'There is an indoor football field ... I bring my Gaelic football with me’

[Irish Examiner] 'There is an indoor football field ... I bring my Gaelic football with me’

One year into her senior intercounty career Paris McCarthy, has already experienced the glory of a Lidl National League title and a TG4 All-Ireland senior final appearance.

It was an immense season for Kerry and, in the early weeks of 2023, it’s what keeps the fire lit in the Dome at East Tennessee State University.

The 19-year-old is busy with her basketball scholarship, hoping one day to make it in the WNBA, but most evenings she will find time and take to the giant indoor facility with her friend, Preston.

“There is an indoor football field for American Football. I bring my Gaelic football with me and my boots. And I practise kicking and skill-work, just so I’m not losing my touch,” said McCarthy.

“There is a soccer goal, it’s big enough. There are indoor American football goalposts as well and obviously that’s all I can use at the moment because there are no Gaelic football goalposts.

“The American football posts are a bit narrower and it’s a bit different because they’re a bit higher, too. I have to kick a bit higher and that’s why I kick into the soccer goalpost instead.

“Mostly what I try to do is try to hit targets. If I am not putting it over the goalpost, I will get a target on a wall and I will try and hit that same target every time so I am still getting my kicking done.” 

The Castleisland Desmonds youngster was a prodigy with St Mary’s in the Women’s Super League and it wasn’t long before she was snapped up and given a place Stateside.

And she is still finding her feet in the USA, where she is studying Management and Marketing, although her dream job is physiotherapy, which she will likely pursue once she returns to these shores.

For the moment, she is getting to travel the States, even if her tours have been confined to the huge sporting arenas dotted from east to west.

“With basketball here, I have not seen America at all, I have only been in basketball courts. We went to Las Vegas and we have gone to New York playing but you don’t see anything, it’s strictly business,” said McCarthy, whose team has a record of 13 wins and three losses this season.

FULL FLIGHT: Paris McCarthy on the court for East Tennessee State University.

“At the moment it’s about getting used to the basketball here first before I could think about WNBA. In America, they don’t really play freshmen as much as the other years because the other years have more experience so you have to make an impression. I think once I make that impression in a couple of years, there is a chance I could get there, hopefully.

“It’s still my first year and it’s Division 1 College so it’s extremely tough. We play basketball for about five hours a day, up to 27 hours of training a week with gym sessions as well. It is really tough but I really enjoy it.

“You have to be very mentally strong over here. I am the only European player on my team, the rest of my team are Americans. That is a bit of a transition as well. In Ireland, when I was playing on a Super League team, you would have one or two Americans and now it’s the complete opposite.” 

When she returns to the Kingdom fold, McCarthy will be one of a number of Castleisland Desmonds’ stars looking to drive them on to the next level.

In a year of unprecedented success, there was still a feeling of ‘what might have been’ come the end of the campaign.

Darragh Long and Declan Quill inspired their team to a perfect run in Division 2 of the League before they secured a narrow 1-12 to 0-12 victory over Armagh in the Final at Croke Park.

The momentum continued into the summer months, where victories over Galway and Westmeath ensured they finished top of the pile in Group 3 of the TG4 All-Ireland group series.

Kerry defeated Armagh again, this time 4-12 to 2-14, in the quarter-finals before a brilliant 4-10 to 0-13 win against Mayo in final four.

Meath were just a bridge too far in the final and although Kerry suffered defeat, they weren’t embarrassed at Croke Park, they learned plenty and will return this year with an even bigger point to prove.

“It was the best year of football I had with a team ever. The connection we had, we were just uncrackable,” said McCarthy.

“Darragh and Declan are really, really good coaches. Everyone enjoyed going to every single training session. We had this connection that made us be this unbreakable team. So in every game a lot of people thought the other team was going to win but we always came out on top because of what we brought to the table as a team.

KINGDOM COME:  McCarthy in the green and gold of her native Kerry. Picture: Sam Barnes/Sportsfile

“We got to the All-Ireland final and lost to Meath but to experience that with that team is something I will never forget. Even when I came to America, all I could think about was that All-Ireland.

“It was my first year in the senior panel. Obviously, I didn’t know a lot of girls except for the girls with Castleisland Desmonds and Louise Ní Mhuircheartaigh. But from the start they had open arms. Darragh and Declan believe in every single player on the team and they push everybody. When you have a bond like that with your coaches and teammates, you are going to be good.

“There were no cliques or anything, we were all one team, we all just got along. It was really good, every single training session was competitive and fun at the same time but everyone took it serious and we all worked hard.” 

McCarthy is still in the thick of it with East Tennessee State University but once their season concludes at the end of February, the plans will be put in place.

She is desperate to get out on the field again with Kerry and although she may miss the Lidl National Football League, McCarthy knows she can play on a team that is competitive once the summer rolls around again.

“I think we will bounce back because of the All-Ireland final,” said McCarthy. “I saw in the newspaper two weeks ago, they still didn’t have us down for winning it, they had Cork or Meath. That’s okay, everyone can have us as underdogs again.

“I know the girls are doing a crazy amount of work. I was back at Christmas and did one gym session with them and they were really good, it was a really tough session.

“I think until it begins, people won’t know how good we are, we will have a really good chance if we continue how we did last year.”