Playing at a cricket World Cup in the Caribbean one month, umpiring Australian national finals the next, Mary Waldron’s sporting life is anything but ordinary.
Indeed, the 36-year-old Bohernabreena native had scarcely even seen a set of stumps before her mid-20s as she cut a swathe through soccer defences en route, earning international call-ups and five women’s FAI Cup winners medals.
Her knack for picking things up quickly came early. She feels she from “a different era”, only joining Firhouse Clover when she was nearly 12 for her first experience of organised sport. By the time she was 13, she was involved with the Republic of Ireland underage sides.
“I have 10 nephews and nieces and I see them all being driven around all weekend to all different sports,” she reflects.
“I didn’t play sports as young as other people did. In Glenasmole National School, we only had 34 of us so there was no sport.
“I remember asking, could I go and play soccer in the garden. That was my first organised sport.”
Secondary School at Pres Terenure fed the passion with Una McCarthy and Clodagh McMoreland both highly accomplished hockey mentors, even if she did, at first, describe it as a “ridiculous game” before going on to play for Leinster seniors.
Basketball and volleyball also came on the scene along with some dalliances with Gaelic games but no girls teams at St Anne’s – where her brothers played – meant it was only a fleeting affair.
But soccer was always number one and she enjoyed a remarkable career, winning five FAI Senior Cup titles during spells with UCD, St Francis – hitting the winner in the 2008 final – St Catherine’s and Raheny United. She captained the Irish Under-19s and Noel King handed her a debut in 2004, starting an international career that ran until 2011.
Cricket, though, still was not even a consideration at this stage but a college friend, Cathy Murphy, nudged her that direction and it just took off.
“We played soccer played soccer together but she was always like ‘yeah, cricket is great’. And I’m like yeah, ‘it’s just not great’.
“But it was social and if you know ‘the wall’ in Pembroke, there are few better places to spend a summer afternoon. So it naturally developed; I’d go and watch a game and because I was sporty, the cricket family are very good at trying to get people involved.
“It stemmed from that. I played a bit of seconds division stuff, reaching a final. But I wasn’t brilliant. I was just a good fielder, probably because I am a good athlete who wasn’t afraid of the ball!”
Again, chance came in. An archaeologist by trade, the incumbent Irish international wicket-keeper Jo Day was seconded to a dig in Greece in the summer of 2009. It left Pembroke needing someone to step in.
“My captain at the time, Ciara Metcalfe, was looking around and just goes, ‘Yeah, you you could do it’. The rest is history. I did a handful of games and I think I was okay. I would naturally dive for the ball. I guess being able to slide tackle soccer and stuff like that. It’s the same kind of mechanics.
“Preseason in 2010, we had a practice game; the Irish coach just happened to be there. He saw me there and asked if I would like to come down to training on Friday. I probably did maybe two training sessions. And then I made my debut against New Zealand!
“It was pretty quick. I didn’t even wear spikes on my debut, which is extremely ‘village’ but I had not a clue about cricket. My family are very much into rugby and Gaelic and that’s pretty much it.
“I remember driving through London with my parents when I was a kid and dad stopped to watch cricket match. But that was probably the only interaction I’ve ever remember having a cricket like; it was foreign to me growing up so I did a lot of learning very quickly!”
As such, it took a long time to develop some self-assurance but, over the past decade and over 100 caps between one-day internationals and T20 matches, she has grown at every step.
After a short period of overlap between her twin international careers, cricket soon took centre-stage.
“I’d be fairly critical of myself, but it’s, it’s one of those where you don’t always have a one-on-one wicket keeping coach so I had to find and figure a lot out, just understanding the game and my role.
“The coaches always hit me balls and stuff like that. But I remember the first time where I really felt and there was a kind of a specialist coach, we went to Bangladesh, for the World Cup in 2014.
“Mark Lane was ex England coach and our assistant for that for that World Cup. He did a lot of work with me before and during and that was that was where I felt like kind of like really is kind of started to think about it a bit more and to understand it.”
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She also credits her first winter in Australia six years ago as a key moment with ex-international Julia Price – who played with Merrion in Ireland for a spell – providing a turning point in developing her technique. She has returned every winter since, rolling northern and southern hemisphere seasons into each other.
But the move into umpiring was the next unforseen move. Malahide Cricket Club co-opted her services as a development officer with part of the duties extending beyond coaching and management into umpiring the odd youth games.
What many saw as a chore, though, soon became her preferred outlet.
“I’m sure there’s hundreds of coaches for whom it is their least favourite thing to do. They’ll be on their phone at square leg or something like that. But I just I remember – and it’s probably a reflection of my personality – I was very conscientious and made sure I did my best for everybody who was playing even if it was Under-14 brats!
“I wanted to give the best decisions I could. I found I felt a lot of pressure, actually, when I was coachingf for the children would really enjoy themselves and enjoy every session and get a lot out of it. I actually didn’t enjoy that pressure of making sure kids were having fun, but that I didn’t mind the pressure of having to make decisions actually, which is, which is very random!”
On her next trip down under, she threw herself into that realm, getting trained up as far as possible.
In May 2019, the ICC added Waldron to their development panel of umpires and has since stood in T20 World Cup qualifying events, earning a third international debut of sorts a month later.
Her commitment there has, she admits, led to her telling Ed Joyce she may have to miss the odd training session due to umpiring appointments.
But the playing side of things is very much her focus for 2021 should travel bans get lifted and games can be played again.
“I have been extremely lucky [to be stuck in Adelaide]. I did miss the Super 2s last summer and felt guilty not being there and part of it as a senior and contracted player. But the world is the way it is.
“I did get to play soccer and hockey over here which is great; I live down to the beach and was able to go for a run there even during our lockdown. I am in the middle of cricket season now so am extremely fortunate to be able to get out and live my life as normal. It is very difficult for everyone at home.
“But we’ve got 50 over qualifiers coming up. They were postponed from last July for this July. And then we have T20 qualifiers against Scotland in August so it’s a big, big summer.”