Tyler Toland: Sacrifices, dreaming big and birthday presents

By Andy GrayBBC Sport NI
Tyler Toland
Tyler Toland made her first Manchester City start in a 5-0 win over Leicester City in the FA WSL Cup

Last year, Tyler Toland was joining in with the boys just so she could play football.

Twelve months on, she is stepping out with Manchester City in what has been a remarkable year for the 18-year-old.

Toland is probably best known for being the youngest player to represent the Republic of Ireland, making her debut a month after turning 16 against Northern Ireland in World Cup qualifying in 2017.

The midfielder impressed for Sion Swifts in the Women's Premiership in Northern Ireland, which led City to come calling in August.

Before she knew it, the Donegal native was realising a dream by playing full-time football with one of the biggest clubs in England.

"Sometimes I do wake up and it's like 'Jeepers, I'm living in Manchester,'" admitted Toland.

"It's definitely different and a lot of sacrifices come with it, but it is definitely worth it."

Tyler Toland
Toland says it was a dream to hold up a Man City shirt with her name on it

Toland spent three seasons in Strabane with Sion Swifts and admits while she always hoped that she could play professionally, she thought it would only be a dream.

"It was an incredible feeling, especially to sign on my birthday," added the midfielder, "I definitely have had worse birthday presents.

"Moving to Man City has been amazing, they are one of the best clubs in the world.

"Training every day has been very intense but the girls have been very good to me both on and off the pitch.

"If anyone had asked me what I wanted to do when I was in school, I always said I wanted to be a professional footballer.

"When I signed I said a dream had become a reality, and to hold up a City shirt with my name on the back of it was just incredible."

Home away from home

The Academy Stadium, which stands in the shadow of the Etihad in Manchester, is a far cry away from the quiet village of St Johnston in Donegal.

"I'm a bit of a home bird but that's a sacrifice that I have to make," reflected Toland.

"I do get home a good bit to be fair, every time we have an international and that's nearly every other month.

"If we've two days off at all then I'm on the plane home and my mum always picks me up."

Jill Scott, Georgia Stanway, Demi Stokes, Keira Walsh, Lauren Hemp, Aoife Manion and Tyler Toland
Jill Scott, Georgia Stanway, Demi Stokes, Keira Walsh, Lauren Hemp, Aoife Manion and Tyler Toland

With international stars littering City's team - including England's Steph Houghton, Jill Scott and Georgia Stanaway - Toland could be forgiven for feeling nervous ahead of her big move.

However, Toland credits her Republic of Ireland team-mate Megan Campbell for helping her settle in.

"I was always chatting to Megan and saying that I would love to get a move to England," added Toland.

"We were discussing it at the last couple of camps with Ireland and the opportunity to move just came about.

"They asked me to come over and look at things. I loved it and then I signed a contract.

Megan Campbell and Tyler Toland
Snap shot: Toland says her Republic of Ireland team-mate Megan Campbell has helped her settle into life in Manchester

"Living with Megan has been really good too, the toughest thing for me has been moving away from home.

"I think you are always a bit nervous going into a new club, especially one the size of Man City.

"At the start I was very nervous meeting everybody, but every single one of them have been brilliant and so welcoming.

"Everyone is down to earth and they've helped me the whole way."

Playing with the boys helped me out

Toland cut her teeth with Sion Swifts in the Irish Premiership, but the midfielder credits playing against boys in the off season to help her step up to the Women's Super League.

"I've played with boys the whole way up, from under-10s right through to under-17s last year.

"I played with them during the winter and then for the last three seasons with Sion Swifts during the summer in the Women's Premiership, so I was playing a lot of football.

Toland scored her first international goal against Montenegro in September, capping off a month to remember for the 18-year-old.

"I think playing the boys helped me tremendously, they were much bigger and they grew quicker than the girls which helped me physically.

"The boys definitely kept me on my toes an I really enjoyed my time playing with both the boys and the girls.

"The principal in my school, Joe Boyle, coaches with Finn Harps and was brilliant anytime I was missing a week of school.

"I trained with him up at Harps under-19s during the summer for a couple of weeks just to keep myself topped up."

My dream is a reality

Despite being a young player making the grade in England, which is quite an achievement in itself, a rather humble Toland says she doesn't see herself a role model.

"I don't really know to be honest," she added when asked if she saw herself as an example for young players who share her dream.

"I do everything as well as I can, and if it gets to the point where other respect me and I become a role model then that's brilliant.

"Right from when I can remember, all I wanted to do was to play football.

"It was always my dream to become a professional footballer, and thankfully it's become a reality, but the hard work only starts now."

Tyler Toland
Inspiring the next generation: Toland visited her former club Sion Swifts as they challeneged for the Irish Premiership title in September

Toland has made two starts for City, in the FA WSL Cup against Leicester City and in City's Champions League win over Lugano.

City sit second in the Women's Super League with four wins from five games, and Toland is happy to bide her time for a regular starting berth.

"I'm really lucky that is what I'm doing at the minute," she added.

"When I signed the contract I just decided I was going to work as hard as I can, both off and on the training field.

"When the game time comes it comes, but my main priority is to help the girls win as many trophies as I can this season."

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