Spend five minutes in the company of Eabha O’Mahony and you quickly realise that she is no ordinary teenager.
Apart from being one of the country’s most exciting young footballers – she was crowned Republic of Ireland women’s U17 Player of the Year this week – the Cork native is smart, articulate, and ambitious. Just look at how she responded to the outbreak of COVID-19.
“I relished the lockdown in a sense because I used it as an opportunity to wind down, train myself and do a SWOT analysis of myself,” states O’Mahony.
An 18-year-old undertaking a SWOT analysis (where a person identifies strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) on herself, unprompted?
Quite amazing. Yet, O’Mahony does things like that. It is something that her Cork City team-mates have become all too familiar with.
In preparation for this interview, she made sure that she arrived to training at Bishopstown an hour before anyone else. In her head, it would take roughly 30 minutes to do the interview, then she would have 30 minutes to undergo activation work, and then be on the pitch ready for training once everyone arrived.
Setting standards for herself is part of a constant bid to keep improving. It is something that Cork should benefit from today as they take on Shelbourne in their opening game of the 2020 Women’s National League season (Tolka Park, 2pm).
Ronan Collins’ team know that they face a difficult task against a quality-laden Shels outfit who should emerge as title contenders this season, but O’Mahony – who is likely to line out in centre midfield – is not one bit daunted by a trip to Tolka Park in Dublin.
“The atmosphere around the squad is really positive and we are buzzing to get going. It has been a long time coming as we were meant to have started back in March,” says O’Mahony.
“The likes of Shelbourne, Peamount, and Wexford have some of the best players in the League, but I think we’ll have good fight in us this year and we feel we can put it up to every team.” It is that type of attitude, aligned with an ability to link play smoothly with her short passing and anticipate danger before it appears, that has propelled O’Mahony into the Republic of Ireland women’s senior squad.
There has been just one appearance to date – against World champions USA – but Ireland manager Vera Pauw is quite keen on a player she views as an option in defence or midfield. So it’s up to O’Mahony to keep on impressing and immerse herself in an environment where she rubs shoulders with full-time professional players.
“Obviously I was nervous at the start going in with the senior team but it’s like life in that it puts you into situations that you’re not comfortable in but you have to deal with it. Once you deal with it then it’s fine,” admitted O’Mahony.
Dealing with it has become a mantra of sorts for the Ballincollig youngster. With each call-up to the senior Ireland squad comes new responsibilities. First, it was making sure her parents could give her a lift to Dublin. Now, it’s about checking the train timetable.
It is through experience, or rather silly mistakes, that we learn crucial lessons. O’Mahony is no different and it took a couple of trips away before she mastered the art of packing essential items.
“I’ve often forgotten phone chargers, toothbrushes, everything like that but I’m getting better at it,” she smiles.
“I prepare for the camps a lot better now. Ahead of our last camp I brought my schoolbooks with me so I could do homework the following day. I was always one day behind with the homework but I managed to get it all done.”
O’Mahony isn’t alone with bringing her study work into international camp. Arrive for an early breakfast in Johnstown House Hotel and you will likely find the lounge area full with young women scanning textbooks with a highlighter marker in hand – either as part of their college or schoolwork, depending on the age of the player.
Education is important to her. A family meeting helped shape that attitude as prospective offers of scholarships to the United States started to be mentioned. The thought of combining both football and studying, especially abroad, excites her.
“I want to see where football takes me. I want to use it to my advantage and keep playing at the highest level that I can,” she says.
“Through speaking with my parents, we definitely came to the conclusion that it is my education is first. But I’m going into my Leaving Cert this year and that’s what I have to focus on.” Something tells us that there is a very bright future ahead for her.