What I love the most about playing soccer in the League of Ireland is that it is the highest level that you can play at in Ireland – you are competing against the best teams and players in the country. Secondly, I love the ability to represent my club and community. I think growing up in Ireland, it is instilled in all of us that the biggest honour you can have is representing your club, county or country. Lastly, I love the atmosphere. There is no better feeling than hearing the crowd roar when you make a last-ditch tackle, score a goal, or when the final whistle goes and the team wins. It’s a feeling very hard to describe!
My name is Marc Ludden, I am 29 years old, and I work as a Strategic Alliance Manager for TitanHQ. TitanHQ is a leading cloud security vendor that specialises in providing email and web security products to SMBs, MSPs, and major Telcos & ISPs across the world. Our HQ is based in Salthill in Galway, but we also have offices in Florida and New York.
I was born in Belgium – Dad was headhunted by Converse to work in the Bruxelles office and manage their EMEA key accounts & sales team. This kept us in Belgium until I was eleven. We all moved back to Corofin in Galway in 2001, and I have been there ever since.
The only job I ever wanted to do growing up was to be a professional soccer player in England. Sadly, that didn’t quite transpire. Work-wise, I would say my Dad has had a huge influence on my career path. In 2001, he set up our family business, Introsports Ltd (www.introsports.ie), at our home in Corofin, Galway. Introsports is one of the longest GAA official licensee, where we sell official GAA merchandise to a huge range of suppliers across Ireland. Growing up in a family business orientation opened my eyes to business and the world of sales from a very young age.
Outside of my job, soccer takes up a huge amount of my time. I am currently playing with Galway United in the League of Ireland, where I play left-back. I am ten years playing in the League of Ireland. I played 4 years with Mervue United, and I am now into my 6th year with Galway United. I have made over 325 appearances across both clubs.
I became interested in soccer since the first day I could walk – I always had a ball with me. I was lucky to grow up in Belgium, as they had really good youth setup; I was playing in a team structure since the age of 4. I remember playing in leagues in Belgium from 4/5 years old. That is probably when I first fell in love with the game.
The sports craze comes from Dad again – he is sports-mad! He had us playing every sport you could think of growing up. When we came back to Ireland, I was playing soccer with Mervue, hurling with Sylane, and football with Corofin. Whatever we wanted to play, he would have supported our decision. I am probably the black sheep because I picked soccer over football in Corofin. Corofin is a football stronghold, and most of the lads I grew up playing football with have gone on to win club All Irelands and/or represent Galway at county level. With that being said, I made the right decision by picking soccer for me.
Growing up, there were a lot of really good players I loved to watch: the likes of Zidane, Keane, Giggs, Beckham, Roberto Carlos, and Maldini. The way these players could control and manipulate the ball always fascinated me. They always looked like they were moving at a completely different pace to other players. Kids today don’t know how lucky they are to be growing up in an era with Messi and Ronaldo playing – they are just on a completely different level to everyone else.
I currently play with Galway United as a left-back. I love playing left-back because it gives you a mix of defending and attacking. Obviously, my main responsibility is to make sure we are defensively solid, but at every chance I get, I will try to join up with the attacking move. It’s a position where you can create a lot for your teammates, which is something I really enjoy. It’s hard to beat the feeling of whipping in a cross and the striker heading it home.
Playing at a professional level requires a huge amount of physical and mental training. There are obviously a lot of physical requirements, but the mental side of things is very important. With work on top of soccer, making sure the body and mind are ready for games can sometimes be tricky. This is what my typical training week would look like:
- On Monday and Wednesday, from 7:15 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., I do an individual gym session. From 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., I go to work. From 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m., I do a pitch session.
- On Tuesday, I do an individual gym session.
- On Thursday, I do rolling and stretching in preparation for the game on Friday night.
- On Friday, I work from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. I get to the stadium for 6:00 p.m., warm-up at 7:00 p.m., and play the game from 7:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
- On Saturdays, I do a recovery session (sea swim and gym session).
- On Sunday, I have the day off.
On the mental side of things, you quickly learn that you need to cut yourself away from the crowd – you can’t be listening to comments being shouted at you from the opposition fans, or take any heed of what is said on social media. This is something younger players probably struggle with due to social media being such a big part of their lives; it is hard for them to cut that out. Clubs in Ireland and across the world probably need to do a bit more mental training for younger generations coming up through the ranks. With advancements in technology, you are always connected, which can be detrimental in some cases.
Getting Galway United promoted to the premier division after it only being back in the league that year was one of my favourite experiences playing professional soccer. To have 3 or 4,000 people in Eamon Deacy Park watch us beat UCD in a play-off is something I will never forget. The scenes after the game and the following few days were mental – it was like we had won the league.
Playing against some of the best teams and players in Ireland is something I always enjoy. As a player, you want to be pitting yourself against the best to see where you stand. Beating these teams, with way bigger budgets and better players, is always a satisfying feeling.
Getting to the cup final for the first time in 18 years was also a huge achievement – sadly, we narrowly lost out on penalties that day.
Scoring, especially as a defender, is always a great feeling. I wouldn’t be the most prolific player –when a goal comes around, it’s nice to get.
Next year, the goal will be for Galway United to win the league; this year was all about restructuring the setup and the club. My personal goal is to play as many games as possible. I would like to break the 400 appearance mark in the League of Ireland before hanging up the boots.
There are three important things I learned from my time as a professional soccer player:
- Hard work pays off: I love this quote ‘Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard’. Be the hardest-working member of your team. If you have some things that you are weaker at, work on them. Don’t hide away from them. So many people fall short in their life ambitions because they are happy to stay in their comfort zone. Don’t play it safe, whatever your goal is – go for it.
- Keep learning: you never stop learning or developing as a player. I have been playing since the age of 5, and I am still learning aspects of the game 24 years later. So many talented kids fail because they think they know it all already. It is so important to have an open mind to learning new things, not only in sport, but life in general.
- Do the basics well: keep the ball (possession is key), make sure your first touch is good, get your head up quickly to see what is around you – the better awareness you have, the better decision you can make.
There are going to be tough days and a lot of sacrifices along the way, but if you reach your goal, those sacrifices will be worth it.
There are a few things that overlap between soccer and work. In sales, you are always striving to make targets (weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly); this is the same in sport. You have targets to win the next game, or get a certain amount of points this month, how many clean sheets or goals can you get, etc. This is an important overlap because targets are not always made. The frustration of not hitting your target is the same whether it’s in work or soccer – it’s the bounce-back ability to make sure the next target is smashed that is key. The resiliency you get from playing sport with its ups and downs is hard to learn anywhere else.
The team aspect is another overlapping trait. Be it in soccer or in work, being able to work in a team is crucial. You can’t win a game on your own, and the same goes in sales, especially when you are dealing with multi-million dollar companies. There is always a team involved in the sales cycle: engineers, developers, and management all have some impact on winning large strategic deals.
There is always more than tech. I think platforms like Otia Magazine help to remove the stigma that people in technology are only interested in computers and video games. I have worked in the tech industry for nearly nine years now – this stigma couldn’t be further from the truth. Sport is a major part of people’s lives. It’s also an easy ice breaker when making conversation with colleagues. We should continue to grow the conversation of sports in technology to hopefully influence younger generations that a career in the tech industry is an attractive career path.