Carla McManus: Riding The Crest of a Wave

Impetus are exceptionally proud to announce our sponsorship of Carla McManus, the twenty year-old DLR Waves striker who is a Republic of Ireland U16, U17 and U19 international. Ben Gilby spoke to Carla about her footballing journey so far and how she is coming back from the bitter blow of injury which prevented her from taking up a scholarship offer from a US college.

Carla (pictured above by Peter Minogue Photography), is one of the brightest young stars in the FAI WNL, but association football was not the only round ball sport that she has played.

“I started off playing GAA (Gaelic sports) from a young age in my local area, I took to the sport straight away. I played football with my cousin and other boys too. I would say I was about eight or nine years-old at this stage. When playing with my cousin I would be doing the shooting and he would be in goal, he went on to be a keeper in later years and myself a striker.

“The next move was to start with a football team, I joined a boys’ underage team first, maybe U12s. I played for Ballinahown FC and from this got picked for the local academy, the Athlone District Schoolsboys/girls league (ADSL). Myself and another girl, were the only two girls on this boys’ academy team. With the ADSL we went to the Welsh International Super Cup in Wales in 2012. This was one of my best football memories from my youth, in the cup final I stepped up to take the first penalty, surrounded by two teams, on my own and the opposition of mainly boys, and I scored the penalty in front of a big crowd.

“Since then I think I always wanted to feel a feeling like on that day and that’s what keeps me focused and motivated on my goals. Shortly after this, I had to move from the boys’ team to a local girls’ team. The competition wasn’t great but I was getting to play and scoring seven or eight goals a game with Bealnamulla FC.

“From here, I got picked to represent the Midlands in the Gaynor Cup in 2015, this was U16s for me when I was 14/15. At this tournament, all the counties of Ireland compete. Here I got scouted for the Ireland U16 squad and from then on in I was called into every underage Ireland camp except for one or two due to injury or personal reasons. So I played u16s, 17s and 19s internationally.

“I played with the U16s and scored two goals in the first tournament with them in Hungary, I then played U17s and went to the Euros, the qualifiers, elite rounds and then the finals too which was an unbelievable experience. I was top goal scorer in the group for qualifiers with five goals in three games, a hat trick in the first one after coming on at half time.

“I then played two years at U19s for the Republic of Ireland. The first year I scored two goals in the qualifying rounds which were held in the Netherlands. In my second year I scored one goal in the qualifiers and then another one in the elite round. I have scored a total of 11 competitive goals for Ireland at underage, then just loads of friendlies of course.”

Carla outlined some of her most memorable moments in a Republic of Ireland shirt so far.

Above: Carla has played age group international football for the Republic of Ireland from U16s upwards. Photo: Kilkenny People.

“My best international memories would have to include my first goal for Ireland in Hungary at U16 level. My Mam and Aunty were there and it was probably the best feeling in the world, of course my mother was a ball of emotions that evening and the tears were flowing.

“The other experience that sticks out was my hat trick for Ireland U17s in Cork. Not only was it a home Euros match but I had come on at half time and I wanted to prove a point, I think I managed to make my mark in front of my friends and family in the crowd, there is no feeling quite like it. Football is the thing that means the most to me in the world, I spend most of my days thinking about how I can positively impact myself as a player whether it be going to the gym or working on things by myself or recovery from a hard session making sure my muscles are ready to go again.

“So making it to play for Ireland, playing internationally probably being the greatest thing for any player, and putting on that green shirt means even more when I put in the work, it all pays off when success comes and I am grateful for all success I have had and hopefully will have in the future.”

We then turned to the club game and Carla’s experiences in the top tier of Irish women’s club football, the FAI WNL.

“Club wise I played for Peamount United underage for roughly two seasons and played half a season with Peamount in the FAI WNL but I was 17 and unfortunately wasn’t getting enough game time, so I had to be included in the Irish set up. I moved to Kilkenny United whilst doing my leaving certificate as it suited me and I was getting game time at Women’s National League level.”

Just as Carla was hitting her straps in the FAI WNL, disaster struck – one which was to have far reaching consequences.

“Unfortunately, I suffered an ACL injury halfway into my second season with Kilkenny in May 2019. I had surgery in August 2019, two days before my birthday. The injury happened two months before I was meant to go on a scholarship to Seton Hall University in New Jersey. I came back from injury 17 months after, 15 months post op, signing for DLR Waves in August playing my first game at the end of October 2020.

Signing for Waves was the best decision I could have made and I am loving every minute there at the minute. I could not have wished for better comeback from injury.”

