very, very well.”

Superlative displays on the left of a back three, fending off the world-class talents of Australian, Swedish and Finnish markswomen, augmented by calm composure on the ball, has made the transition seem almost seamless.

“I suppose when you are in and then you are out of it for so long, you feel like, ‘Am I ever going to get this opportunity again?’

“I wasn’t expecting it. But when I got in there I said I’d give it my best and I’m thankful that Vera gave me the opportunity, that she brought me in for the Australia game. I just hope I’ve proved my worth.

“That was my first game under Vera, and in the last camp I had the two qualifiers against Sweden and Finland.

“They are all fantastic teams and it was tough, but I always knew once I got in, I am confident in my own ability and know what I am capable of.”

“I think she can go really far,” adds Pauw.

“She has everything. She is a top defender. She is top level at this moment. If she stays fit and doesn’t get injured, there are no limits I think for her.

“She is very good, she is not the fastest but she is very good at reading the game to compensate for that.

“She battles to start her game up again. There are a few moments we have to discuss but it is the same with everyone.”

This window against Slovakia and Georgia provides different challenges, a requirement to be more on the front foot with six points the absolute requirement to build upon the success in Helsinki.

“Finland was fantastic, honestly I can’t even describe the night. It was great. We worked hard as a team. We deserved our victory. Now, it doesn’t stop.

“We have two massive games coming up and we know that as a squad. And Slovakia coming up is not going to be easy, so we have to be on our game.

“We will be attack-minded and see how it goes. I will shift across and if Katie McCabe goes, I know that I have to come across and cover that area. So, yeah, it is likewise on the right-hand side.

“But we are all capable of playing. We try to play nice football.”

A cross-channel move may yet be an option, she remains coy on that topic but, with friends and family from Listowel decamping to Dublin this week, the primary focus is on forging on with the national team.

A taste of the big time even sweeter second time around.

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