SIOFRA Ní Chonaill isn’t one for backing down from a challenge.
The Doora-Barefield clubwoman has spent much of her inter county career balancing work commitments, her studies and competing for Doora-Barefield and Clare.
In September Ní Chonaill will enter her final year studying Mental Health Nursing in UL which has seen her work in a psychiatric ward, a vaccination centres and in a nursing home.
She decided to jump in at the deep end when COVID hit these shores two years ago as she welcomed at the opportunity to work in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Ennis.
Ní Chonaill believes the experience of working in a hospital setting at the onset of the pandemic provided her with the perfect opportunity to gain hands on experience.
“It was very tough but it was something I wanted to do. I got an email one day from college, seeing if we wanted to be healthcare assistants. I had my course work done and I had to get my first placement at some stage. Everybody was so nice to me especially at the start and I learned a lot.”
Ní Chonaill clearly enjoys the opportunity to test herself. Manager Evan Talty has asked the 21 year old to mark some of the best players in the game today.
Against Longford, she kept tabs on Michelle Farrell, who had scored 1-9 against Roscommon in her previous game. Ní Chonaill restricted the leading scorer in this year’s TG4 Intermediate Championship to just two points from play.
Meanwhile, she accomplished the same feat against an in form Natasha Ferris when Clare travelled to Down for the opening group game in this year’s Championship. Despite Clare’s disappointing result against Louth, the Doora-Barefield woman managed to keep Kate Flood quiet.
In the Connacht Championship, she kept Leitrim’s scorer in chief Michelle Guckian scoreless from play. Guckian subsequently kicked a combined total of 1-17 in her next two games but found no way past the Clare defender.
Ní Chonaill admits she used to dread the man marking task but now sees being assigned this task as a challenge to relish.
“Evan (Talty) gives me that role. I see it as a compliment. I used to think that I couldn’t play my own game but I’m being given a big challenge. It’s an opportunity to challenge myself. I’m helping the team which is why you’re there.”
Despite being assigned a specific task each game, the UL student feels that if she focuses on the opposition player in any great detail during the week, she will end up placing them on a pedestal.
“I prefer to learn myself when I’m on the pitch. Before the game I will check which leg they kick off but I don’t like to make myself too nervous. I can overthink so I prefer to learn hands on. On the morning of the game, I’d look at a few clips on the bus or in the car. I’m nervous enough without looking too much at the other player and then overthinking what I do.”
This year, Ní Chonaill decided to focus solely on football after stepping away from the Clare camogie panel.
She admits it was an extremely difficult decision to make but feels that it has allowed her sufficient recovery time after training and games.
“I found it extremely hard to pick. Between college games, club and the nursing hours being very long I couldn’t fit it all in. I was so torn between it because I was playing both but really playing none if you get me. It wasn’t fair on myself or the managers.”
“It has benefitted me because I feel I’ve improved and I’m less tired. I have some ‘me time’ now because before I was six days a week training and playing games.”
Now in her fifth season with the footballers, Ní Chonaill admits it was a daunting prospect when first called in to the panel. She admits it took her time to feel comfortable in her new surroundings.
“I think in TY me and (clubmate) Aisling Reidy joined at the same time. We were so nervous. We would sit in the car and wait to see someone we knew before going in to training but over time we got more comfortable and the girls were so welcoming.”
“When you see new players the best thing to do is talk to them and make them feel comfortable. I’m seen as experienced but I’m still only 21 so I’m still learning myself.”
The 21 year old secured an O’Connor Cup with UL earlier this year. She alongside Aisling Reidy and Amy Sexton secured winners medals as she believes lining out alongside players from across Ireland has benefitted her own game.
“One of the best things I ever did was play football with UL. It was our first year proper after COVID. You meet new friends and girls from other counties who you would normally be competing against. The friendships and just the atmosphere in the squad was great. The whole set up was top class.”
Erone Fitzpatrick was also a key member of that UL side with the Laois woman looking to guide her outfit to a final spot.
Ní Chonaill feels it can be a challenge to push friendship to one side for 60 minutes as the dual player at club level could be assigned the role of tracking Fitzpatrick.
“I’d be a back and she’s a forward. She’s handy. I’ve played against college teammates before. We played Kerry in the league and they had a few on the (UL) panel. It can be a challenge when they are friends but you are going out to play for a team so for 60 minutes you have to park it.”
When asked whether studying Mental Health Nursing helps her get her mind ready for games, the Clare defender pauses to think. She pauses for a few seconds before stating that she keeps the two separate.
“I keep it separate to an extent. When I’m nervous and anxious before a big game I can relate to the theory I’ve studied. I get used to it as the years go on. I don’t really bring the studies in to it. I probably should.”
That last line of hers makes Ní Chonaill laugh although the determination that comes with performing at a high level shines through when asked about previous defeats.
The 21 year old has experience of losing All Ireland semi finals as she was captain when Clare lost in the final four of the Minor B Championship in 2019 against Roscommon after extra time.
She is honest enough to admit that past defeats do fuel her to do everything possible to avoid the same experience again.
“Each loss, no matter the age, you always remember the feeling. I still remember losing in Féile after extra time. I still have that frustration towards it.”
“A few of us were on the team that saw Westmeath go up and come down again. We were within touching distance of them last year. It’s a challenge so we just had to lift it. Intermediate is so unpredictable so you can’t predict any game. Hopefully we’ve learnt from our mistakes.”