Arthur Christory / Gavel Media

For College and Country: An Interview With Sonia Walk and Éabha O'Mahony

Every kid imagines representing their country at some point during their youth sports days—putting on the jersey, hearing their anthem, maybe scoring the game-winning goal if they’re particularly ambitious. 

Fewer kids will continue on to play college soccer, still wishing and working for a chance at a professional career. And an even smaller group of people will play collegiate soccer while also receiving call-ups to represent their home countries. But that’s the reality for sophomore Éabha O’Mahony and junior Sonia Walk on the BC women’s soccer team, who play for the Eagles and then the Republic of Ireland and the Canadian Youth National Team, respectively.

Walk, fresh off a stint with Canada at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, radiates a quiet intensity during her interview, reflecting on questions and choosing her answers after careful deliberation. She’s also curious, asking follow-up questions and making sure to clarify how a question is being answered. 

All of those skills help her on the field, where as a holding midfielder, Walk works to connect the backline with the attacking midfielders and the forwards, closing down attacking lanes and denying opponents the chance to build an attack. 

But this could have been a very different article—Walk played hockey as well as soccer growing up. Initially, Walk “was a hockey player. I played double AA hockey in Canada 'till I was 11, so that really was my sport.” Luckily for Canadian soccer, the Eagles, and BC soccer fans, Walk was having a lot of fun playing soccer, loved her coach, and so, when the time to decide came, she noted “hockey wasn’t giving as much to me as soccer was, and I thought soccer would take me further.”

Although soccer has taken Walk to places like Costa Rica, you can still see the hockey player in the holding midfielder, evident in the way she moves across the field and positions her body against an opponent. The fluidity Walk brings to her game is reminiscent of skating, and the movement is especially clear when the midfielder turns with the ball, hinting at all those years where the surface was ice instead of turf. And chances are that if a player bumps into Walk, they’ll be the one on the ground, with Walk having hardly moved. 

Walk is someone who clearly delineates and organizes her commitments, something she’s had to do as a Division I soccer player who is majoring in biology on the pre-med track. The junior jokes that the first semester only has “one speed, and it’s a fast speed.” The Eagles opened their season a week and a half before school began and regularly play two games a week, sometimes traveling from Wednesday to Sunday. The schedule hardly leaves a lot of time for anything but school and soccer. 

This makes it surprising, perhaps, that Walk does not see that much difference between playing for the Eagles or for Canada. The formations may change, and Walk acknowledges that tactics receive a higher focus in a national team setting, where one whole session might be focused on the press, but the role the junior plays remains stable across both teams. 

The job of a holding midfielder involves serving as a fulcrum and switching the field, as well as maintaining possession. Walk is also quick to point out the skills her fellow holding midfielders have, noting that she prefers short passes, but Sophia Lowenberg and Sydney Moore can play long, diagonal balls.  

Incredibly, the first time Walk received a call-up to the national team, she did not believe it was real, nor did her parents. The midfielder took the email to her coach to have it verified and only then let herself get excited about playing for the national team—an experience that Walk is grateful for each time she puts on the jersey. Hearing the anthem is always a special moment and for Walk the moment is more memorable by remembering “how big Canada is” and therefore how many people the junior is representing and the many cultures and places the team represents.

Choices are something the junior mentioned repeatedly throughout her interview, always with one eye on the future and the two different paths facing her. Just like how Walk decided between soccer and hockey, the junior is looking to the future and what happens after collegiate soccer. Canada does not have a U-23 team, which means that the next time Walk will wear the Canadian jersey would be in a call-up to the senior team, alongside the likes of Jessie Fleming, Kailen Sheridan, and Desiree Scott. For now, Walk is focused on the immediate future, including the rest of the season with her BC teammates.

One of those teammates also shares national team experience for the Republic of Ireland. O’Mahony does not hide her competitive nature sitting in a booth at Addie’s, but layers it with a sense of humor and a willingness to talk about things not related to soccer—home, books (she’s reading a lot of Colleen Hoover these days), coffee shops. She is also humble, quick to point out that she is only on the edge of the National Team, receiving call-ups to camps but not always making the starting roster. O’Mahony knows where she stands and what she can achieve, which makes her all the more driven in practices and games, determined to prove to herself what she is capable of.

