MIKIE’S GOLDEN YEAR PLAY­ING SOC­CER IN THE USA

David Looby talked to tal­ented striker Mikie Rowe, who is to be named US Player of the Year af­ter he scored 22 goals in the past sea­son

New Ross Standard - - FRONT PAGE -

IT WAS THE BEST DE­CI­SION I EVER MADE. I AM OVER IN GE­OR­GIA FOR MOST OF THE YEAR

CAMPILE MAN Mikie Rowe has be­come a soc­cer sen­sa­tion in Amer­i­can col­lege foot­ball, win­ning the Player of the Year in all Amer­i­can col­leges in his team’s di­vi­sion and sign­ing a pro­fes­sional con­tract.

Mikie will be hon­oured at the United Soc­cer Coaches All-Amer­ica Cer­e­mony and Re­cep­tion this Satur­day in Chicago in con­junc­tion with the 72nd an­nual United Soc­cer Coaches Con­ven­tion.

The son of Ge­orgina and An­thony Rowe, Mikie, 22, from Kil­man­nock, has been on a schol­ar­ship to Young Har­ris Col­lege, play­ing with the Moun­tain Lions team in North Ge­or­gia for over two years, where he has been study­ing busi­ness and pub­lic pol­icy. He kicked his first ball as a child of four years and was soon lin­ing out for Campile United, whom he played with un­til he was 17, help­ing the team to the Wex­ford Cup in 2011. He went on to win a Youth League ti­tle and won an All Ire­land ti­tle with Wex­ford Youths, also get­ting to the fi­nal of the Youth In­ter League.

Mikie made the move to Water­ford United when he was 17 in 2014 and the team went on to come sec­ond in the League of Ire­land at un­der 19 level.

The for­mer Horeswood NS and Good Coun­sel Col­lege stu­dent made his se­nior League of Ire­land de­but against Long­ford Town in 2014, scor­ing his first goal against Shelbourne FC.

Hav­ing made a strong im­pres­sion on the col­lege’s scouts while play­ing for Water­ford United, Mikie was of­fered a schol­ar­ship which cov­ered his tu­ition, board and food at Young Har­ris Col­lege.

Mikie said: ‘It was the best de­ci­sion I ever made. I am over in Ge­or­gia for most of the year and it’s around 30 de­grees ev­ery day.’

He signed a pro­fes­sional con­tract for Tor­menta FC last week. Based near Sa­van­nah, Tor­menta is be­com­ing a pro­fes­sional club this March. Its man­age­ment team signed Mikie up as one of its at­tack­ing for­wards.

When he first joined the Moun­tain Lions team Mikie went on a pre-sea­son trip to Spain, find­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing among strangers in a for­eign coun­try be­ing hard to ad­just to.

‘ That was prob­a­bly the hard­est two weeks of my life. I was so home­sick I was al­most go­ing to give up.’

Be­ing the only Ir­ish­man in the squad, , he felt iso­lated.

‘My ac­cent was so strong the other play­ers found it hard to un­der­stand me. I was 19 and it was some­thing I wasn’t used to. I had played un­der a lot of coaches that wouldn’t have been on my back all of the time. They were re­ally nice peo­ple. Then you re­alise these coaches are do­ing this for a liv­ing. I was be­ing paid to play foot­ball l and it was no longer a hobby.’ IT WAS MIKIE’S first time be­ing in the pro­fes­sional foot­ball world and the de­mands were huge. He trained ev­ery day and played d twice a week.

‘I was play­ing for money be­cause our schol­ar­ships were on the line ev­ery day. At the end of ev­ery sea­son you have a review and then you are of­fered a cer­tain amount t of money for the fol­low­ing sea­son (based d on your per­for­mance). It was sink or swim. . I went over there and I was a high pro­file sign­ing for this team and they ex­pected me to hit the ground run­ning but you find your­self up against play­ers from Le­ices­ter and West Ham’s academies. You would ask k your­self: “do I be­long here?” when you’re e not scor­ing 15 goals like back in Ire­land.’ ’

Mikie scored eight goals in his first t sea­son and was sat­is­fied with his goal l tally only to be told by his coaches that t he hadn’t met their ex­pec­ta­tions for him.

