Reggae Girl’s swift return to life in Tyrone after World Cup heroics
A goalkeeper who made her Women’s World Cup debut for Jamaica on Tuesday was back in action for her Co Tyrone club less than 24 hours later.
Nicole McClure realised the first of two great footballing dreams when she played 90 minutes at the finals in France against top six team Australia.
But a train journey and two flights later and she was back in action for Sion Swifts Ladies against Crusaders Strikers at Seaview in the Danske Bank Women’s Premiership.
“I had to make amends because we conceded four goals on Tuesday,” she said, playing down the can-do attitude that sums up her nation’s remarkable path to the tournament in France.
“To come back and keep a clean sheet at Seaview while the team scored four was pretty nice.”
Jamaica’s World Cup dream only became reality after the Reggae Girlz national team was resurrected by Cedella, daughter of the legendary Bob Marley.
Disbanded by the Jamaican federation a decade ago — putting the international futures of hopefuls like McClure and her team-mates in limbo — it was only through Marley investing her own money that the team returned briefly in 2014, and again, with a glorious outcome, for the World Cup qualifying campaign.
“Without Cedella there would have been no World Cup,” Nicole explained.
“All the money came from her and she’s our biggest cheerleader as well.
“We’re like her adopted daughters now.
“I’ve dreamed of playing at the World Cup for years, so to experience it was something I’ll never forget.”
Becoming the first Caribbean nation to make it to the finals has also given the squad celebrity status in Jamaica.
Nicole’s Instagram notifications are testament to that.
But in sleepy Sion Mills in north Tyrone, she’s also quite a celebrity too.
Although she has played across Europe in the likes of Switzerland, Croatia and Sweden, it was in the USA that, just three months ago, a mutual friend put Nicole and Sion Swifts manager Tony McGinley in touch as a potential route to fulfilling her second football dream — to play in the English Super League.
“I reached out to my friend about a goalkeeper but I wasn’t expecting to get someone of the quality of Nicole,” said the Swifts boss.
“Her dream is to play in England, so the thinking is that it’s easier for people to come and watch her here than in America. It’s a shop window for her.
“Everybody loves her at the club. After the World Cup, she’s the talk of the town.”
Even if Sion Mills proves a stepping stone towards England and the very top of the women’s domestic game, it will carry much more significance than that.
“I like it here,” she said.
“The people are fantastic, extremely friendly.
“They’ve taken my heart.
“I’ve played all over Europe, and honestly, you might think it’s funny, but Strabane is one of my favourites.”
She added: “Even when I do move away, I’ll still come back and visit.”