Megan Campbell, who currently plays her football at Manchester City, has extensive experience training abroad. From playing for Florida State University (FSU) in the United States, to signing for one of the biggest clubs in the world, Campbell has embraced different training styles around the world.
She started playing football when she was eight years old after her dad introduced her to the sport. Campbell had always known she wanted to take her training abroad eventually, but it took time for her to take the risk. After completing her Leaving Cert at Our Lady’s College, Greenhill in 2012, Mick D’Arcy, a family friend and head coach of Central Connecticut State University’s women’s soccer team, asked her to consider attending in the fall. She felt she was too young to move away from Ireland at that time and denied the offer.
Instead, Campbell decided to attend college in Ireland until she felt ready. Soon after, she was contacted by Mark Krikorian, head coach of Florida State’s women’s soccer team. D’Arcy was informed of the team’s need for a left or center back for the 2013-2014 season and passed along Campbell’s information. She decided to accept the position and attend school in America.
When Campbell first arrived at FSU, she couldn’t believe how big the campus was.
“It was the size of my hometown (Drogheda),” she said. “It holds 40,000 people.”
She explained how massive everything was in America, which came as a shock in comparison to Ireland. Shopping centers, airports and houses were ten times the size of their equivalents in Ireland.
Campbell chose to major in social sciences at FSU, as she had previously studied sports and exercise in Ireland. Many of those credits transferred to the university, which allowed for an easy transition. She believed her major gave her a wider approach to some of her interests, including sports and exercise, psychology and sociology.
While in America, Campbell had ambitions of improving as a defender, understanding the position and getting more competitive game time. She also wanted to learn how to play different positions to become a more versatile athlete. The team allowed her to improve in her sport and experience different cultures. She felt being away from home was difficult, but the team was culturally diverse which was exciting to her.
During her three years on the team, Campbell had 60 appearances with 31 assists, tying for second place in FSU history. Twelve of her assists came from the NCAA championships, which set a record for postseason assists. She was named to the ACC All-Tournament Team in 2014 and helped the team win three consecutive ACC titles.
Campbell associates her success after college with her experiences in America. She believed that the opportunity to play for a team abroad was the first step to becoming a professional athlete as she was learning how to be away from home while training at an elite level. Playing under a new manager and learning how to adapt to a different training environment helped her better transition to a professional role.
“Going to Florida State nailed it for me. I knew from that point that I loved the professionalism and togetherness,” Campbell said.
For Irish athletes considering studying abroad, she advised them to never turn down an opportunity to experience it. Campbell is honoured that the Irish culture is carrying on at FSU as there has been a number of Irish athletes join the team since she has attended.
After graduating from Florida State University in 2015, Campbell returned to Ireland to figure out the next steps in her athletic career. She knew she did not want to continue training in Ireland but kept her head down and continued training while looking for other opportunities.
In January 2016, she unexpectedly received an email from Nick Cushing, who was the manager at the time for the Manchester City Football Club. He asked her to join the team for a trial week after Marta Bakowska-Mathews, a former FSU teammate, gave her a glowing review. She told them to look at Campbell’s footage on YouTube, which sparked their interest.
“If it wasn’t for Marta, and YouTube, and Florida State putting my clips together, I wouldn’t be at Manchester City,” Campbell said.
Moving to the UK was not a hard decision, as it is only a short 40-minute flight from Ireland.
“If you have a club like Manchester City get in contact with you, you would be silly to turn it down being my first professional team,” she said.
Campbell had always been watching women’s football on TV, hoping one day she would be on that field. She idolized the Manchester City players such as Lucy Bronze, Jill Scott and Karen Bardsley, never realizing she would one day play alongside them. Just last year, Lucy Bronze became the first English footballer to win the UEFA Women’s Player of the Year Award.
“I will never forget the first time I walked into the canteen to sit down and have breakfast with them (the team) before the session. They were all at the table and I was like, this is the strangest most amazing thing ever. I looked up to these people and now I am at the same table with them about to train and play.”
Ever since that moment, she never took her sport for granted. She utilized the coaching and training Manchester City provided to improve even more as an athlete. In 2016, Campbell became the team’s fourth signing of the off-season.
During her four years at City, she has endured several injuries which has made settling into the first team difficult – yet Campbell remains one of City’s most impressive defenders when fit. She tore her ACL in 2017, taking her out of the majority of the season. She said that it was hard to stay in the UK with an injury, as she was unable to travel to receive family support and needed to stay for rehabilitation. The team provided her with an immense amount of support during recovery.
Campbell was able to get back on the field with three months remaining in the season and just in time for the FA cup in May. She did not expect to have much involvement, but ended up starting in the game and finishing with two assists. The team won the FA cup for the first time ever in their history that year.
“My family was there, and the crowd had the Irish flag flying. It was just an incredible day,” she said.
As of January 2020, Campbell has faced a new injury and underwent tendon surgery early this year. She is in the process of recovering while in quarantine and looks forward to the season ahead. She has just signed for another year with the team, extending her position until summer 2021.
“They haven’t fully seen what I am capable of as a player. I want to get back to what I am best at,” she said.
The Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team is on course to qualify for the European Championships for the first time ever this year. Campbell hopes to have the opportunity to play for the team post-injury and is ready to take on the challenge.
“If you watch any sport where someone is representing Ireland, the country gets behind you,” she said. “You are not just doing it for yourself, your family and your friends, you are doing it for your country.”