He re­turned home for the sum­mer af­ter the sea­son ended, ef­fec­tively spend­ing g

three months with­out kick­ing a ball com­pet­i­tively. The lack of pre-sea­son train­ing came back to haunt him in the sec­ond sea­son, in which he strug­gled badly. ‘ That was a mas­sive re­al­ity check and I strug­gled in my sec­ond sea­son for con­fi­dence. I had given up on my dream of play­ing pro­fes­sional foot­ball. You make a lot of sac­ri­fices and you are ques­tion­ing do you want to keep do­ing it.’

Af­ter a poor sec­ond sea­son by his high stan­dards, Mikie made the de­ci­sion to com­mit him­self com­pletely to his soc­cer ca­reer, and to fin­ish out his de­gree. HE JOINED Tor­menta FC, base in South Ge­or­gia, ini­tially lin­ing out for their U23 team. Mikie said col­leges are in­vest­ing a lot of money in soc­cer in Amer­ica where the sport has grown in pop­u­lar­ity ex­po­nen­tially in re­cent years.

The move to Tor­menta was for­tu­itous and timely as the club went on an un­beaten run in their con­fer­ence, win­ning it out­right. Tor­menta went on to lose the na­tional semi-fi­nal in the Premier De­vel­op­ment League.

‘I love the club be­cause pro­fes­sion­ally ev­ery­thing was done right from the own­ers, to the peo­ple who set up the field. I re­gained my con­fi­dence and knew there were big things com­ing. I played my first sea­son and was given the cap­taincy.’

Burst­ing with con­fi­dence, Mikie shone in the Young Har­ris col­lege soc­cer sea­son, the US col­lege sea­son run­ning from March un­til Oc­to­ber.

He has won over US coaches with his ver­sa­til­ity, play­ing as a winger, a striker and in the num­ber 10 role.

Mikie re­turned home for Christ­mas hav­ing en­joyed a fan­tas­tic sea­son, scor­ing at sta­di­ums across Amer­ica.

The free-scor­ing for­ward earned the two top in­di­vid­ual awards from the United Soc­cer Coaches last month, when he was named the NCA A Di­vi­sion II Men’s Na­tional Player of the Year and the NCAA Di­vi­sion II Men’s Na­tional Scholar Player of the Year.

He is the sec­ond Young Har­ris player to win both awards in the same year since the Moun­tain Lions be­came an ac­tive NCAA Di­vi­sion II in­sti­tu­tion five years ago. He be­came the 13th player in league his­tory to score 20 or more goals in a sea­son with 22 to lead the PB Con­fer­ence in 2018.

Mikie fin­ished third in the NCAA Di­vi­sion II with 1.16 goals per game, and fourth in points per game (2.58), goals (22) and points (49). His 22 goals was the eighth-high­est sin­gle-sea­son to­tal in PBC his­tory and his con­fer­ence-lead­ing 49 points was tied for 11th most. Named the PBC Player of the Week four times last year and the United Soc­cer Coaches Na­tional Player of the Week on Septem­ber 13, he also led the PBC in game-win­ning goals and shots.

The 2018 United Soc­cer Coaches first team All-Amer­i­can, the 2018 United Soc­cer Coaches first team Scholar All-Amer­i­can, and the 2018 Google Cloud sec­ond team Aca­demic All-Amer­i­can, was the fourth Moun­tain Lion to be named the PBC Player of the Year and kept the award at Young Har­ris for the fifth time in the last six years. Rowe earned the league’s Se­lect Sports Golden Ball Award for scor­ing the most goals.

In his ca­reer in the En­chanted Val­ley, Mikie played in 78 matches with 63 starts.

In 4,293 min­utes of ac­tion, he scored 46 goals and as­sisted on 13 oth­ers for 105 points with 12 game-win­ning goals. He is sec­ond all-time in the YHC NCAA-era record book in goals and points, third in game-win­ning goals and 10th in as­sists.

