Echo Sport Feature: Waldron on a career that has spanned the globe

Echo Sport Feature: Waldron on a career that has spanned the globe

By Stephen Leonard

WHEN it comes to Ireland’s top all-rounders in sport, few can compare with Bohernabreena woman Mary Waldron.

While the former Glenasmole and Presentation Terenure student was, for years, one of the country's leading players in women's soccer, lifting five FAI Cups and two National League titles with five different clubs, she lined out in Gaelic games for St Anne's and Ballyboden St Enda's while helping Glenanne Hockey Club to Irish Junior Cup success in 2008.

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Former Raheny United captain Mary Waldron raises the 2013 Women’s National League trophy flanked by ex-team mates Megan Campbell (left) and Katie McCabe

Today Waldron is perhaps known more for her exploits as both a player and umpire in club and international cricket in which she competes both here for Pembroke and on the opposite side of the globe with Glenelg Cricket Club in Australia.

A member of the International Cricket Council's Development Panel of Umpires, she bridged a 38-year gap since a woman had officiated in a Men's Grade cricket match in South Australia in 2016 before becoming the first Irish woman to help oversee a Men's A Grade game there less than two years later.

Having played in no less than three T20 World Cups and umpired in Twenty20 internationals and the ICC T20 World Cup European qualifiers, Waldron’s road from those early days kicking the football about with her brother in the back garden in Bohernabreena has been a long and fascinating one that has literally taken her around the world.

“I always played a bit of everything, but soccer was always the Number One. If there was ever a clash, it was always soccer” insisted Waldron.

“I went to primary school up in Glenasmole and we didn’t have the teams that they have in primary schools. Now to be fair, it was a very small school. I think there were 34 pupils the year I was leaving, so we probably wouldn’t have had enough for a team anyway.

“So I didn’t really play any other sport until I got to secondary school in Presentation Terenure.

“I played everything and anything there. I played basketball, volleyball and that’s when I started playing hockey as well.

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Ireland’s Mary Waldron stumps out Suzie Bates of New Zealand during the Women’s One Day International match between Ireland and New Zealand in 2018. The Bohernabreena woman has represented her country in no less than three T20 World Cups and has broken ground for female umpires in the sport 

“I started with Glenanne Hockey Club when I was 15 and I played with them for about 15 years.

“We won an Irish Junior Cup in 2008 when we played against Railway IIs in the final and won 5-1. Paula Fitzpatrick, an ex-Ireland rugby team player, scored. We played hockey for years together.

“I’m still friends with most of the girls. They’re like a family. I love the Glens.

“They were great because they always understood that soccer was my first sport, but when I was there I was 100 percent committed.

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Mary Waldron played for Glenanne Hockey Club for some 15 years, helping them to the Irish Junior Cup in 2008 Photo by Adrian Boehm

“There’s great people involved in that club and I was very lucky to be involved over the years.

“My mum and dad were another huge support to me. They literally brought me everywhere and supported me, giving me lifts, buying me equipment and they never questioned any of it. They were just so good.

“I played camogie for St Anne’s for a short time and I played about two games with both my sisters, Maeve and Orlagh, so that’s something my Dad always reminds us about.

“I played Gaelic football for Ballyboden in 2001 when I did the Gaisce Award in school and we needed to take up a new sport. St Anne’s didn’t have a team at the time unfortunately.

“But soccer was my first team sport. I started playing in Firhouse when I was maybe 11. My coach was Pat Norton and he was brilliant.

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Mary Waldron from Bohernabreena was a winner of five FAI Cups and two National League titles with no less than five different soccer clubs, including St Francis and St Catherine’s, before embarking on a journey in cricket that would see her break ground for women in the sport, both here and in Australia “I got picked for Ireland Under 16s when I was 13 so that was my priority then and I loved it.

“I was about 17 or 18 when I went to St James’s Gate. I just wanted to take that step to the next level of football and I played under Eileen Gleeson who’s now the assistant coach for Ireland Senior team.

“I then got a scholarship to UCD and there was a great set-up there as well.

“We went into the UEFA Cup in France. That was awful. It was 45 degrees on the last day there. I remember putting ice cubes in the sports bra at halftime.

“It was a real eye-opener because we were very good in terms of the Irish standards, but the level of the French team [Montpellier HSC], they just moved the ball so quickly and they were so accurate. They were brilliant and they beat us 5-0.

“But we won the FAI Cup in 2004 after beating Dundalk in the Final in Lansdowne Road.

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“It was brilliant to play at Lansdowne Road, that was awesome, but the stadium probably felt a bit empty.

“From there, we competed in the UEFA Cup again in Croatia and after that I was home for a few days before I went to America for a season on a soccer scholarship in the University of New Haven in Connecticut in 2005. It was all very last-minute, but it was great.

