This August, Liam Gilligan will join Creighton University’s soccer team, a Division 1 program, and growing collegiate soccer powerhouse. There, Liam will have the opportunity to face off against some of the best college soccer players in the country. But the path to a Division 1 soccer scholarship didn’t just happen. It was the result of years of hard work, training, and ultimately a deep passion and love for the sport that goes back years. Liam’s first memories of soccer are hazy, but he does remember there were passing drills.
“I think what sticks out is practice in elementary school, passing the ball around with my friends, and really enjoying that,” he said.
Eventually, that enjoyment grew into something more.
“It was around middle school that I started taking it more seriously, looking for more competitive leagues and teams. I realized that I wanted to keep playing soccer, and keep getting better at it.”
So he did. And because he did, people started to notice, including the International Development Academy (IDA).
“They contacted my mom toward the beginning of summer [of 2020], and really just laid out everything their programs could offer,” Gilligan said. “They knew how important getting a soccer scholarship was to me and my family, and we talked about all the ways they could help make that happen. It was the biggest decision of my life, and my family was really supportive.”
Liam and his family ultimately decided he would join the IDA’s UK Academy in Reading, England, located roughly 40 miles outside of London. “Because I was enrolled in an online learning program for school, I had the flexibility and opportunity to really embrace this chance.”
And that’s exactly what he did. From August to December, in sometimes-beautiful, often-rainy Reading, England, Liam trained, practiced and competed alongside some of the best youth soccer players in the world. Located 40 miles outside of London, Reading is home to a rich culture of soccer fandom, a surprisingly diverse restaurant scene, and unfortunately for Liam, English weather.
“I’m from California, so it was definitely colder than where I’m from,” he said, laughing. “But the program as a whole was really different from anything I had ever experienced in my life. The weather, the cuisine, all of it. I had a lot of Indian food, which was pretty awesome. I had that weekly.”
As a soccer program, Liam says it was everything he could have asked for and more.
“They really made sure to maximize our time there,” he said. “It was a really full schedule, and we trained with some U23s (professional/semi-professional soccer club development programs) from [local club] Hartley Wintney. Their first-team is semi-professional, and they get to compete in some major tournaments, so that was an incredible experience to work with and face off against those guys.”
What’s more, Liam and his teammates were given the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play in London at a legendary local stadium, Hayes Lane, against hometown favorites Bromley FC. Liam explained that within the community, the stadium is revered for its history of having hosted a number of international friendlies, and its affiliation with Bromley FC, a club with deep community ties dating back more than 140 years.
“The stadium was huge,” he said. “The stands could hold thousands of people. The field was perfect. For a lot of the guys, including me, it was the biggest stadium we’d ever played in. Having that experience to face off against a team like Bromley was unforgettable.”
Through all of this, his coaches and trainers at IDA were there every step of the way, making sure all his games were recorded, finding the right clips to add to his reel for scouts, and most importantly, providing essential technical and strategic insight and guidance.
“They understood what my goal [getting a Division 1 scholarship] was,” he explained. “Their commitment to pushing us, to getting us to play at our highest level. It’s because they know what it takes to get a scholarship and reach that goal. They were really involved in the whole process, both on and off the field,” he said. “I really couldn’t have done it without them.”
And even though he’s reached his goal of a Division 1 soccer scholarship, he’s not done yet.
“My ultimate goal is to play professionally, and to represent the Republic of Ireland,” he says, not hesitating even for a moment. “My parents were born there, so it’d mean a lot to me to have the opportunity to represent them and millions of others.”
Something tells us that if he keeps working at it, anything could happen.
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