Women in Belfast for Champions League test
McKenna has made immediate impact on her travels
IF YOU rock up at Curracloe Beach on the rare summer’s day when the mercury moves into the twenties, stroll down past Culleton’s Gap without that typical, cutting sea breeze ripping your eyelids off, and arrive at Raven’s Point alone, relaxed and at peace, you feel like the luckiest person in the world.
Days don’t get better than that in Wexford, and if you live that afternoon once a year you’re beating most of the rest of the county.
In Hawaii, that’s known more commonly as a normal day. For example, in Kailua-Kona the lowest recorded temperature is 13 celsius, the highest low of any city in the United States. It doesn’t get cold and coats are a fashion item.
To forget the beautiful island life, to leave a loving family and friends at home, to fly almost 12,000 kilometres to the south-east of Ireland to join Wexford Youths, it takes serious inner strength. This is not the path of a normal person, it’s the route of a dreamer.
McKenna Davidson is a dreamer. Right now she lives her life never knowing what the next move is. She knows there will be a destination, there always is, and things will work out exactly how they are supposed to, but she’s living for the now.
While that globetrotting lifestyle is glamorous on the surface, scrape a little deeper and you get a clear picture of how mentally tough Davidson is. Doing everything at her own expense, doing it out of her comfort zone, it’s a challenge she has had to embrace and it’s a situation in which she has had to learn to grow.
‘I was living at home so I was always with my family,’ she explained. ‘When I wasn’t at home I was with friends, or even going to the gym I would go with my best friends, so coming here and kind of being by myself all the time has been a difficult transition. If I’m being honest like, it’s been hard not being able to socialise.
‘I think it’s good in a way, it gives me a chance to be independent for once. I feel like I’m always with people and always, I don’t know, not relying on people, but definitely emotionally relying on people.
‘So it’s nice to, not nice, but it will be a good growing opportunity to be by myself, but yeah, it has been a hard time transitioning.’
Davidson has slowly been getting to know her new colleagues but it hasn’t been easy. She’s staying in a rented room in Carlow, recommended by one of the Youths management.
There was the possibility of being hosted by a team-mate, but in the end the lure of easy gym access was the deciding factor for the girl who’s ‘ not obsessed with the gym but, I need to go, like, every day’.
With just two training sessions a week and a game at weekends, it’s a process that will take time. As each game goes by there’s visibly more of a bounce in Davidson’s step. She seems to be enjoying herself and the bonding that goes with a week of Champions League football will only help.
After all, that competition was the big draw. There were some other opportunities.
Davidson could have been lining up opposite Youths in Friday’s game against Thor/KA, as there had been contact between her agent and the Icelandic club, but they wanted her to fly in for a trial with no guarantee of signing, a move that made no sense when travelling all the way from Hawaii.
Then there was Shelbourne, the ‘evil empire’ up the N11. The rivalry that is developing between the sides currently occupying the top two spots in the Continental Tyres Women’s National League is a beautiful thing and it’s badly needed to push this league forward. Teams simply need to respect but dislike each other.
Davidson was in contact with management at the north Dublin side, and they have the draw of the city life which was enough to recently attract Malinda Allen and previously Gloria Douglas from Stateside. It wasn’t enough to steal Davidson’s heart though.
‘The girls were like “we’re so glad you didn’t go there” (to Shelbourne), not because they hate them or anything, just because it wouldn’t have been the same experience. Champions League definitely was a big selling point, just because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,’ she admitted.
It will be the biggest footballing stage to date for the Hawaiian. She started kicking a ball as a fouryear-old back in Kailua-Kona but had to fly to O’ahu to find a club to meet the talent level that the young starlet was showing.
‘When I was young, like maybe Under-10, when I was eight or nine, I would just cry after the game because I would just tell my mom “I can’t do everything by myself!” She would just be like “it’s okaaaayyy”. I think that’s when I was like, okay, I’m good at this, I can pursue this, especially having the support from my mom and dad.’
Davidson continued to improve through high school where ‘there was six of us that kind of held the team together and the other ones were kind of just there for the ride’. There were different college opportunities but she chose to follow her sister to Pacific University.
