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Athlone Town’s latest signing Laurie Ryan is relishing the prospect of competing in the Women’s National League for the first time after a chance encounter saw the Ennis native rekindle her zeal for soccer in a whirlwind few weeks.

“It’s like a big challenge for me personally to push myself in something that I haven’t played for so long. I haven’t participated at this kind of level really since representing Munster at Under 16 so that’s over ten years ago. Now I would have played a bit of soccer with the college [UL] and the club [Lifford] over the years but the level of training they’re doing here in Athlone and the standard is definitely a huge challenge for me. But it’s definitely something I’m really looking forward to and It’s also good to try and push myself outside of my comfort zone as well.”

Captain of the Clare Ladies Footballers for five years including an All-Ireland Intermediate Final appearance in Croke Park in 2016, a debilitating concussion injury in 2019 halted a near decade long stint for the county’s flagship side.

However, after starting a new job in Athlone Institute of Technology as an Assistant Lecturer in General Science last September, a subsequent recruitment request from her home town of Ennis actually led to Ryan signing for Athlone Town.

“I got a call from Ashling Hughes about going back playing with Lifford but having mentioned that I was now living in Athlone, Ashling [being a former international and Women’s National League player] had contacts in Athlone Town and asked the management if they’d be interested in having me for training.”

With Town manager Tommy Hewitt craving experience to aid his young side’s progression in only the club’s second season in the League of Ireland, the club jumped at the chance. And following an agreed two week trial period, the central midfielder was asked to sign up for the upcoming season which commences on Saturday week away to perennial title chasers Shelbourne.

“It is a big commitment and it’s wasn’t something that I jumped straight into after only getting out of the inter-county ladies football scene. But here I am now I suppose and I really want to make the most of it. It’s so exciting and there’s an increasing amount of buy-in to the league year-on-year as I think we’re really starting to see the benefits of the 20×20 campaign now across all codes. Even with the club in Athlone, we’re treated just the same as the men and that’s a hugely significant factor in enticing more and more girls and growing the club further. With that, you also have expectations of performing equally as well as the men too so we’ll be trying to do the club proud.

“It’s a very competitive league so it will be a good challenge for us as a team and being only our second year at adult level, it will be about driving on and improving upon last year. The girls that I’m playing with are all a good bit younger than me so even some of the skills I would have picked up from being in with Clare and UL in terms of approach and application will definitely stand to me and hopefully help the younger girls along their way. Perhaps even driving them on at training that little bit because most of them are still only teenagers.”

Eager to put her much-publicised concussion issues behind her, the eight month long season – in which the nine clubs play each other three times – along with the ongoing COVID restrictions do mean that Ryan won’t be able to commit to the Clare Ladies Footballers for 2021. However, she is determined to maintain her central role for the Banner Ladies who wrestled back their county senior crown last September for what was an unparalleled eleventh title in just 13 seasons.

“I’ve explained that to the Athlone management that I plan to play club football with the Banner. When I finish up this semester [in AIT], I’ll have a bit of time in the summer to see me through the club season so hopefully it can all work out. But for the moment, I’m just looking forward to beginning this new challenge”.

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