The Moun­tain Lions fin­ished the sea­son at 17-1-1 and ranked sev­enth in the fi­nal United Soc­cer Coaches Di­vi­sion II poll. The Moun­tain Lions cap­tured their fourth Peach Belt Con­fer­ence reg­u­lar-sea­son and tour­na­ment ti­tles as they earned the No. 1 seed from the South­east re­gion in NCAA Di­vi­sion II Tour­na­ment in 2018. It was the fourth trip for Young Har­ris to the NCAA tour­na­ment. MIKIE SAID: ‘ There were 212 teams and 4,500 play­ers in the col­lege set-up. We were ranked num­ber one in di­vi­sion two for most of the year.’

Mikie had to im­press the club’s coaches and win a pro­fes­sional con­tract or face into a fu­ture of play­ing in the mar­gins.

‘I was never placed in a sit­u­a­tion like that be­fore, where my job was on the line. I had a re­ally good sea­son.’

On Mikie’s birth­day, July 3, his coach of­fered him a pro­fes­sional con­tract.

‘I nearly took his hand off. That was be­fore my 22-goal sea­son with Young Har­ris. It was only a ver­bal of­fer but I went on to have the sea­son of my life which has gar­nered a lot of in­ter­est over in Amer­ica. It was some­thing that a lad from Campile doesn’t ex­pect, hav­ing com­ing from such a hum­ble back­ground and from such a down-to-earth fam­ily. It’s just un­be­liev­able.

‘Since I started kick­ing foot­ball in my back gar­den with my Mam and Dad and my three younger broth­ers, who all look up to me. My par­ents and grand­par­ents were my big­gest in­flu­ence. When you are 11 or 12 you al­ways want to play for Man United.

‘ You get re­al­is­tic around 16 and that dream comes to a halt and you re­alise that you just have too work so hard to do this for a liv­ing. I never had any as­pi­ra­tions to go abroad be­cause I was such a home-bird. When I was with Water­ford I gave up on the pro­fes­sional foot­balling dream dr be­cause it was so dif­fi­cult to see things th work out.

‘Now you see how far you’ve come and to be re­warded for this is just a dream come co true.’

Mikie will be earn­ing a full-time wage and an have his ac­com­mo­da­tion, meals, US visa vi and col­lege ex­penses cov­ered.

‘I’ll be mov­ing in with a cou­ple of lads on the team.’ HE SAID IT is an ex­cit­ing time to be play­ing soc­cer so in Amer­ica.

‘Soc­cer is get­ting mas­sive over here. Any An player in Eng­land who gets re­leased from fr a club is go­ing over so I’m pay­ing against ag lads who played and trained with Mar­cus M Rash­ford.

‘When you see these lads who have come through th Pre­mier­ship academies and I came ca from Campile United. My work rate is sec­ond to none and af­ter my first year I re­alised re there were so many ath­letes I was com­ing co up against so I took my fit­ness to a new level so I ended up be­ing level with the­seh ath­letes.’

At­tribut­ing his suc­cess to a never-say­die di at­ti­tude, Mikie said he knew he was go­ing go to score when he pulled on the Young Yo Har­ris club jersey this past sea­son. ‘ TThe ball was com­ing back to me off the cross cr bar and off the posts. I was scor­ing at ev­ery op­por­tu­nity.’

All the games are streamed on­line so Mikie’s fam­ily are used to late nights stay­ingt up gath­ered around the tele­vi­sion to watch him play, in­clud­ing his grand­par­ents pa Ita and Michael Walsh.

As he ca­reer states-side con­tin­ues to flour­ish flo Mikie will no doubt be the sub­ject of in­ter­est from the na­tional team and from fr clubs through­out the world.

IT WAS SOME­THING THAT A LAD FROM CAMPILE DOESN’T EX­PECT, HAV­ING COM­ING FROM SUCH A HUM­BLE BACK­GROUND. IT’S JUST UN­BE­LIEV­ABLE

Mikie Rowe from Kil­man­nock, Campile with par­ents Ge­orgina and An­thony and broth­ers Dy­lan, Ryan and Devin and some of his awards.

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