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Glenn Waters & The American Dream: “Irish Soccer Stars Should Go Stateside”

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As part of our search for the Vodafone X Irish University Sports Journalist Of The Year, Jordan Norris interviewed stateside soccer star Glenn Waters about the dangers of concussion.

Jordan Norris, along with three other finalists, is vying to be crowned ‘Vodafone X Irish University Sports Journalist Of The Year’. The final stage of the competition is a public vote. You can see the finalists’ entries here.

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Nnamdi Azikiwe once remarked that the true essence of scholarship is that of originality.

One particular scholar standing out from the crowd in the US is young Waterford native Glenn Waters. Waters, who originally hails from Dungarvan – currently finds himself in his sophomore year at Jones County Junior College, Mississippi, as a reward for his excellent performances on the soccer field to date.

A former Ireland youth international whose spells include trophy-laden stints at Villa and Waterford FC, 20-year-old Waters has made serious waves in his time overseas. Having represented his country, scoring against a US XI in 2014 – the Dungarvan man knew that playing soccer at a professional level was his ultimate goal, and believes that making the sacrifices to emigrate overseas is a choice that can reap rewards for talented Irish athletes:

“I always wanted to play soccer at a very high level and I always wanted to go to college, so when the opportunity to do both came along – I couldn’t turn down the chance to go to the US as a student athlete. I had numerous offers from a number of top quality colleges but after some thinking I knew that Jones County Junior College was a place I could call home.”

Replicating underage successes will prove a tough task for the tireless midfielder, given his impressive CV. Glenn’s achievements include two Munster titles with Waterford, multiple league and cup doubles with Villa FC and his native Dungarvan as well as a multitude of international appearances – his experience proving vital in attaining the captaincy at Jones College for the current season.

Soccer in the US has garnered somewhat of a questionable reputation down the years, with many citing a lack of competitiveness, intensity and interest in the sport as to the reasons why it did not perhaps first take off across the Atlantic.

However, with popularity levels now reaching fever-pitch and professional and grassroots standards improving on a weekly basis – Waters admits he may now have picked the best possible time to try and make his mark on US soil:

“If I’m being honest, I didn’t expect it to be as competitive as it is, the levels of conditioning and standards are incredibly high – players are so athletic and physical compared to back in Ireland and I have certainly improved a lot in my time here. We might be training two or three times a day and it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted or anything like how the US game is traditionally perceived.”

Names such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry and Wayne Rooney have all helped to bring newfound popularity to the MLS and USL scene – with attendance figures at an all-time high and in turn, more opportunities for talented youngsters to be recognised on a more global spectrum. In recent years, a litany of Irish internationals have spent stints plying their trade in the US leagues – Robbie Keane, Kevin Doyle, Sean St Ledger and Darren O’Dea to name a few.

While those players may have tackled the American Dream in the twilights of their career, high-profile stars have laid down a benchmark for the next generation to ascend to.

For Waters, the opportunity to be recognised and compete at a higher level than was perhaps available to him beforehand was one which could not be missed. When quizzed on whether or not he thought enough was being done at the grassroots level to further develop talented individuals in Ireland, he offered the following response.

“Well, coaches will always want to have their best players available and help them improve but it’s up to the player themselves if they want to push on abroad. If you don’t feel that there are many opportunities at home, then you’ve got to move on and that’s what I did and it’s the best decision I feel I’ve ever made.”

Initiative is everything when pursuing a passion, and the desire to be successful is one which has always burned in the midfielder from a young age.

While soccer may not traditionally be a sport pursued above all else back home, for Waters it was always at the top of his wish-list. Despite having represented Waterford at inter-county level in multiple GAA codes, the 20-year-old always knew that soccer was the one thing he held in the highest regard.

“I was always into hurling and football, and obviously soccer – for me I made some of my best friends and fondest memories through soccer and with years I’ve always strived to be the best I can be both on and off the field. You’ve got to have the desire to be successful. The energy and excitement of it all just gets to me, I love training, I love playing games and this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

So why choose America? For this particular talent, the allure of making it into the world of professional sport is something that always seemed irrefutable, but when coupled with the opportunity to pursue an education in tandem – the desire was then cemented.

Many prospective stars of the future have been released by academies down the years and fallen into nothing, with the reality being that only 5-10% of youth squad members ever tend to make it to senior level.

Waters noted this danger, and realised that having an education to back up the sporting elements was something that could prove crucial years down the line:

“Obviously, the dream five years down the line is to be playing soccer at a professional level, and if I keep my head down and keep doing what I’ve been doing then hopefully that’s where I’ll be – but it’s important to have something to fall back on, and that’s what a degree provides you with. As much as we all want to, we can’t play sport forever – so that’s also nice to have.”

Having impressed in the Southern Conference League for Jones County in his first two years stateside, decision time is now almost upon the youngster to make his next move.

There are plenty of offers on the table for the Waterford star to further pursue his dream, and it is something that he believes would not have ever been possible without self-belief and determination:

“If I stayed back in Ireland, with no disrespect to anyone playing football back home – I probably wouldn’t have the opportunities I find myself with today. To anyone who is seriously considering a career in sport, I would urge them to go to trials, to take a jump into the deep end and not to fear the unknown. If you are meant to be somewhere, that’s where you’ll end up.”

The career trajectory of Glenn Waters has been on a constant rise since his arrival in Mississippi, and if current showings are anything to go by – then he looks increasingly likely to be next in line to add to the growing contingent of Irish stars plying their trade in the MLS.

Diving into the unknown isn’t for everybody, but for Glenn – it has been a life-changing decision. Home is hard to leave, but greener fields may often lie further away. For Irish athletes in the USA, the future looks incredibly bright.

The name of Glenn Waters is one you certainly haven’t heard the last of.
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Jordan Norris, along with three other finalists, is vying to be crowned ‘Vodafone X Irish University Sports Journalist Of The Year’. The final stage of the competition is a public vote. You can see the finalists’ entries here.

Author: Jordan Norris

Mostly covering football and GAA - Jordan is currently studying a BA English in UCC, and can be contacted through [email protected] .