Belfast Telegraph

Talk of the town: Jamaica goalkeeper Nicole McClure aiming for glory with Sion Swifts after Cedella Marley inspired run to World Cup finals

Nicole McClure turned out for Sion Swifts Ladies at Seaview a day after playing for Jamaica at the Women’s World Cup in France
Nicole McClure turned out for Sion Swifts Ladies at Seaview a day after playing for Jamaica at the Women’s World Cup in France
Nicole McClure turned out for Sion Swifts Ladies at Seaview a day after playing for Jamaica at the Women’s World Cup in France
Gareth Hanna

By Gareth Hanna

There's a Bob Marley spirit permeating an unlikely love affair between a Tyrone village and a World Cup goalkeeper.

Nicole McClure spent Tuesday evening realising the first of two great footballing dreams when she played 90 minutes for Jamaica at the World Cup finals in France against world number six Australia.

Less than 24 hours later, she was between the sticks at Seaview, doing just the same for her adopted 'home away from home' in the Danske Bank Women's Premiership.

It was a hastily-made journey involving a train and two flights to make sure she was back in action for Sion Swifts against Crusaders Strikers.

"I had to make amends because we conceded four goals on Tuesday," she smiles, playing down the can-do attitude that sums up her nation's jaw-dropping path to the World Cup finals. "To come back and keep a clean sheet at Seaview while the team scored four was pretty nice."

Jamaica's World Cup trip arrived, unbelievably, after the Reggae Girlz national team came back from extinction through the direct intervention and relentless passion of Bob Marley's daughter Cedella.

Disbanded by the Jamaican federation a decade ago, putting the international futures of McClure and her team-mates on indefinite hold, it was only through Marley investing her own finances that the team was resurrected briefly in 2014 and again, with unthinkably glorious consequences, for the World Cup qualifying campaign.

"I never want to see a young girl who really wants to achieve her dream and just because of her gender she’s told ‘No thanks. Find something else to do.’ That didn’t sit well with me," Cedella said.

It was McClure who saved two spot-kicks to land the place in France last October and complete one of the greatest sporting fairytales.

"Without Cedella, there would have been no World Cup," she says. "She funded the whole thing. Without her, none of it would have happened. She's the one that got it all together. All the money came from her and she's our biggest cheerleader as well. We're like her adopted daughters now.

"It was incredible. The experience was one of a kind, it was really special, awesome. I've dreamt of it for years so to exerience it was something I'll never forget.

"The amount of love that we received from strangers over there was amazing too. There were lots of people wanting to get photos taken with us - it was a lot of fun."

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Nicole McClure turned out for Sion Swifts Ladies at Seaview a day after playing for Jamaica at the Women’s World Cup in France

Becoming the first Caribbean nation ever to make it to the finals, McClure admits, has also given the squad something of celebrity status in Jamaica her Instagram notifications are testament to that.

But also in Sion Mills, where she's the 'talk of the town'.

Having played across Europe, in the likes of Switzerland, Croatia and Sweden, it was back in her native USA that McClure's move to Northern Ireland was birthed.

Wait - 'native' USA?

"It's kind of funny," she laughs. "My parents were born in Jamaica, as in the Carribbean island and then they moved to New York and into a neighbourhood called Jamaica. It has a lot of people from Jamaica living there so my upbringing was very traditionally Jamaican in terms of the music and the culture."

It was back in her homeland that, just three months ago a mutual friend suggested manager Tony McGinley and his Sion Swifts side as a potential route to fulfiling McClure's 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 manager, who still can't believe his luck. "She was without a club at the time and was looking to make sure she got her spot at the World Cup so my friend recommended our club to Nicole and she was keen to come. 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.

"I have a few contacts in England. We had decided to let her settle and play in the World Cup but I've now already notified a few people so hopefully there will be some coming over to watch her very soon.

"Everybody loves her at the club. After the World Cup, she's the talk of the town."

Little wonder.

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Nicole McClure takes in the occasion with her neice after playing in the World Cup on Tuesday.

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 says, understating the emotion evident in her voice. "The people are fantastic, extremely friendly. They've taken my heart.

"Our team is such a tight group of girls as well - I really couldn't ask for any more. I'm so grateful to be here. The football's a little bit slower but the girls give everything to fight for the win over here. I love the spirit of it.

"I've played all over Europe and honestly, you might think it's funny, but Strabane is one of my favourites. Even when I do move away, I'll still come back and visit."

No matter how brief her stay in the Premiership is, it's one that has made an impact on all parties.

And one that could next week bring a League Cup trophy, when the Swifts play Glentoran in the decider at Seaview.

Before the game, Nicole says, Bob Marley will definitely be on the dressing room playlist.

Cedella's never-say-die spirit has infiltrated not just Jamaica, but women's football across the world and in particular a club in a small Tyrone village.

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