Originally Published 11 October 2019

As far back as I can remember, I had a ball at my feet. My parents and brother are huge influences and encouraged me to play all sports as a child. What I love the most about playing football is the camaraderie – most of my closest friends have been made through involvement in sport in one way or another.

My name is Karen Duggan. I am a former international football player and work as a Business Analyst with Educampus, who provide IT shared services to the higher education sector. Finding a job based in Dublin was a great fit for me both professionally and personally, and I have been living here for 5 years now.

I originally studied science teaching in college and taught for one year after graduation. However, at the time, my main ambition was to break into the senior women’s international football team. In order to do so, I needed a work environment that was more flexible. I applied for the Accenture Management Consulting graduate programme and was accepted. I worked for Accenture for over 4.5 years, working across a range of projects and sectors, before taking up a role as a Business Analyst with Educampus this year.

Football is my main hobby outside of work. I play centre midfield with Peamount United in the Women’s National League and absolutely love it. There is a real sense of community in the club – this is something I really value.

I have many role models both in and outside of football. I have been lucky enough to play on some great teams with incredible players such as Emma Byrne, Niamh Fahy, and Aine O’Gorman – they have been both brilliant teammates and role models. I also really admire Denise O’Sullivan, who currently plays for the international team and NC Courage in the United States. One of my close friends, Katie Power (who plays camogie with Kilkenny and is a multiple all-star) is also an inspiration of mine. What all these women have in common is a relentless work ethic. You see their constant desire to improve and be the best they can for their team. This is the type of person I look up to.

Women’s Football has really grown over the past couple of decades. When I was young, I played locally with my home club Piltown (I would have played with both the boys and girls teams). I was fortunate enough to have teachers and coaches who recognised that I had a knack for football, and they put me forward for provincial trials. I played in these interprovincial tournaments when I was 12/13. The Irish schools’ team is selected from these tournaments, and the rest is history. I worked my way through the ranks from schools level to u15, u17, and u19. Eventually, after a lot of time spent in the stands and on the bench, I made my debut for the senior women’s international team in 2013.

I have had so many wonderful experiences through my involvement with the Ireland team, both on and off the pitch. Every time I represented my country was an extremely proud moment – even in defeat, it was something I cherished. One moment that really stands out came in 2017 when we played Holland (the reigning European champions) in front of their 30,000-strong home crowd in a European Qualification match. No-one gave us a chance, but we managed to draw and come away with a point. The best 0-0 match I was ever part of!

In 2016, I won FAI International Football Awards Senior International Women’s Player of the Year. Individual awards are not something you think about when playing team sports, and I would have loved nothing more than to have qualified for a major tournament with Ireland. However, it was a great honour to receive this award and a very proud moment for my family who supported me through all the ups and downs it took to get me to that point. The same year, I won the inaugural PFAI Women’s Player of the Year, which was voted for by my teammates. It was very special and humbling to be recognised by my peers in this way.

I retired with 35 senior caps for the Women’s National Team. Football has brought me to many places around Europe and to America – I feel very grateful for all the opportunities that it has brought me over the years.

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Right now, I still play with Peamount United in the Women’s National League (I’m far too competitive to consider it a pastime!). I play with a really talented group of girls, many of whom have played or will play at international level, so the standard is very high. We are working hard as a team and are hoping to win a Women’s National League title with Peamount for the first time since 2012. The league is very competitive, with Shelbourne and Wexford Youths also in contention to win the league this year.

One of the most important things I’ve learned playing football is that being part of a team requires effective communication and cooperation. I started playing very young and was a very quiet girl, so football was a great way to bring me out of my shell. Being coached teaches you to respect management and listen actively – this will ultimately help you improve and achieve your goals.

Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

For me, the ability to function effectively on a team is the biggest similarity between football and my work-life. Being a good teammate requires more than talent with a ball or knowledge of an IT system; it means that you want to put in the time and effort to do teamwork. Teams are diverse – recognising the different strengths an individual can bring to a team and working to combine these skills to achieve a common goal is key to the success of a team, whether in a game or on a work project.

It took me a long time to break into the senior team, but this taught me to persevere. Determination to achieve your goals is a key attribute in sport and in work. As a player, you must be coachable – criticism can be hard to take, but you learn to apply feedback from coaches to help you improve. When I wasn’t making the senior panel, I had to work on areas of weakness. I think this has taught me that feedback, no matter how harsh, gives you the opportunity to improve – you should always look to find new ways to learn and enhance your skill-set. In turn, this helps bring value to your organisation.

My advice to anyone interested in playing football for their country is practice, practice, practice! Never give less than 100%. There are many variables that can help/hinder your chances, but one thing that is within your control is the effort you put in. If you commit to always giving your all for the team and to improve your own game, then this will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. And enjoy your football – the more enjoyment and positive a mindset you have, the better you will play.

There is always more than tech. There is such a diverse array of talent working in technology. When someone shares a similar sporting passion, it makes you feel very connected.

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