'It’s a dream come true... since the moment I first kicked a ball I wanted to be a professional'

'It’s a dream come true... since the moment I first kicked a ball I wanted to be a professional'
Megan Connolly has been a soccer star since underage. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/SPORTSFILE

CORK soccer star Megan Connolly has signed her first professional contract, with English Premier side, Brighton & Hove Albion. She has achieved her childhood dream.

The senior Republic of Ireland international was playing with college side Florida State Seminoles, having made her Ireland debut, as a 17-year-old, against the United States in January of 2015.

In that year, Connolly began playing for Florida State on a four-year scholarship to Florida State University to study sports management. In her first season for the Seminoles, Connolly played a pivotal role in their 2015 ACC Women’s Soccer Tournament success, contributing nine goals and ten assists. She was named ACC ‘Midfielder of the Year’ and ACC ‘Freshman of the Year’.

In December of 2015, Connolly was named a First Team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches’ Association of America, becoming the first ever freshman player from Florida State to do so. She was also nominated for the Hermann Trophy.

As a sophomore, Connolly played in all 22 games. She scored seven goals, including five game-winners, and provided four assists. As a junior, she played in 20 games, starting nine, with three goals and three assists. However, this year was the best for the former College Corinthians player, and what a way to finish her college years. Florida State University were crowned NCAA women’s soccer champions, after a 1-0 win over the University of North Carolina, the local heavyweights, who were on a staggering 45-game unbeaten streak, the fifth-longest in NCAA history.

“I don’t think I could’ve dreamed, or pictured, a better way to finish my college career than with a national title. It’s just all pretty crazy,” said Connolly.

“The NCAA is a lucrative, billion-dollar collegiate sports industry in the United States. It is the pinnacle for university athletes. To be crowned a champion is a staggering achievement and a major calling card and I was thrilled to be part of that success and history.” As college ended, Connolly’s next move was to find a professional club. Having secured an agent at the end of the season, it didn’t take long for her to be signed to her first professional club.

“Once the season ended in Florida State, I was able to get an agent and begin the process of finding a club. Before Christmas, I signed with an agency (Summit Sports Global) and gave them my CV and footage, so they could seek out clubs for me.

Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne
Picture: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

“I had an idea that Brighton were looking for a centre midfielder, so my agent reached out to them and gave them my CV and footage and it was just a waiting process, then, to see if I got a trial. Two days before New Years, I got notification that I had a trial early January. I made the journey over there and did the best I could and came home and just hoped it was enough, as there were many other players on trial there, too. Thankfully, it all paid off and I got offered a contract.” Leaving the States was sad for Connolly, having spent four years there, developing as a player and a person.

“It was definitely hard, leaving America. Over the course of nearly four years, I developed a second family over there, with the people around me, so it was more than just college and football. I was surrounded by people around me I genuinely cared about that made my time so valuable there.

“As a player, I developed enormously. I matured so much and learned a lot about the game. I did go through a lot of adversity in the middle of the time I was there, but it built me into the person I am today. I become a better person and teammate, as a result of the adversity. 

"Looking back, I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. It has prepared me for where I am today. Being able to go into an unknown situation with an open and positive mind. At the end of the day, you play football because it’s a team sport and the greatest thing Florida State University taught me was to be a great teammate and person, no matter your circumstances on the field. And, now, I look forward to the next chapter in my career.

“It’s a dream come true to sign my first contract. Since the moment I first kicked a football, I have always wanted to make that my profession and play it at the highest level possible. To have the opportunity to join a Premier League club, and get this amazing experience in my career, is a dream. I have initially signed a contract until the end of the season and, if all goes well, maybe stay for longer. I’m living in a house with another girl on the team, which is located about 10 minutes from the Amex Stadium, where we are based daily.

“It’s also amazing to be close to home." 

Corinthians' Megan Connolly being challenged by Lakewood's Evelyn Daly. Picture: Des Barry.
Corinthians' Megan Connolly being challenged by Lakewood's Evelyn Daly. Picture: Des Barry.

Her family, which includes her brother Luke a Cork and Nemo footballer, have already been looking and booking flights to come over and watch upcoming games this month.

“I have been on this journey, with them by my side, since I was a little girl playing in the schoolgirls’ league with Corinthians, so it is special to have them come to Brighton and see what we have achieved as a family. They are my greatest support system and none of this would be possible without their daily sacrifices for me. 

"My aim for the season is to contribute to Brighton anyway I can. I’m going to work hard to get time on the pitch and to develop as a player and bring these experiences into the Irish team and to just, ultimately, grow as a player in both teams,” Connolly said.

Megan Connolly (Player of the match) and Amy Curtin, captain, after playing football for Christ the King.
Megan Connolly (Player of the match) and Amy Curtin, captain, after playing football for Christ the King.

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