Above: Carla leaps to get a header in against Treaty United earlier this season. Photo: Peter Minogue Photography.

Carla is aware that her far reaching achievements at such a young age are down to the influence from some quality coaches and managers as well as a fantastic support network from her own family.

“I think for me I’ve had some great managers along the way such as Sharon Boyle, Dave Bell, Dave Connell being international managers, club managers such as Yvonne Lennon, Gerry Doyle from Bealnamulla, Shay Martin , Toney Maher from Peamount underage and from the WNL, Shane Murray at Kilkenny United. And now of course Graham Kelly and John Sullivan from DLR Waves.

“All of these managers impacted myself as a person and player over the years. They thought me to be coachable, open to learning and always wanting to acquire information and new skills to become a better playing. They taught me that sacrifice and hard work is needed on and off the pitch and to be successful I need to apply myself to the best of my ability. Each thought me to take criticism on the chin but also to be able to critically analyse my own performance and see where I could improve. The Irish set up gave me the tools to deal with more big stage games and more pressure, also thought me how to prepare right and recover right, the importance of looking after your body off the pitch and how it can impact the game. Obviously the doctors and physios I have met along the way had endless information and I think they influenced me hugely, taking into consideration what they thought us to this day, and still learning.

“At the minute I have a great support system at Waves with the management team and my teammates, sometimes I can be hard on myself because my first full game was at the start of this season against Wexford since coming back from injury, still getting back into it and they remind me how far I have come and to be patient with myself.

“DLR Waves are having a huge influence on me as a player at the minute as the standards are so high that I am challenged to be better and better every week to ensure I am playing, the competitive atmosphere is paired with a comforting one with a buzz around the squad and everyone rooting for each other, even with the competition for places.

“My parents are always supportive and encouraging of my football and training. My mam brings me to a lot of my training, matches and the gym. She loves watching me play. Both she, my dad and brother always remind me how proud they are of me, which pushes me on even more because I want to make them proud of me of course.”

I then asked Carla how she would describe herself as a player to someone who hadn’t seen her play.

Above: Carla sprints away for DLR Waves against reigning champions Peamount United earlier this season. Photo: Peter Minogue Photography.

“I always find this a tough question, I don’t really like to toot my own horn. But to answer that question, I think I am strong. I work hard off the pitch on my strength which leaves me powerful and pacey on the pitch. I am quite fast and that’s paired with my attacking mind-set. I am very direct and have one thing in mind when I get the ball and that is to create goal scoring opportunities for myself and my teammates. I don’t think there is any better feeling then scoring.

“I am a goal scorer, I love scoring. On the pitch I try be vocal despite my teammates saying I don’t speak very loud, I try give information to the girls around me, communication is so important on the pitch. I have improved on my link up play since coming to waves and my movement is getting better.

“Finally, I think I am a hard worker and I would run until I dropped for my team, whether it be pressing, defending from the top or making runs behind the defence while attacking. I am always open to learn and take any constructive criticism to make myself a better player.”

With the first chinks of light appearing at the end of the coronavirus tunnel, Carla outlined how the last sixteen months or so have impacted her.

“I think the pandemic actually gave me the time to work on myself, mentally and physically. I got to know myself and got more comfortable by myself independence being an important thing, not depending on others for gratification and having happiness with your own company. I think it thought me that spending time looking after your mind away from other people is important and not being dependent on others opinions to be happy, not looking for reassurance for my actions. I now feel completely comfortable working on myself for myself.

“It also gave me time to work on my knee rehab from March in 2020 until August and going in to join DLR Waves, there were pros and cons. The cons being that I was by myself a lot doing my recovery and could have done with a bit more guidance and observation from physios. It’s hard to know if what you are doing is right when you are on yourself. There is this uncertainty that’s hard to shake when you do not have anybody to turn to in person to look at it and give feedback.

“I think it helped me to become stronger mentally and physically going through this tedious and long recovery. It is hard to put into words just how grateful I am to be able to step on a pitch again and kick a ball, when I could not even do that for so long, it made me realise how much football actually is to me and how badly I want to play it for as long as I can and as much as I can. This mentality I have now makes me more aware to prepare right, recover right and play my heart out like every game is my last.

Above: Carla is loving life at DLR Waves this season. Photo: Peter Minogue Photography.

“I did not find the pandemic as hard as some of the other people around me, it was difficult not seeing my friends and not being able to do the things I would normally do, but I learnt to adapt and do other things to improve myself.”

