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Football much more than a game for Pearl Slattery

Shelbourne captain back in thick of Champions League action following a health scare

Shelbourne’s Pearl Slattery in action against Wexford Youths at the Aviva Stadium. “My life is just football, it’s absolutely everything.” Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

A glance at Pearl Slattery’s tattoos tells you much about her life and loves. There’s a bird symbolising the sister she never knew, her older sibling’s twin who died at the age of three.

Her late beloved grandfather is similarly memorialised. There’s a tribute to her mother Patricia McCann’s work as a playwright. And the Dublin skyline portrays the home town she missed so much when she was at college in the United States.

And there’s another tattoo depicting the greatest of all her passions: football.

So, when she was told less than three months ago that she would, more than likely, have to sit out Shelbourne’s season, including the Champions League qualifying campaign the club are currently competing in, her shock over her health scare was matched only by her despair over having to hang her boots up for the time being.

Come Tuesday of this week, though, there she was in Belfast, captaining her team in their group opener against Polish side Medyk Konin.

“I lasted the 90 minutes too, so I was thrilled with that,” she says.

We need a rewind here.

“Well, they thought I had WPW,” she says of Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a disorder caused by a problem with the electrical system of the heart. “So I had to have a small procedure done. I was told I’d be on the waiting list for a year and they recommended that I didn’t train, so it was really hard to take.

“Luckily enough I got in quickly through another hospital with a really good cardiologist who wanted to help me. I had the procedure done, thankfully I don’t have WPW, so everything’s fine. Luckily I got back with the girls two weeks ago, we had a few tough sessions and I got through them alright.”

“The procedure went up through both my groins so I had to let that heal, but I was back to work a few days after. The players and the manager were great through the whole thing and there was relief for my family once I got the all clear. But having to stay out of football completely for weeks was hard.”

And, having captained Shelbourne to the league and cup double last season, there was nothing she looked forward to more than this season’s Champions League. She’d already played in the competition with Raheny United, before their merger with Shelbourne, reaching the knockout phase with them in 2014 - and that’s the target again.

Great occasion

The scoreless draw with Medyk Konin, the top seeds in the four-team qualifying group, was an encouraging start. Next up are Finnish side PK-35 Vantaa on Friday, followed by hosts Linfield on Monday.

“We were really happy with the draw, especially because all we were hearing beforehand was how much they’d beaten Wexford by two years ago (6-0). No one gave us a chance, and from what we heard they thought they’d just walk through it.

“We had amazing support, two bus-fulls came up, it was just a great occasion. The management was really proud of us, it was probably one of our best performances as a group. It’s given us loads of confidence going in to the next game.”

The 28-year-old from Rialto, who spent three years in college in Kansas and Georgia, where she studied Health and Fitness Management, works as a Camps Programme Assistant with the FAI, while also doing her coaching badges,

“So yeah, my life is just football,” she laughs. “It’s absolutely everything. And I’d still be playing even if I wasn’t winning trophies. My Mam said I was just football mad from a young age, I probably got it from my Dad and uncle, they were big into it.”

“Mam has been brilliant through our whole lives, she’s always pushed us to do what we wanted to do and I always wanted to work in football. Since I was six or seven she was out supporting me in hail, rain or snow. She’d never let me go alone, we wouldn’t have had a car years ago so she came on every trip with me on the bus. So every success we have is a thank you to her.”

“She’s an amazing woman. She’s written a good few plays now and she worked in the HIV unit in St James’s, so she wrote a play about that and one about suicide that’s been all around the country. I’m very proud of her.

“Although she wasn’t too happy when I said I was getting the tattoos, she tried to talk me out of it. But I told her I wasn’t going to get rubbish, they were going to mean something. And they do. The people I love and the good memories I have from my life.”

And football carries on providing a significant chunk of them.