“It was just another Saturday for us. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.” Now, you would expect Mary Waldron to play it down. You’d also expect her to have gone, “whaaat’s the big deal?” on the day to her colleague Eloise Sheridan, which she confesses to have done by the way. We’re of course talking about Waldron’s history-making feat last Saturday (February 16) alongside Eloise, when they became the first female pair to officiate in a senior first-grade men’s match in Adelaide. And it’s not that the 34-year-old Irish woman is underplaying the significance of what she’d achieved at the Petaringa Oval in the north-eastern suburb of Tea Tree Gully. She’s not trying to be overtly modest about it either. She even admits that it’s a just reward for the effort put in by SACA on umpires in the state.
It’s just that she’s got too used to creating history of late, as amazing as it sounds. Two years ago, she’d become the first woman in 38 years to stand in a men’s grade match. Last year, as recently as August 2018, she’d become the first woman from her country to officiate in a List-A match, having already umpired an ICC men’s World T20 qualifier a year prior. And yet, it wouldn’t be too far from the truth to say that, Waldron’s been creating all this history as a hobby. For, umpiring is still very much her part-time vocation on the cricket field. Waldron is an active international cricketer, who last played in the World T20 in the Caribbean four months (in November 2018) ago. She has in fact been Ireland’s first-choice wicket-keeper for nearly eight years, and has even captained her country in two ODIs, and has no plans of hanging up her gloves anytime soon.
If you think doubling up as a cricketer at the highest level and a professional umpire isn’t remarkable enough, we’re still only scratching the surface with Waldron’s sporting conquests. Till as recently as six years ago, like Waldron tells Cricbuzz, “myself and cricket were very different,” and even that’s a gross understatement. Back then, she was after all a professional footballer, who’d not only played in the UEFA Women’s Champions League as a striker for Irish club UCD Waves but also represented Republic of Ireland across all age-groups, including at the senior level. She’s also for the record played hockey and basketball at a decent level. At the time she decided to make the official switch between sports or as she puts it, “the first time I chose cricket over soccer” around 2014, she was captaining her club Raheny United – who’d been champions two years running – in the national competition, and still scoring goals. At that point, she’d already played four years of international cricket and had seen Ireland qualify for the World T20 for the first time.
“Before that, if there was a clash, I would always play soccer. I was 28, and Ireland had qualified for the World T20 for the first time. It wasn’t necessarily a choice in a way. I had to stop playing soccer because I couldn’t commit to it. There was a lot of training (Raheny had qualified for the Champions League), and there was six days of training with cricket. I wanted to put all my energy into it,” says Waldron. It was only seven years prior to making that big call, fascinatingly, that she’d even played cricket for the first time.
While she’d been playing football at a serious level from the age of 11 before being picked up to represent Ireland at the junior level by 13, cricket if anything didn’t exist for Waldron or in household for that matter. She grew up with five other siblings and does recall having caught a glimpse of cricket once on the television.
“I remember very vividly watching a Test match with my dad on Channel 4, a British channel that we got at home. And I was like “what is this?” but it didn’t last for too long. We watched it only for a split second,” she says chuckling. It was Waldron’s college friend, hailing from South Africa, who provided a formal introduction to cricket. She was 21 then, and already appeared for Republic of Ireland in an senior international friendly. Cricket though remained a social exercise that she played to relax for the following few years. “I never thought about anything apart from soccer back then, and had Man Utd posters around my room. I even went to the USA on a year’s scholarship to play soccer,” she adds.
Then one day when Waldron was around 26, the wicket-keeper at Pembroke Cricket Club – who she used to play for “as a fielder” mainly – had to move away to pursue her primary job as an archaeologist. The captain turned to her as a replacement, on a whim, without perhaps realising the cosmic changes she was setting off in Waldron’s world of sport.
“I maybe kept for roughly half a season, and the following pre-season, one of the Irish coaches was at a game, saw me keep and then called me over for training. That was maybe in May 2010, and in July I made my debut against New Zealand. It was all pretty quick,” she says. So quick perhaps that it never quite sunk in back then that she was actually an international cricketer, and therefore a dual sportswoman.
“When I first started playing cricket for Ireland, few knew what cricket was. It was bizarre. Now, it’s completely different, everyone knows what cricket is and it’s a growing sport. My first cap is just on a shelf in my room, like it wasn’t a big deal at all to my family. They do support me now but then it was not there. With soccer, the anthem gets played before every match but there was no anthem before cricket, and that was an unusual experience,” she recalls.
Her parents though “shocked” and “confused” in a “what’s happening here?” kind of way, came around quickly enough to the massive change Waldron was about to make in terms of choosing her first-choice sport. They’ve even started following the Irish women’s team across the world, having already visited Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, India and the West Indies. Asked whether traveling to some of the more exotic parts of the world made their decision easier, Waldron laughs while admitting, “I’m not sure Bangladesh was on their bucket-list ever if not for the cricket. They have ticked it off now.”
Waldron’s move to Australia came on the back of an invitation from former Australian wicketkeeper Julia Price to play in the Tasmanian League. She’s ever since been spending her Australian summers Down Under and traveling back home to Dublin for the summer there. After a season playing in Hobart, Waldron shifted base to Adelaide to ensure she gets to play more 50-over matches as Ireland prepared for the qualifiers for the 2017 Women’s World Cup. Her umpiring pursuit began with a casual fling as a Level 1 official before she developed a passion for it while being in-charge of an under-15 boys’ team in Malahide.
Her rise through the umpiring ranks was as rapid as with her cricket, and before long she was officiating in grade and club matches across both hemispheres. She, however, struggles to put into words the difference in mind-set between walking on to the field in the garb of a cricketer as compared to an umpire. But while she does have “a little more empathy” towards umpires while playing these days, she also doesn’t let them get away when she’s at the receiving end of a bad decision.
“It is annoying, certainly when you’re playing in the World Cup and it happens, I actually think it helps, to know even those at the top-level get it wrong sometimes. So in a weird way it’s a good thing,” she quips.
Cricket has not only taken over her life like soccer did once, but it’s also left her with little time to even watch much of her erstwhile main sport. The Adelaide Crows fan does try to catch the Adelaide United soccer club play in the A-League whenever she can on a Friday night and has developed an interest in the women’s AFL, which is only in its third year now. She doesn’t seem too keen on testing herself in the very physical sport of footy yet – despite her penchant to try out new sports – and also tries to avoid getting too involved with the Ireland cricket team’s pre-match soccer warm-ups. “It’s very hard not to get involved a 100 per cent. So I try and take it easy, especially with spikes on,” she says.
In all this, she also has a full-time 9-to-5 job back home, and one that she insists on enjoying the most. For a woman who’s been obsessed with being active on the sports field all her life, Waldron actually reveals to have chosen being inside an office. “I normally work in office administration. I honestly could get work in coaching, but I choose to work in an office,” she says.
Waldron’s next focus – as a cricketer – is helping her country qualify for next year’s Women’s Twenty-20 World Cup in Australia, and maybe then take a call on her playing career. As far as her umpiring goes, she’s got her sights set on the long haul, and acknowledges that, “I guess there are probably a few more things for me to be the first to do,” even if you know she’ll go “whaat’s the big deal” after achieving each one of them.
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