IN 2004, Kariena Richards, the former Midleton and Ballincollig star from Ballinacurra, moved to the US to pursue a football scholarship.
17 years later and she is still living the dream. Now, she is director of coaching for Gold Coast Academy in New York.
Richards recently returned home for Christmas and here she tells us about her football journey.
“Firstly, it’s an absolutely fantastic feeling being home for Christmas,” said Richards.
“I hadn’t seen any of my family for two years, because of Covid-19, but I’m home for 10 days and back staying in my family home in Ballinacurra, where I grew up with my parents and brother, Scott.
“The plan for Christmas is just to relax, eat, drink and spend time with family and I can’t wait.
“In October 2004, I was named in the Irish women’s senior team, who went to the United States to play in two matches against the USA, who were the top women’s football team in the world.
“It was part of the USA’s victory tour, after they won gold in the Olympics in Athens, beating Brazil 2-1 in extra time.
“We went to play them at Soldier Field, in Chicago, and then in Reliant Stadium, in Houston Texas. It was a fantastic experience for me, seeing a whole other level of football, professionalism, and stadiums in the United States.
“Playing against the likes of Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach is an experience I’ll never forget. From that trip, I was offered a full scholarship to Hofstra University, which is in Long Island, New York.
“Hofstra University is currently ranked in the top 25 Division 1 schools in the United States.
“While attending Hofstra University, I received my bachelor’s degree in psychology.”
Leaving home at such a young age may have daunted many, but not Richards, who was ready for the challenge and although she took up soccer late, in her teens, it became her passion.
My playing career here in Ireland all happened very quickly. I didn’t start playing competitive soccer until I was 14. It was all GAA before that. I started at my local club, Midleton, before moving on to play with Ballincollig at senior level.
“From there, it was trials for the Munster Gaynor U16 team and then trials for the Irish U17 team. I made my debut for Ireland U17 versus England in Scotland and played 20+ games for them, then went on to captain the U19 team in various European qualifiers, and made a handful of senior appearances, before accepting the scholarship to go to the US.
“Since then, I have never looked back. Football has given me a great life. When I finished playing in college, I went straight into full-time coaching at a local underage club, called Locust Valley, which is on the North Shore of Long Island.
“I thoroughly enjoy coaching and watching the development of underage kids throughout their football career.
“I was fortunate enough to have some fantastic coaches growing up, who helped to shape me into the player that I was, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment when I can give the same commitment to the youth players that I work with.
“I am currently the girls’ director of coaching for an academy club on Long Island New York, called Gold Coast FC.
“My responsibilities include, but are not limited to, staff recruitment and assignment, culture creation and playing philosophy. I am also the head trainer for numerous teams, ranging in age from U9 to U19,” Richards said.
“I am also a full-time physical education teacher, so finding the time to balance both jobs is quite challenging, but I enjoy both immensely and wouldn’t change it for the world. I am very fortunate to have two jobs that I love.”
Having left Ireland a long time ago, Richards didn’t have the opportunity to play in a national league, but is happy to see the development of soccer in Ireland.
The national league in Ireland is 100% something that I wish I had available to me when I was playing underage here in Ireland.
“The talent levels that are on display these days are incredible and I sometimes joke with my friends that we would never have been able to play at this level.
“These young girls are very fortunate that the women’s game has evolved so much in the past few years, and the recognition and opportunities they get are fantastic.”
So will we ever see Richards back on home soil for good?
“Ireland will forever be my home and it’s where all my family still reside, but New York has become my home away from home and it’s where I plan to continue my life for the foreseeable future.
“I’m very fortunate that I have two beautiful countries that I can call home.
“My lifestyle in NY is vibrant, exciting, and always on the go. If I’m not teaching, I’m on the football field, or at the beach in the summer and bike trails, etc, and it’s great, but I’m delighted to be back home now for Christmas.”