Former ballet dancer prepped for a prima performance at World Games
By Eoghan Tuohey
One of the most fascinating aspects of the significant increase in Native Born participation at this year's Renault GAA World Games has been the unifying effect that Gaelic Games, and the culture that comes with them, have had on players from incredibly diverse backgrounds
Canadian representative, Erin Loughnane, has dabbled and excelled in a plethora of various sporting endeavours throughout her career, while it was dancing that claimed much of her extra-curricular time in her youth. However, she now feels she has found her niche.
"I actually didn’t kick a football until I was 19. I grew up dancing through the Royal Academy of Dance, with the emphasis on ballet, as well as playing baseball, volleyball and competing in track and field. It was a school friend that actually introduced me to Gaelic Football. Knowing my sporting background he said I would love it. I called the club he suggested that day, trained that night and started in midfield that weekend. I love the game and have been playing ever since."
The games draw native born participants in - but it's the community spirit, the sense of inclusion and belonging that sees them remain. It's a common theme, but one that highlights the effectiveness of the core ethos of the Association, and it continues to attract new members, and maintain links with those currently involved.
"Obviously the sport itself is fantastic and ties in so many athletic components - speed, skill and fitness. But I think, like many people, it’s the fact that your club and GAA community become like a second family. I met my husband playing in Dublin in 2002 and love the fact that it brings people together from all backgrounds, especially abroad."
This won't be Loughnane's first time representing the Maple Leaf - she already has an impressive track record on her resumé which includes donning the red and white across different codes; Camogie at the 2016 GAA World Games, as well as Australian Football.
"I have been extremely fortunate to get to represent Canada in Gaelic football, Australian rules football, and Camogie (at the 2016 GAA World Games). I think any time that you get to represent your country it’s a huge honour and I'm delighted to have the privilege."
Given her profound athletic background, it comes as little surprise when Erin reveals that she predominately occupies the midfield berth on the football pitch, and revels in her defensive duties as much as her attacking exploits.
"I normally play midfield in Gaelic, but in footy (Aussie rules) I've recently been playing full-forward which is a lot of fun. I think anyone that has seen me play would say that I bring work rate and commitment to the team. I love putting in a good block as much as, or more than I love scoring a goal or point. I try to lead by example by playing to the best of my ability but also focusing on the role I have been given. I also think it’s really important to be supportive of your teammates and encourage them on as much as possible at training and in games."
Such has been the increase in teams participating at this year's Games that the knowledge of the opposition is fairly limited. This will bring with it a certain apprehensiveness and may take teams a bit of time to get to grips with opposing sides. One thing is for sure - the standard will be exceptional, and the effort levels monumental.
"We don’t know much about the other teams other than that they will be very competitive. I know a lot of work is being done overseas to grow the games so we are really looking forward to playing girls from all over the world. We do have another team from Canada participating (Eastern Canada) and I know from playing with and against those girls for many years that they will be extremely strong and competitive."
Loughnane's experience will be paramount if this Canadian side are to progress to the dizzying heights of the Finals' Day on August 2nd. She has previously represented Canada in a competition called the International Cup, in 2002 and 2005, and received a scholarship to play volleyball in university.
An all-rounder, then, it's fair to say, and once she remembers to pack the football boots and shorts, and not the ballet shoes and leotard, the Canadians will be off to an excellent start.