By Dylan Manfre
While most Rider students were preparing to take final exams, freshman back Niamh Cashin was flying over 3,000 miles to play for the England U19 National Team.
Cashin played three games against Turkey, Sweden and Italy in the Union of European Football Association (UEFA) U19 Championship from April 3 through April 9. She also missed time in October playing in the group stage of the same tournament in Croatia. She played in all three games and earned her first international start.
“This semester, I missed four weeks of classes due to tournaments and going back home. It’s a lot and it’s very stressful but it’s worth it,” said Cashin. “Thankfully professors understand and are willing to help.”
Kicking the ball around has been in Cashin’s blood since she was born. She started playing when she was 5-years-old.
Ironically, Cashin’s first experience on the pitch didn’t come against other women’s soccer players. Her father set up a team where she was the only girl on the roster.
“This was all mixed football. It improved my game so much more because playing against boys, it meant I had to work with that and try and keep up,” Cashin said. “I think that put me in a good position moving to women’s soccer so when I went [there] I was fast enough to compete at a high level.”
When Cashin made her transition to women’s soccer, she was a member of the Notts County Football Club, a Division One team in England. It was there that Cashin, who was only 17-years-old at the time, realized her dream of sharing the pitch with one of her biggest soccer idols, Laura Bassett.
Now retired, Bassett was a two-year member of Notts County, and according to Cashin, was the captain of the squad.
“She did everything right, not just on the field but off the field, like preparation,” Cashin said. “Being able to play and train with her was massive. She set standards high and she enforced them. If you did well, she’d let you know but if you did poor, she’d let you know it. She was a good leader and commanded the back line well which I see is something I need to work on. She won headers and tackles which is everything I see in myself.”
Cashin’s leadership skills haven’t gone unnoticed by Head Coach Drayson Hounsome. According to him, it’s what makes her stand out among the other players in addition to her extensive experience at the professional level.
“That goes down to her personality where she’s able to socialize and being in the position she’s in, she has to demonstrate a level of leadership and we’re seeing that [at Rider,]” said Hounsome.
Cashin was plagued with a host of injuries throughout her freshman season which limited the All-MAAC Rookie selection to eight games.
She suffered a concussion in a preseason game and hurt her quad which required her to miss time on the field. Hounsome admires her will to compete and is happy she’s able to get experience playing for her native country.
“The benefit of being involved [with England] is that she’s having these competitive games while the rest of the team is not,” Hounsome said. “In her squad of 20, there were 17 players from professional clubs. She’s going into an environment where the speed of play is elevated so that’s only beneficial to us.”
Most recently, she came back from a stint with England’s U19 National Team where she’s accumulated 186 minutes of action in four games.
The Lionesses advanced to July’s finals tournament by defeating Italy 2-0 in the Elite Round on April 9. England begins the Group B tournament on July 17 against Germany.
Playing for her country has always been a dream for the Nottingham, England, native. However, she was concerned that, because she played soccer with boys for so long that no women’s scout would watch her play because she was the only girl on a boy’s team.
That all changed when she got her first call-up to be on England’s U15 team and she began to believe her dream could one day become her reality.
“I had never played for a girl’s team so I was thinking ‘How could I represent my country in the female squad,’” Cashin said. “I got my first call-up when I was on the boy’s team, which was a shock because you don’t expect a women’s scout to be at the boy’s games. That was probably the first time I thought I could [one day] play for my country because you never know who is watching your games. The goal is to keep playing as long as possible and hopefully progress through the England youth teams.”
While she didn’t know who was watching her games, she also wasn’t aware that one former opponent would join Cashin at Rider. That was freshman forward Ellie May. The duo first joined forces when when they were on England’s U18 team. Ironically enough, the two only live about 45 minutes from each other.
Having a close friend like Ellie who, according to Cashin, is a little piece of home for her, made the transition to Rider that much smoother. Another huge help to Cashin’s journey were her accommodating teachers who sent her assignments while she was overseas and traveling for games.
Whether she’s working out on the pitch, in the weight room or doing assignments related to her health science major, Cashin goes through life giving everything she does a purpose.
Her determination is an attribute she most admires about herself.
“All the extra stuff you do away from training with the team puts it into perspective and gives purpose to what you’re doing,” Cashin said. “If I know something needs to be done, I’m going to have to do it. Everything I do I feel has to have a purpose of improving myself.”