Where do I begin? Well I began my tenure in the United States in Martinsville, VA. I was 19 and it was the first time I had been outside of Ireland. I had obtained a full scholarship to Patrick Henry Community College to play soccer and I was ecstatic, with an overwhelming feeling of emotions of how scary it all was. I remember my parents dropping me to the airport and my father saying “see you in two weeks.” I had zero support from my family and $1000 to feed me until I figured out work. When I got to Martinsville, my friend from Ireland who I had never met.... (I know, crazy right) let me stay in his house for around 3 weeks, he fed me and gave me a place to stay while finding my feet. Skip forward a day or two and it was time to hit the pitch and show what I had to offer to gain my place in the starting line-up. I got to the facilities and they were amazing. They had everything a player could want, full facilities the works. However, the standard of players was sub-par. To keep it short and sweet I had a terrible beginning to my US soccer experience. I went from the highest of highs looking at all the pro like facilities and saying to myself... this is it, to having this gaping hole in my chest knowing that my tenure was already over because of the level of players around me. I’m not saying I was pro level player, but I wanted to test myself against the best and Patrick Henry CC was leagues away. I remember leaving training and going back to the house and telling my friend “I’m going home.” He looked at me and said “No you’re not.” So, I went upstairs and began crying, all the hours I had put in on the weekends at the bar, to save up and pay for flights and visas was for nothing. I packed all my cloths and I began looking for an Aer Lingus flight back to Dublin. As the hours went by I began wondering what I was going to do back in Ireland, what I was going to say to friends after I had told them I was going to make something of my life. I knew they were all going to laugh and tell me I was foolish to try what I did. After some deep thinking, I thought to myself “I’m going to transfer into another school.” I ran down the stairs and said to Enda, “find me a school.” His response was something I didn’t expect, he had told me he got me another school and had booked me flight to Thomasville, Georgia. A place I had never ever heard of in my life. So, I got excited, I went onto their home website and immediately got a feeling of relief...there was an Irish guy from Kerry splattered all over the page.
I knew there and then I was going to fit in. Now keep in mind, I was saying this all to myself and had no idea what was waiting for me. Now, I’m going to give you guys the short version because I could and probably should write a book on this experience because there is nothing like this out there, but here we go. I got to Thomas University and I was given a JV scholarship because I was an unknown prospect. Obtaining a JV scholarship meant that I had to pay $10,000 a year to go to school. I had $830 in my wallet, cash. I thought to myself, now it’s definitely over. But something inside me told me it was all going to be okay, and it would work out. So, after talking with the coach I told him I was going to make it work. When I got to meet the team, I thought I was in Europe, it was full of Irish, English, Germans, Swedish and Scottish....I was right at home. But with good news, there is always bad news. I was told I had to sit out my first year and red shirt. I remember sitting on the grass after I was told, and I said to myself “This can work in my favour, I can get a job and pay for my first year and get the full scholarship.” So that’s what I did, I sat out my first year, got a job in the cafeteria and paying the $10,000 I owed, and gained a 90% scholarship, worked three jobs, and began studying Biochemistry. After that first year, I had the most incredible four years of my life. I won 3 conference championships, went to the nationals travelled all around the US and made lifelong friends with guys from all over the world. During the four years, I was introduced to my adopted parents...the Waldrops. Now I know what you guys are thinking, but they were my “host family”. They were brought into my life and had loved me like I was their own, and still do till this day. Now I know what some of you young men and women who are reading this and saying, “that’s not for me” well it wasn’t for me either, but once I embraced it all I became a better man. Life in the US can get hard, but through perseverance and resilience, you will have the most memorable moments of your lives, and once it’s done, you will think to yourself, “that was worth it.”