Growing up, O’Mahony “had a really sporty family” that played Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) sports, so things like Gaelic football and hurling, but she played “everything.” Starting at six years old, the defender was playing soccer against boys and loving the moniker of “the girl to watch out for.” Switching over to the girl’s academy around the age of ten, O’Mahony leaned into the fun aspect of the sport, “becoming more energetic while playing it.” That excitement helped propel O’Mahony deeper into soccer, sustaining her through long practices and even long seasons, allowing her to find joy in the sport.

Eventually, that journey led O’Mahony to Boston College and the Republic of Ireland’s women’s national team, where she made her debut against the United States at the age of 17. The defender chose BC partly “because there was a straight flight home” but also the coaching staff and “their personalities. It was the people more than anything that I needed to make sure it was going to work out for me.” Since she was recruited during COVID, the sophomore did not see the campus before committing, which meant her connection to the coaches played a vital role in convincing her to play at BC. 

The sophomore sees her role on the national team as different from her role on the Eagles, although both complement each other. Putting on the jersey for the Irish national team is an “indescribable” feeling.

For the Eagles, O’Mahony focuses on leading on the field “in how I play.” The emphasis is on bonding with teammates, creating a level of trust between players, playing simple, and keeping players happy. 

Not that all of those things are not also important on a national team, but there, O’Mahony sees her role more as “doing anything that’s asked.” It is a privilege to play for the national team and O’Mahony uses her opportunities to learn from the professionals, especially when it comes to recovery and maintenance, since professional women’s soccer is a longer season, with players having games for both club and country the majority of the year.

None of this would be possible without the support of the Boston College coaching staff, and both O’Mahony and Walk point out the support head coach Jason Lowe has extended to both of them. For Walk, Lowe’s support has come from both allowing her to play for the Canadian Youth National Team, but also in allowing the junior to have a break in-between the national team and Boston College duty, something Walk appreciates immensely. Over the summer, Walk was training for the U-20 World Cup and taking classes, so the junior appreciated being able to have a week at home to reset both physically and mentally before flying to Boston to join the team for the collegiate soccer season.

Even O’Mahony, who self-describes as “genuinely obsessed” with soccer, recognizes that sometimes the hardest part of a college season is finding off-time. Despite being a “comparer” and someone who will practice a skill until perfecting it, O’Mahony stresses the importance of relaxing, whether that be by “taking time for yourself, seeing other people, or watching an episode.” A condensed college season, on top of academic and national team responsibilities, means that everything has to be taken “with a pinch of salt.”

Both O’Mahony and Walk have noticed changes at the international level involving women’s soccer and its rapid growth, which changes the atmosphere when one puts on the national team jersey. O’Mahony sees the changes in things like billboards featuring women’s soccer players, the standards set in the NWSL and the Super League, as well as the recent record-breaking attendance records being set for professional women’s soccer games.

Walk sees “systematic” changes in the women’s game, with more federations providing more support for their women’s teams and development. Beyond federations investing more, like in O’Mahony's, Walk points to the growth in women’s sports leagues around the world, but the junior also points out that the Canadian federation failed to invest significantly in the women’s U-20 cycle, providing only a four-day camp and gear that the players had to give back after the tournament. For Walk, things would be different if Canada had a professional league, something that has been talked about recently but is yet to become a reality, despite Canada being the reigning Olympic gold medalists.

Despite the plane rides, extra games, extra time management skills required, and the frustrations that come with playing a sport, what unites both Walk and O’Mahony is their passion for the game and the tangible joy speaking about it brings. It is an honor and a privilege to be named to a national team squad and wear the jersey of their country, but as both Eagles have pointed out, it is also a lot of fun.

Thank you to Sonia Walk and Éabha O’Mahony for your time, willingness to be interviewed, and clear passion for soccer!

Making mountains out of molehills and facts out of printers since the turn of the century

Comments