With August being a big month for women in sport in Northern Ireland, hosting the UEFA Women’s U19 Championship and the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017, Scroll chats to Ulster University graduate, footballer and coach Danielle McDowell.
A massive advocate for women in sport in Northern Ireland, Danielle has been involved in women’s football for many years in various capacities. She has represented Northern Ireland 43 times for the women’s football team, currently plays for Crusaders Strikers, coaches football part time, as well as working for the Female Sports Forum as Project Manager.
Tell us a bit about your sporting background. What led you to become interested in sport?
My sport is football. I have played since I was around 4 years old in the street with my older brothers. As far back as I can remember, I always had a ball at my feet and I played in the street every day after school. It’s strange as my parents were never really into football. I think it was just in me and the fact that I was good at it made it even more enjoyable.
I played for the boy’s team in my primary school (Whitehouse) then went on to captain the boys’ team at Newtownabbey Community High School from 1st to 4th year before the boys got too physically strong for me to compete against in 5th year. I played club football again for a boys’ team, Carnmoney Colts, before joining my local women’s club Rathcoole Ladies at 12 years old. I played there until I was 16 years old before moving to a Premier League club, Newtownabbey Strikers, who later became Crusaders Strikers after an affiliation with Crusaders FC. At 31 I am still playing for Crusaders Strikers in The Danske Premier League.
I have also been very fortunate to represent Northern Ireland at U15, U17 & U19 and have been capped 43 times for the Senior National Team, having travelled all over the world to compete in many tournaments including European and World Cup qualifying campaigns. I also spent some time playing in America on a Soccer Scholarship at Lee University in Tennessee in 2005/2006 and a short stint with Semi Pro club Mississippi Fuego in the Women’s Premier Soccer League in 2014.
Why did you choose to do BSc in Sports Coaching and why Ulster University?
My main interest was always in coaching. I realised in my late teens I wasn’t going to make any real money playing football and that maybe I was born just a decade or two, too early to reap the benefits of the growth in the women’s game. I decided I wanted to try and make an impact as a coach and hopefully make a living out of that. Unfortunately, in my early twenties there wasn’t many full time coaching roles in girl’s and women’s football here in Northern Ireland and that I would need more than my coaching badges as qualifications. I felt that the best option for me was to try and combine Sports Coaching and Sports Development and this seemed to be the best course for me to do that, so at 25 years old I went back to study part time.
What advice would you give someone considering this course?
If you have an interest in both coaching and sports development, this is a fantastic course and it offers a good mix of both topics.
Where has your interest for sport led you career wise?
I am currently the project manager of the Female Sports Forum. I am also the Head Coach of the Girls’ Antrim Excellence Programme. This role includes developing the best players in County Antrim from 10-15 years old, preparing players to make the step into youth international football. I have also been the Assistant Coach for the Northern Ireland U15 girls for the past 3 years. When I can find the time I also coach at the Youth Academy at my club, Crusaders Strikers. I have been involved in the academy for over 10 years and gained most of my coaching experience here while building the youth academy from 6/7 girls to close to 100 players at present. I have taken up less of a coaching role now and act as more of a coordinator for the Academy.
August is a big month for women in sport in NI. Will you have any involvement and what will it entail?
August is a huge month for Women’s Sport here in Northern Ireland as we host the UEFA Women’s U19 Championship Finals and the Women’s Rugby World Cup. I’ll be there as a supporter cheering on both teams!