‘I couldn’t decide where I wanted to go and my sister was at Pacific so my parents said just go for a year and if you want to transfer you can transfer. So I went and wanted to transfer and ended up staying.
‘I don’t know, I just kind of got stuck there. I don’t regret it or anything, it was a really good academic university and I got to play and I don’t know, it was okay,’ she said.
College life came with a semester at the University of Limerick in her final year. Davidson thought her collegiate soccer career was over but she soon discovered that she could play here in Ireland. Not only did she play but she ended up being ‘player of the match’ in the colleges final and she picked up the ‘international player of the year’ award.
She made such an impression that the Ireland Under-19 management were desperately scrambling to find out who she was, but to their disappointment they discovered that she was 21 and American. Davidson went back to the States and bounced around with a few semi-pro clubs. She played in Chattanooga in Tennessee, then she went to Seattle before transferring down to Fresno in California.
Missing home and fed up of the Women’s Premier Soccer League, Davidson went back to Hawaii for a year but eventually her adventurous side won her over. Ireland wasn’t her first choice destination.
‘I had already been here and I felt like I wanted to explore and be somewhere else just for the experience’, but it became the most viable option.
Wexford Youths coach Jamie Buckley saw Davidson play while she was at U.L. and she had clearly made an impression. The Ferrycarrig Park side were interested but it still came down to Davidson being able to dip into her savings to make it happen. Dreams, it seems, don’t come cheap.
Despite playing at a personal cost to herself, there was still trouble for Davidson when arriving here.
Evidently Irish immigration couldn’t figure out that anyone willing to give up the Hawaiian life for Carlow town is clearly on a mission and not trying to manipulate the system. It seems when you are in the business of soullessly denying dreams for a pat on the back, blindness is in your nature.
The club and Davidson are fighting to get the 30 days she was granted, instead of the 90 she was entitled to as an American citizen, overturned.
It was not fully resolved at the time of writing but the player herself is trying to stay positive despite the unnecessary stress.
It’s the excitement of being here, of readying herself for the biggest footballing week of her life, that’s keeping Davidson positive. She knows that Champions League football is a huge deal, a shop window for someone looking for a professional club, but it’s still all new to her.
‘I’ve heard of all the teams that we’re playing against but I don’t know, like, are they good, are they decent, what’s the story with that,’ admitted Davidson, ‘so I have been asking them (her teammates) what they thought and everybody I’ve asked says “yeah, look it’s going to be tough competition but we have a chance”.
‘The vibe that I’ve been getting from the girls is very optimistic and confident so I think that’s really gonna be key going in, keeping the momentum of the season going and having that confidence in each other and knowing we are a good squad, it should be exciting.
‘I am excited, like I said, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for me anyway, especially coming from Hawaii you would never get this opportunity, I don’t think anybody else has ever so I’m looking forward to it.’
The last few days for Davidson have been about nursing a recurring quad injury she picked up soon after arriving. She’s been keeping busy at the gym, discovering exciting places in Carlow like ‘the river’ and getting to grips with an online course she has signed up to complete.
Her viewing habits have also changed but not too much. ‘Netflix here is different from the States, did you know that? They wouldn’t have the same shows that we have in the States, some yeah, but not all.
‘Since I have so much free time on my hands I just started watching this new show ‘Power’ and it’s super good. A lot of the girls have talked about ‘Love Island’. I’ve never seen it before but I don’t have any interest in watching it.’
It’s hardly surprising that fakeness is not something that interests Davidson, as she’s about the here, the now, the living life how she wants to live it. She wants to follow her own path, do her own thing.
The next stepping stone is Champions League, then it’s to help Wexford win as much as possible this season.
After that, not even McKenna is sure what’s around the corner and that’s just fine with her.
McKenna Davidson (centre) on the bench in Kilkenny last week with Becky Conroy and Becky Cassin.
Wexford’s new arrival on the move after her introduction during the 6-0 win in Kilkenny.
McKenna Davidson pictured in Ferrycarrig Park.