Kevin Moran stands alone as the only footballer hailing from the grassy grounds of Belfield to have ever snagged themselves a seat on a World Cup-bound plane or to even feature for their nation on more than five occasions. Well, that was at least the case until a certain Chloe Mustaki came along.

When she isn’t busy facing world-class attacking threats within the most elite league in women’s football or dealing with ignorant Sky Sports presenters on the topic of Irish history… Chloe Mustaki has been sitting down with the College Tribune to chat about her turbulent, but rewarding journey to the pinnacle of the women’s game.

It was history, it really was. July and August saw Irish televisions branded with the green and white of the women’s national team’s jerseys as they competed at their first-ever major tournament. 

In terms of participation, football is Ireland’s number one. One-half of the sport has been neglected for the best part of fifty years by the very sporting bodies in which it relies. The Irish women’s game has itself to applaud for its progression, influence, and recent success. 

Chloe Mustaki speaks, firsthand, about the experience of representing Ireland at the Women’s World Cup.

“It was amazing. It’s an experience I will never forget and I will always cherish. The most amazing thing about that trip was to be able to witness the hype around women’s football, I’ve never seen that before.”

What struck many while watching the action from home, was the level of support down in Australia for our girls in green. Reminiscent of the fan-fare during the 2012 and 2016 Men’s European Championships, waves of tri-coloured fans flooded the streets down under. 

“Seeing everything in men’s football being almost matched in the women’s game was amazing. Just walking around the streets in Brisbane, or in Sydney, or Perth, and having people recognize you or wishing you luck in the games, it was an atmosphere that I have never experienced before.” 

What every footballer craves above all else is, of course, game time. Minutes on the pitch. In spite of making the 23-strong World Cup squad, Mustaki did not get the chance to see the field in Australia.

“I was disappointed not to get any game time, but at the end of the day, I was just delighted that I had made the squad. I had struggled for a number of months leading into that World Cup. I was out injured and I was just excited that I had proved myself enough to make the squad, and to be able to experience something that I may never get to experience again.”

Before all of that though, Mustaki studied her way through two courses during her time as a UCD student, the former Waves player earned both a Commerce International undergraduate degree, and a Master’s in International Management while perfecting her footballing craft.

“UCD is really accommodating with full-time athletes, the university’s quite renowned for that. I have really fond memories of my time in UCD.”

After signing with the college’s Women’s National League side, UCD Waves, the then 19-year-old was dealt some news that no teenager should ever have to receive. Chloe was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. 

Following six months of intense chemotherapy treatment, Mustaki was declared to be cancer-free. Opening up on the impact that her diagnosis and recovery has had, Mustaki shares how that period in her life has provided motivation in days of doubt.

“It does remain in the back of my mind, when I’m going through tough times in my career, I try to remember what I’ve been through and where I’ve come from. The obstacles I’ve had to overcome to get to where I am today.”

Even the strongest of people have their moments of vulnerability and uncertainty.

“There have been moments where I’ve thought about giving up, but I’ve always felt like I’ll know when the time is right for me to step away from football, but it’s definitely pushed me to the edge sometimes. I’m fortunate in a way that I’ve been through some difficult times, it has allowed me to remind myself of what’s really important in life.”

Mustaki has an unfortunately complicated past with injuries, most notably tearing her ACL while training with Ireland back in 2020, keeping her out of action for 18 months. 

In the face of illnesses and major injuries, Mustaki has managed to find herself at the very highest level of women’s club football, the Women’s Super League. Currently wearing the badge of Bristol City, the 28 year-old defender speaks on her transition to England’s premier division.

“To have gone from amateur football to the WSL in a year and a half, it’s pretty incredible. Week-in, week-out, you’re coming up against international players , so it feels like an international game every single week. I’m just trying to embrace it!”

Sam Kerr, Beth Mead, Mary Earps, so on and so forth. The WSL is loaded with goosebump-inducing talent, however, Mustaki maintains that her personal challenges off the pitch make it difficult for her to idolize fellow athletes. 

“I don’t really have any idols in the game. Having been through some challenging times in my life, to know what resilience is, I feel like I can only idolize individuals who take similar things in their stride. For me it’s not about the ‘pitch’, it’s about a well-rounded person.”

Resilience is a great word, one I’ll borrow from Chloe. For a woman to forge a path in a sport with a gender-based discrepancy, to battle through a career-ending injury and excel upon her return, to embody the true meaning of survival, to succeed against all odds, that requires resilience. Resilience that could be matched by very few sportspeople, resilience that can only be embodied by those with a distinctly admirable mindset.

I would call it, resilience in its truest form.

Dara Smith-Naughton – Sports Editor