Ciara Grant: Hearts star's "pretty cool" journey from Gaelic football and doctor studies to turning pro and the World Cup

[Edinburgh News] Ciara Grant: Hearts star's "pretty cool" journey from Gaelic football and doctor studies to turning pro and the World Cup

The Irish international midfielder was only the second ever player to sign for the club as a full-time professional when she joined from Rangers in the summer. Her experience has helped Hearts produce an impressive run of form. Eva Olid’s team are fourth in the SWPL having won every home league game this season at Oriam. Grant believes the promises the management team made to her when she joined the club have been “inspiring” and she believes there is no reason why Hearts cannot be one of the “dominating clubs” in the SWPL over the coming years.

“When I spoke to Eva Olid and Sean Burt about the history of Hearts, the progress they have made over the past three years and the promises they have made to the women’s department, it was something that really inspired me”, Grant told Edinburgh Evening News. “A young, ambitious female coach is something that really swayed me to come. The progress we have made since the start of the preseason to now is incredible and we are only aiming to get better and better each week. Coming in as a professional player in an environment where everything is progressive, and everything is going in the same direction is a cool journey to be a part of. Over the next few years Hearts is going to be one of the dominating clubs in women’s football in Scotland.”

The 29-year-old has been on quite the journey. She has played in both the Irish and the Northern Irish leagues, winning numerous trophies. In 2020 she moved to Scotland signing for Rangers, winning the SWPL last season and finishing the season unbeaten.

Ciara Grant believes the progress Hearts have made this season is "incredible". Picture: Ross MacDonald / SNS

Football hasn’t always been Grant’s main sport however. She played Gaelic football in Ireland for a period. She considers the sport to be a “dynasty” in her home country and has been playing the sport since she was a kid as well – as well as playing boys’ football.

“In Ireland, Gaelic football is a dynasty and that’s the majority of what I played growing up,” she explained. “Women’s Gaelic is so far ahead of women’s soccer in Ireland. I played boys’ soccer and girls Gaelic all the way growing up. From 2017-19 I stepped away from soccer and was playing Gaelic football. Gaelic in Ireland is one of the most professional amateur sports there is.

“You might have 15-plus staff, you are training five times a week, you are travelling the length and breadth of the country with all the data, the stats, the sports science, food, the whole package. It was pretty much a professional set up without getting paid. It’s a very different sport. The fitness is different, the game is completely different, but it’s just something I think that’s in the Irish blood and we all love it.

“There’s actually a Gaelic team in Edinburgh. I think the women’s team have just got to the All-UK finals and they are going down to London soon. It’s funny. Everywhere you go, my brother just moved to Dubai and he’s playing Gaelic football over there, so it is all over the world. Obviously, it’s the highest level in Ireland. The London GA team compete in the intermediate division too. It’s funny for a small country there are parts of us all over the place and obviously a huge connection to Scotland. Half of Donegal, where I am from, have relations in Scotland too. It’s been an easy transition moving to Edinburgh as the Scottish are very similar to the Irish and it’s a lovely city and everyone is just so friendly.”

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Outside of sport, Grant has accomplished many things, most notably qualifying as a doctor 2017 from the University College Dublin and she has taught students at the Royal College of Surgeons. Upon returning to football in 2019, she now hopes she can “be at her best” for both Hearts and Ireland as her national team look towards the 2023 World Cup. She was on the bench at Hampden earlier this month when Ireland knocked out Scotland in the play-off to qualify for the finals in Australia and New Zealand.

“Studying and sports kind of complemented each other initially”, she explained of the balancing act she has had to do with studying and football. “There were a lot of student athletes, you can see here at Heriot-Watt. It worked well up until about 2016 when I was getting into the final year of my studies and it was just all too much. The women’s game over the last ten years has exploded as well. Back when I started studying medicine, the game wasn’t as good so it was a little bit easier to do both, but I think people would struggle to do it now. But that’s why I ultimately stepped away from football to focus on my studies and to get my internship over.

“In 2019, I started working back in football as a team doctor and that really spurred my decision to get back playing football. Here I am two years later as a full-time professional. It’s a pretty cool journey and in 2023 Ireland are going to a World Cup, so that’s my goal now. To be the best I can be for Hearts and to make sure I’m in that World Cup squad and in the first team.”