With Carla being a first team regular at DLR Waves this season, I asked her to give us an idea about what life is like at the club.

“Since coming into the club and working to get back from injury I have had nothing but support and encouragement from everybody there. The energy around the team is amazing from coaches to players to the physio team and it’s just a great group working tirelessly towards the same goal.

“The intensity of the training and effort from every single person involved is unmatched and that is why I think we will go places as a team. We are a young team and the group hasn’t been together that long so we are still developing and gelling finding the right combinations. I think we have the potential to compete for the top spot in the league and cup over this season and the ones to follow.

“We have great strength and conditioning input from John Sullivan who has his own gym and was also a footballer in the men’s national league, so his experience and knowledge is very valuable to us. He got us through pre-season and got us strong and fit with zoom workouts and runs, which were very tough but we are benefiting from his blood, sweat and tears mentality.

“For myself I love training and would train and workout everyday if I could so it suits me to a T at Waves where that work ethic is nurtured and can thrive. It is exciting to be supported in the training we do collectively and individually, we are all rooting for one another and I have massive respect for this environment.

“I believe we can push on now and start really challenging to be the best. During matches, you’ll never see anyone give up and if somebody is having a bad day, their teammates are there to push them on, we also have unbelievable depth in the squad and any substitute that comes in can make an impact, we use the term game changers instead of subs.”

With this weekend heralding the beginning of the second of the three phases of the FAI WNL season, Carla looked back at how the campaign has gone so far.

Above: Carla putting in a shift for DLR Waves against Bohemians earlier this season. Photo: Peter Minogue Photography.

“I think the season is going relatively well for us so far, considering we know we haven’t been playing our best football when it comes to game day, we have more to show. We’re in fourth place, nine points behind the leaders Peamount United. However, we are still working and getting the results for the most part, some games have been a little disappointing for example the Shelbourne game we did not show up in the first half but came out and in a big performance in the second half and we were unlucky not to come away with a draw at least.

“I think the second half in the Shelbourne game and how we played just shows we can compete with the top teams because I believe we are a top team. We just need to start bringing our game to the opposition from the first minute of every game and keep pushing on getting points on the board.

“For myself I am enjoying every minute with DLR Waves. I am challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone which I think is exactly what I need. I picked up a knock at the end of the first game against Wexford but also scored my first goal of the season. I missed the cork and Galway games with that ankle sprain but I am back now fully recovered and worked my way back into the starting eleven.

“I am happy to be playing and getting good game time too. I have scored a few goals in the first half of the season but I still think I have more to give and I am growing in fitness and confidence each week, improving with each week of training and games, which is exciting, and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.”

With the FAI WNL season progressing through the summer until November, Carla outlined her aims for the remainder of the campaign.

“Personally, I want to play well and perform consistently in every game, and of course score as many goals as I can.

“The main thing I aim to do in every game is work as hard as I can because that is the base for a good performance and from there, I think you get your rewards, there’s no excuses for not giving maximum effort in every game in my eyes. I will do the simple things right and be involved in attacks creating opportunities to score goals.

“I would also like to stay fit and injury free for the rest of the season so I will aim to recover right and prepare the best I can for the remainder of the season. I would also like to continue to enjoy playing my football as that is one of the most important aspects too and can help you play better too.”

Above: Goal scorer – Carla celebrating one of many superb strikes for DLR Waves this season. Photo: Peter Minogue Photography.

Finally, we turned back to Carla’s international career and her hopes of being selected for Vera Pauw’s senior Republic of Ireland team.

“I would love to get a call up to the senior Ireland team, but one thing I have learnt though is to not depend on this too much. I feel that this is not the be all and end all and doesn’t depict how good of a player you are or how you should value yourself as a player.

“I will work and play as well as I can regardless of whether Vera Pauw decides to call me in or not, I think it is important to know your worth as a player and know how to recognise if you are performing well or not, not just depending on that call up. I believe that way it will happen for you once you focus on your game and being the best you can possibly be and be happy doing that.

“I think I work hard in the gym and on the training ground and that I will get there in the end if I continue applying myself. Football is my priority and I spend majority of my time training and thinking about how I can be better and improve. If I get the call up I will be delighted and if I do not I won’t drop my head and it won’t change my approach or attitude towards my game.”

Impetus’ coverage of the FAI WNL sees weekly round-ups of matches, plus features with clubs and players. Every FAI WNL match is available to watch free both live and on demand at https://www.loitv.ie/en-int/page/wnl We’ll be catching up with Carla regularly throughout the season.

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