“When I returned home I went to Australia for a year to travel and when I came back UCD didn’t have a team anymore so that’s when myself and a few other girls like Caroline McEvoy moved to St Francis. I won the FAI Cup twice with them.

“We beat Peamount United in final in Richmond Park in 2008 and I scored a late penalty to win it.

“I remember that moment well. I was feeling calm walking up to the spot. I was just saying to myself ‘it’s just like taking a peno’ in the back garden with your brother.

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Mary Waldron in action for Glenanne

“I scored and that was great. We felt we had clinched it then because there were enough of us who were experienced enough to sit on the ball and make sure it didn’t get back down the other end.

“We made it back-to-back cup wins the following season when we beat St Catherine’s in the final 1-0. Sharon Cullen scored the winner. It was great.

“Francis didn’t have a team the following season and that year I became more committed to cricket.

“I didn’t actually go to Europe with St Francis that second year because it clashed with the European Championships for cricket and I chose to play in that.

“But I did move to St Catherine’s and we won the FAI Cup there. We beat Wilton United 3-1 in the final down in Cork and I scored a header.

“Catherine’s didn’t put a team into the National League the following season and so that’s why I moved to Raheny.

“I would have played with the likes of Katie McCabe there. Even then she was very good. She was born to be a footballer. Her attitude was always good, but the amount of communication on the pitch and the intensity she brought was just amazing.

“I won two National Leagues with Raheny and I also picked up my fifth FAI Cup with them. We beat Peamount in the final in Dalymount and I scored in that one too. We were 1-0 down and I got the equaliser just before halftime and Noelle Murray got a late winner.

“Ireland qualified for the Cricket World Cup in August 2013 so I stopped playing soccer then just after that.

“I was captain of Raheny and I like to lead by example. I couldn’t make all the training because I had cricket and I was also preparing for a World Cup and I wanted to give that 100 percent, so I stepped away.

“But after the World Cup I came back and I played for Raheny in their last game of the league against Shamrock Rovers. We needed to win that game to secure the league and we won well. I remember I scored two goals and set up one so I was in the picture for that one, but the girls did all the hard yards for that title.

“I had never really made it into the Ireland senior team for soccer. I probably would have been better off playing more cricket, but I really loved soccer.

“I’ve two senior caps for Ireland in soccer, one against the Faroe Islands and then one against Switzerland, but they are years apart.

“I had played with UCD in a European tournament instead of playing in the World Student Games and I don’t think they particularly liked that.

“But I had been scoring winning goals in finals. The year I won the cup with St Francis I scored nine goals in five games throughout that campaign so I definitely felt I was eligible to be playing at that level for Ireland.

“I had been in and out of training squads, but look, it’s a difficult thing to pick a squad and I would have loved to have played more.

“If I had a euro for everyone who told me I should have played more with Ireland, I would be rich, but that’s not the way life goes.

“I got another chance when Sue [Ronan] took over, but at that stage I very much had a foot in the cricket camp and it was difficult to balance the two.

“And I remember one of the last games I was involved in with the Ireland soccer team was away to Wales.

“I had done pretty well in training and I had scored a few decent goals, but it was between me and Denise O’Sullivan for selection.

“Denise got picked ahead of me and she scored two goals. That was absolutely the right choice, Denise is absolutely world class now.

“It is what it is. I did all I could to get picked and I just wasn’t good enough and if someone else is better and Ireland are winning games, I mean we’re all Ireland fans at the end of the day. So I think cricket came just at the right time.

“One of my friends who I played soccer with in UCD, Cathy Murphy, she was mad about cricket and I ended up going to just watch a game in Pembroke Cricket Club.

“Then I just kind of got roped in. People were saying ‘just come down and try it’ and cricket is a very social sport, a very nice community.

“That was my first taste of it and I have to say I loved it.

“It grew on me and I got picked as a wicket keeper for Ireland and so then it became more important for me.

“I had devoted my entire life to soccer so that transition was a bit unusual, but I made my cricket debut for Ireland in July 2010 against New Zealand.

“I was picked as a wicket-keeper, because, batting, I was dreadful.

“But I remember dropping a catch and I remember batting and getting a duck, but yeah, it was definitely fun.

“Since then I’ve played in three T20 World Cups. Although I’ve yet to win a World Cup match, I’ve won games in the warm-up and, experience-wise, those tournaments have been unbelievable.

“One of those was in India and one in Bangladesh. The fans there are outrageous and you can’t walk down the street without people following. It’s an amazing experience. I also played a World Cup in the West Indies.

“I’ve been really lucky. I’ve travelled most of Europe with soccer and then, with cricket, it’s just that different kind of sport that takes you to different countries. I’ve been to Qatar and Thailand so, yeah, it’s great.

