Blog Note: Fairfield University students have numerous opportunities to study abroad during their time on campus, and often student-athletes are among them. Today’s Stags Abroad post is from men’s soccer player Matt Danaher who is currently in Ireland.
I can’t say enough about how much I’ve enjoyed playing with Salthill Devon F.C. for the last two months. We’ve played four friendly matches since I last wrote, one against the best team in Ireland in Sligo Rovers, the Ireland U-19
National Team, and two against county teams. These were four opportunities that I was extremely excited about, as it is not something I’ve ever had the chance to do before back in the United States.
I have to say, in the warm-up to the Sligo match, I was extremely nervous! I would glance to the other side of the pitch and see full-time professionals who play football for a living. I was on the bench for the first half, and I intently watched the game to see how the play was unfolding and where I could potentially find myself in the second half. The Sligo right-back, the captain, was playing on my side, so he was the one I watched the most. Every time he got the ball, he made his decision early; where he was going to pass it, if he was going to switch the play, if he was going to clip a ball in behind the back four. Just from a spectator’s perspective, I couldn’t believe how quick the speed of play was. Every player knew exactly what they were going to do with the ball when it got to them, and their movement off the ball was fantastic. Every player in the Sligo attack was 2 steps ahead of the last pass and were able to find space where a few seconds ago there was none.
Although I was initially nervous in the warm up, I thought about Dan Abrahams Soccer Tough and realized that in a game where the speed of play is that fast, you don’t have time to be nervous! You have to have full confidence in your abilities and your technique so you can focus on your movement, work rate, and decision-making. So as I warmed up to come on in the second half, I set my mindset on how I was going to check to the ball to receive the ball from the center back, and where I was going to be in our defensive shape when we didn’t have the ball. Tony Mannion, the manager, called me over around 25 minutes into the second half and put me on as a right-winger. At this point, Sligo were putting on a passing clinic, keeping the ball for the majority of the game. I think I might have touched the ball 3 times in the 20 minutes that I played, and all I could do was complete 3 passes to my teammates. I know I did more tracking of the Sligo left back than he did of me. Despite us losing 5-0, the experience of playing against a team like that is invaluable. You don’t fully appreciate the speed of play on the television until you are thrust into a situation with it.
The next match we played was against the Ireland U-19’s. While the starting 11 played the first half, the rest of the players and myself trained for an hour on the Astroturf pitch next to the field. We came onto the bench for the second half, and I came on as a left back in the 60th minute. It was a little awkward at first for me because I’m not naturally left footed, but I managed to get past two Irish players on an overlap and put a good cross into the penalty spot with my left foot. The next time I got the ball, I unbalanced the Irish back four with a long ball over the opposing left back to put our right winger in on goal, where he just nearly missed past the outside of the post.
In our most recent preseason friendly, I got the start at right back against Mayo County. It was one of the most beautiful days I’ve had so far in Ireland, so I couldn’t have asked for better weather to play in. Our team played well in the first half, and we found ourselves 3-0 up at halftime. I almost got myself on the score sheet when I came forward midway through the first half. A cross was over hit and as I came forward it bounced a couple yards away from me from the corner of the 18 yard box. I struck the ball on the way down and drilled it back across the frame of the goal, causing the keeper to parry it across and away from the goal. Over the course of the 55 minutes, I made sure to stay positive in everything I did. I made a few mistakes sure, but I made sure to immediately divert my attention away from them and back onto the game. I’ve stopped trying to be a perfectionist and just play because I love to play. If there’s anything that I can take back with me from Ireland to Fairfield for next fall, it’s going to be this mentality of focusing on the positive and being 100% confident in my ability.
Also, on a side note, last Saturday we had the day off so I had the opportunity to go see the Cliffs of Moher for the first time. They are truly breathtaking! I haven’t had the chance to do any traveling since I’ve been here, unlike my American friends (Talking to you Maddie) but I’m really happy I got the chance to see them. The pictures really don’t do the cliffs justice; you have to experience them for yourself to understand what I’m talking about. I made sure to wear my South Central Premier cap to give them a little shout out! I also wanted to give a little shout out to my BTE family. Eric and Mike, you guys have been with me this entire way and I can’t thank you enough for the things that you’ve done to get me to this point. Tiff, Matteo, and Manya, you guys are the best and whenever I hear about you guys doing well it’s like hearing about an accomplishment from a brother or sister. I always make sure to wear BTE on my wrist every game to remind myself of you all and to help me remember that I’m not doing this alone.
Unfortunately, as the first match approaches on March 8, I remain stuck in limbo. My international clearance has not come through yet from the United States, and until that happens I cannot play in any first team matches. Unfortunate as it is, there’s nothing I can do to control it. I could be cleared to play tomorrow, or it could be the end of April. All I know is that I can’t focus on that, I just have to remain positive and keep working hard and playing well in training and when my chance finally comes, I’ll grab it with both hands.
Thanks for reading, God bless, and go Stags!