London City Lionesses midfielder/ defender Hayley Nolan always wanted to play football but told David Hennessy she didn’t see a future in it until she was offered a college scholarship to play soccer in the USA.
“My dad was a coach to a local team. He put me on the bench because I was five or six playing with boys but I just kept tugging his shirt, asking to go on,” 25-year-old London City Lionesses midfielder Hayley Nolan remembers first being drawn to the sport of football.
“He was afraid I was going to get hurt.
“That’s one of my first memories.
“I’m very grateful that he did bring me along to get involved with football because this is where my life is now, and I absolutely love it.”
After joining local boys club Kill Celtic at the age of six, Hayley played with the boys’ teams until under-12 level before signing for her first women’s team, Peamount United.
She would also play underage for Ireland and was part of the Irish team that reached the semi-finals at the 2014 UEFA Women’s Under-19 Championship.
Hayley also grew up playing Gaelic football, even playing county for Kildare at minor level.
“I played it alongside the football continuously.
“I think when I was 18 I actually leaned towards Gaelic a little bit more.
“I was on the minor Kildare team.
“So when it came around to getting the offer from the States, that was a hard decision for me because I really enjoyed playing Gaelic football.
“I think if I didn’t go down the soccer route, I would still be playing.
“When I go home, I kick around with Kill.”
Hayley comes from a very sporting family as her sister Katie was captain of Ireland’s volleyball team and her other sister Sarah has played camogie for Kildare.
But while Hayley played for Ireland at every underage level, she did not see a career in the female game until late on.
“It was a little bit hard to see.
“I think one of the best moments for me- I think I was 18- was when I got called into the senior Irish team for a training camp and Emma Byrne was there who I’d been looking up to since I was quite young.
“I think those moments just stick with you: That you can actually play alongside your idols.
“I think I realized when I was 18, 19 that I could actually probably do it as a career.”
It was then that Nolan was recruited by the University of Hartford and accepted a four-year scholarship to play college football in America while she would also study economics and finance.
“It gave me a huge opportunity.”
After four years with Hartford Hawks, Nolan was one of the first six players signed to Connecticut Fusion in 2018 ahead of their inaugural season in the second-tier UWS.
Hayley joined London City Lionesses from Fusion in 2020, signed by the Lionesses’ Irish former manager Lisa Fallon.
Around that time Nolan would also take part in the BT Sport series Ultimate Goal where she was coached by England greats like Fara Williams and Eniola Aluko.
Although Lisa would depart soon after signing Hayley, Melissa Philips would take charge with very little disruption.
“I’m extremely grateful to Lisa Fallon for bringing me in.
“But then when Melissa Phillips took over, nothing really dropped.
“I think the standards remained the same, motivation stayed the same.
“Mel built a great culture that we have here and whatever happens, the biggest thing I’ll take away from London City is the culture and the environment in which I’m playing in.
“I can’t think of anywhere else where I’ve been where I’ve been feeling at home, or where people care.
“They care about you as a professional, but they care about you as a person as well.
“I think that’s why we do so well, because everyone feels like it’s a family.
“We also want to be pushing for the same goal, which is to get promoted, and to do well this season.
“So I can only speak highly of the staff that are at London City.
“So hopefully after all the hard work for the last two and a half years, we can kind of push over the line.
“Obviously London City was established only a couple of years ago in 2019.
“So for us, it’s about getting the club into the WSL.
“It’d be a great story for the club itself to be able to play in the first division within its first four or five years of being founded.”
Hayley made her Republic of Ireland debut in April last year in a friendly with Belgium but injuries have prevented her from adding to her debut cap so far.
“I think when you make your debut for your country which you’ve been dreaming about since you were a young girl, I think it’s probably one of the best moments of your career.
“And it was so for me when I made my debut.
“And unfortunately after that I got an injury and I was out for about six months or so.
“I don’t want to just be in and out of the squads.
“The main goal for me is to become a consistent player within the team and to kind of help us get qualified for big events: Euros, World Cups, which is where the team is going. I think we’re doing so well right now within the World Cup qualification.”
It’s unfortunate that Republic of Ireland didn’t make it to the recent European Championships.
Hayley was there to see England win the tournament and believes that showpiece event will only help to grow the game.
“I went to the Euro final. I had to go.
“It was great for all the little girls who are watching thinking, ‘Can I actually do this for the future?’
“I think it was a huge moment for women’s football.
“I think it’s only going to grow the game.
“I’ve seen online that sales for WSL, for championship clubs have really risen so much, so hopefully that continues and we can get so many more girls involved.”
Republic of Ireland have never qualified for a major tournament in women’s football but have knocking ever louder in recent years.
Hayley believes it’s only a matter of time.
“We can definitely compete.
“I think with the girls that we have in the squad and the younger players coming through, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will be qualifying for events sooner rather than later.”
Vera Pauw’s Republic of Ireland team are in World Cup qualification action when they take on Finland and Slovakia in September when they will be looking to secure a play- off spot with their final two games. Hayley has been named in the squad for these two games.
“I can only speak highly of Vera.
“I think she’s done a tremendous job since she’s come in.
“And you can see that in this qualification.
“We’ve set up ourselves to be in a great position, playing Finland in September to get qualified.
“She’s done a great job.
“I think you can even see that in the rankings.
“We’ve moved up, the highest we’ve been ever so she’s really creating a great culture within the team and a culture where we think that we can go out there and beat anybody regardless of who we’re playing.
“We know what we bring, we know what our strengths are and we play to that.
“And we think that we can definitely compete with any team.”
And Hayley and her club team mates are just as confident going into the next campaign.
Last season London City Lionesses finished second only to Liverpool to miss out on promotion.
This season they are determined to go one better.
“Obviously, we have to take each game as it comes.
“It’s about making Princes Park a fortress and to make it very difficult for people to come and take any points from us at home.
“But I think I know how I feel, I know how some of the other girls feel about last year and we’re definitely very determined and motivated to put things right this year.
“I think a lot of us were very excited to get back to pre-season off of the back of last year, just because I think we all felt like we missed out on the opportunity to get promoted.
“I think we’re going to be in an even stronger position this year than we were last.”
“Next year, we’ll playing in the WSL.”