“Now most sports people will tell you that you don’t actually get to see the country, but you get to meet the people and I’ve been fortunate if I’ve had time between tours and work to stay an extra week or two after a World Cup to do a bit of travelling.

“I probably just always thought that I’d qualify for a World Cup in soccer, so to go to three in cricket has been amazing.

“I’m still playing cricket today. I play with Glenelg Cricket Club [in Australia].

“I did two seasons in Tasmania and I’ve done five seasons here.

“This is the first year Glenelg have had a women’s team in the Grade A competition and so I moved to captain here.

“It’s great. They’re quite keen to make sure women are very involved in the club. It’s a really nice ground to play in and I’ve tried to integrate the women’s section in with the men as much as possible for fundraisers and stuff like that.

“The first year I was in Tasmania I just ended up doing a course that was part of a coaching thing.

“When I came back to Ireland, I had actually gone from Pembroke to Malahide and I was working as Cricket Development Officer there, so I was like coaching in the schools, coaching in the club and part of that was managing the Boys Under 15s.

“So if you’re manager of the Boys Under 15 team, you’ve got to pick the team, get the team together, get the team to the ground, you’ve got to score the match, umpire the match, so you’ve got to do everything basically.

“But I really enjoyed the umpiring. I’d pay particular attention and make sure I did everything to the best of my ability. I preferred doing that to the coaching.

“So when I went back to Tasmania for a second season, I went to Cricket Tasmania and I said ‘Is there any chance you could train me up properly as an umpire?’

“They were obviously delighted with a female wanting to do that, so I went out with a lot of their State-panel umpires in midweek underage trial games to be shown the ropes.

“Because I go back and forth [between Ireland and Australia] between seasons, I had umpired back in Dublin when I went home.

“I went to South Australia because we had World Cup qualifiers for 50-overs and my coach was like ‘You can’t go back to Tasmania, because they don’t have a 50-over competition.’ He wanted me to play the longer format, so I ended up going to South Australia.

“Cricket Tas’ very kindly emailed the South Australia Cricket Association and said ‘We have somebody coming across, and any chance you can look after her?’

“There hadn’t been any woman who’d umpired in a Men’s Grade match there for a long time, and I got the opportunity to do that in 2016.

“I didn’t feel any pressure. It was fourth grade and I was fine. I was the first female in a while to do it, but there’s three or four of us around now

“There’s another girl here, Eloise Sheridan, who’s also on the ICC Development Panel and we were the first female umpires to do a Men’s A Grade game, so a two-day game.

“That was between Tea Tree Gully and Northern District Cricket Club in 2018 and I felt more pressure in that.

“That was a bit more serious and there was that bit more scrutiny when there’s two women as well.

“I’m really enjoying my cricket out here in Australia. The way the league is set up here, the men play on a Saturday and women play on a Sunday. So I umpire on a Saturday and I play on Sunday.

“It’s pretty good because I can umpire and play a whole season.

“I was actually lucky this season [2020-21] that I made the Team of the Year as a player and I made the Team of the Year as an umpire in the men’s competition which is a very bizarre thing to do. I was pretty happy with that. It’s probably not ever going to happen again, but it would be great if it did. I’ve enjoyed umpiring since I started doing it, even unofficially.

“You don’t earn a huge amount of money for it, but I still choose to go every Saturday and do it, so I must enjoy it.

“I’m lucky also in that I get to travel with my umpiring as well. Being on the ICC Development Panel, I’ve been to Guernsey for European Regional Qualifiers and I did the previous round to that in the Netherlands. It’s great because you get to meet new people.

“You get different opportunities and the better you do at different tournaments, the more higher level tournaments you’ll get.

“I can do a lot from the panel I’m on at the minute, but I’ll be looking to get on to the International Panel when I’m home, although that wouldn’t happen until I’m retired.

“I can’t umpire women’s cricket in Ireland either because I’m playing in it, but that’s my choice. Playing is still definitely number one for me and if I miss out on opportunities, [in umpiring] then so be it. Umpiring, if I keep doing what I’m doing, it’s not going to go anywhere.

“And to be fair, I’m on the State panel for umpiring, so I’m on field for the likes of the Women’s Big Bash, the Women’s National League, I do fourth umpire for the Men’s Big Bash, I get to do Men’s four-day cricket, so I get a huge amount of opportunities.

“I’m very fortunate I guess. Just getting to travel and it’s always about the people you meet.

“Even with Glenanne, we might not have been the best hockey team in the world, but they’re still some of my best friends and it’s the same with cricket now. You get to travel with your friends and play with your friends.

“That’s really the great thing about sport. The achievements I guess, are just the by-products of that.”

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