Mental health is something that affects most players, so it’s time that those struggling in the Women’s National League spoke up.

By Clare Shine

I’ve won two Women’s National League titles, netted the winning goal in the FAI Women’s Senior Cup Final in the Aviva Stadium and scored against foreign opposition in the UEFA Women’s Champions League.

In print that looks amazing and sometimes I forget just how amazing my time was in the Women’s National League. But in order to achieve the good parts you often have to trudge through the bad parts, which can weigh heavy on you and make it feel that there are simply too many obstacles to overcome. From what I achieved, at both Cork City and Raheny United, the proof is there that perseverance wins through.

Starting off in the WNL with Cork City was quite challenging as we were totally distant from the men’s side of the club. I was only 16 years old, which gave me a good insight into the standard I needed to get myself too. It was the first year of the League so there was a real buzz and excitement to be part of it. This was the top level in the country; a National League.

Cork were great for me as I played regularly with a lot of friends. But I knew that a new challenge was required to bring the best out in me, so after two years at the club I joined Raheny United in Dublin. I was only 18 years old but keen to test myself in a different environment.

At that time, Raheny were stacked with talented players so even getting into the starting line-up was a task in itself. I knew what I was getting myself into with the constant travelling up and down from Cork, but I felt with the level I would be playing at I would improve each week.

With so few teams in the League, many players will know exactly what I mean when I reiterate that it was a tough slog spending so much time travelling to training and games. It can be incred- ibly draining, not good for an athlete to be sitting down for so many hours at one time, unsettling to your food & water intake, and it messes up with your sleeping patterns.

It is no kind of lifestyle to be living out of a bag, especially if you are trying to be a professional footballer. You never feel quite at home because you are constantly moving and possessions take on less meaning due to only having enough space in your bag for essential items. Think about that for a second, your life being on the road without any form of real stability. But I felt that it was needed in order to be successful.

Thankfully it paid off as Raheny won the League, the Cup and advanced in the UEFA Champions League. That was exactly what I had set out to do. Then a new opportunity came to join Glasgow City and move up to another level in the shape of semi-professional football in a different country with a team that was also loaded with great players.

On the outside, those looking in thought that I was on top of the world and things were getting better all of the time. Except it wasn’t like that at all. I was actually suffering with anxiety and depression, which led to suicidal thoughts. In fact, this is when I first encountered Pieta House because everything had spiralled out of control so quickly that I needed help from others to stop the world from spin- ning around me.

Nothing can prepare you for a panic attack, but let me tell you that no matter how strong you think you are mentally or physically it takes the wind out of you like a right hook from Katie Taylor. I didn’t know how to deal with when these intense attacks came on and I didn’t tell anyone about them. So, of course, they got worse and worse.

Now that I have learned more and more about the triggers, effects and recovery I feel like setting off an alarm to wake people up to see how severe and difficult it can get, especially in the changing room. Constantly wearing a smile, when smiling is the last thing you want to do. I know most players will brush it to the side and will try and just say ‘get over it, there is no way I am admitting in front of my team-mates that I am vulnerable’ but bottling it up doesn’t work because sooner rather than later the top will explode and spill uncontrollably.

After a couple of years in Glasgow, I returned to the League and back home with Cork City. It coin- cided with a successful spell for the club as we went on to win the FAI Women’s Senior Cup at the Aviva Stadium. Oh, and I managed to get the winning goal! That was a special day as the men’s team also won the Cup so both teams brought the trophies back to Cork to celebrate.

So there can be highs as well as lows. I know how hard it is and you might not want anyone to know just in case people will think differently of you or you think it will interfere with your playing time. I promise you that that will not be the case. You are more important than any of that.

With a clear and healthy mind, your perfor- mances will only improve and you will enjoy your football and life so much more. Speaking openly was always something that petrified me. I used to avoid it at all costs. But when I finally did it was the best decision I ever made.

Everyone has a different journey to take, but we all face the same first step and that is in speaking up. So remember that you are not alone.

This article appeared in '10 Years On', a book on the Women's National League