"Playing for Kerry is one of the greatest achievements of my life" - My LGFA Life with the Kingdom's Sarah Houlihan

Sarah Houlihan – former Kerry Footballer

Age: 31

Club: Beaufort

Occupation: Special Needs Assistant

County Debut: 2007


Notable Achievements: Division 2 National League winner 2013, Player of the match Division 2 League final 2013, 3 Munster titles – 2013, 2015, 2017. Nominated for six TG4 All Star awards winning, three in 2012, 2013 and 2018. All Ireland semi-final player of the match 2012, All Ireland qualifier player of the match 2014, TG4 All Ireland quarter final player of the match 2016, Kerry Sports star award winner in 2016 and 2018, Intermediate club championship winner 2019, Two time Interprovincial winner with Munster.


Q: Sarah, thanks for chatting to us. How have you found your experience of playing Ladies Football?

A: Playing Ladies football has really been my passion and my life for a very long time. Some of the best moments of my life have come from playing football with my club, and especially with my county. Without a shadow of a doubt it has certainly challenged me mentally and emotionally at times throughout my career but it has also been incredibly fulfilling and it has brought me great memories that I will treasure forever. Football has been number one in my life since I began playing and throughout the ups and downs that it brings, I feel it has shaped and made me the person that I am today. I have made some incredible friends throughout my playing career and some of these are today my best friends. I have found that football teaches you a lot about yourself as an individual and this I have taken and used in everyday life. In my thirteen years of playing with the Kerry Ladies, I have had some unforgettable moments, some happy moments, some moments which were full of tears but these moments combined, I shared with incredible teammates and incredible people. As an inter-county player you can be tested in many ways and some days you can find yourself being so emotional, tested by a game you love so very much.


Q: What was it that sparked your interest in the sport from a young age?

A: For as long as I can remember I always had a love for sport. Growing up with my siblings, we all shared a love for football so I had plenty of company for a kickaround. We had some of the most competitive football battles in the back lawn. I grew up directly across the road from my national school so every evening I got home for school, I was changing out of my uniform as quick as I could and I would head back down to the school football field practicing for as long as I was left. My parents were always great for encouraging us to try as much as we could until we found what we loved the most. My father would always take me to the school field and have me kicking the ball over the bar for hours on end some evenings. We both loved it and I think because I had him teaching me from the very beginning, it is one of the main reasons I love it so much.


Q: When did you pull on the Kerry jersey for the first time, and how big a thrill was that?

A: The first time I received the honour of pulling on the Kerry Jersey was when I was in fifth class with the Primary Game. And one of the biggest honours to go with that is that it was in actual fact the great Mary Jo Curran who handed it to me. I’ll never forget how big the jersey was on me and I reckon if I pulled it on me today it would still be big on me! I was so honoured to have been picked to play and I remember when I received the jersey, I promised myself ‘I am going to make my parents proud’. My first Kerry kit and running out to play was a magical moment . My parents were very proud and my Dad loved telling people his daughter was playing for Kerry. So, every day I pulled on the Kerry jersey it was to make them proud.

Kerry legend Mary Jo Curran 


Q: What is the best thing for you about playing Ladies Football?

A: For me, without a doubt the best thing about playing Ladies Football is the friendships I have made as a result of it. The memories that have been made and we can look back on forever, the endless bus trips: these moments have given me great laughter and unity, which makes playing a team sport so fulfilling.


Q: Who was the biggest influence on your career?

A: Throughout my playing career I was never short of people who supported me and guided me along my way, but the biggest influence on my career would have to be my Dad. He was my very first trainer, showing when how to be better each day and always encouraging me to believe in myself and what I was capable of. He continued this all throughout my career right up until my very last game with Kerry.


Q: What are the main challenges that you have faced in your career so far?

A: The main challenges I have faced in my career would probably be having to deal with the losses. They never seemed to get easier to deal with. As a player, you always want to win and when the days came when you didn’t, I found I would beat myself up no end about it and continuously question could I have been better, could I have done more? As time goes on, you develop more as a player and while the losses never get easier, you learn to deal with the setbacks in a more positive way.


Q: You decided to retire from inter-county football after the 2019 season. How difficult a decision was that for you?

A: Deciding to retire was probably one of the hardest decisions I have made in my life. Playing for Kerry is one of the greatest achievements of my life and the joy and happiness it gave to my family was something I cannot describe. In the thirteen years I played for Kerry I was fortunate enough to learn and be guided by some of the best managers and management teams. When you start out each season you have dreams and ambitions for the year ahead. Some years goals were met, and some years things didn’t go our way. Every year we didn’t reach the destination we set out to meet, I found it was harder to take. We went through a transition period where management changed, players decided to opt out of the panel to go travelling or for work or personal reasons. I felt I had given it my all and maybe my dream of winning an All-Ireland wasn’t to be. I hadn’t made a decision on retiring and in our last game last season against Dublin in the (2019) quarter final I had been coming back from an injury and I wanted to give it my all. We  were defeated and knocked out of the Championship. I remember just standing on the pitch looking around and thinking to myself ‘is this it?’ Is this the last time I will wear the Kerry jersey? My family joined me on the pitch and it’s a moment I savoured. I took a few weeks considering what I would do for the coming year, I sat down with my family on a Tuesday evening and told them I was thinking of stepping away. It was emotional for them as much as it was for me because they had been on this amazing journey with me every step of the way. While physically I felt I could play on, I felt it was right for me to step away and enjoy some of what life had to offer. It didn’t become real until I announced it the following morning and while it was very emotional, I walk away with great friendships and amazing memories that I will cherish forever.

Q: What do you do for a living, and how do you manage the work-life-sport balance? Now that you’ve retired from inter-county football, is life a bit easier?

A: I am a Special Needs Assistant in Cullina National School in Beaufort. I am able to go to work and come home at three and organise myself to go training in the evenings. It fits in nicely so I am very lucky. Now that I have retired, life has become a little different. I suppose when playing, a lot of your evenings are consumed with training and your weekends so I found it strange for a few weeks to adapt to the free evenings or the free weekends not going training. I still continue to train myself most days between getting some gym sessions in or running, so the training side of me hasn’t eased off but it’s having the free time to meet friends or go for coffee, the little things in life.


Q: What was it like to captain Kerry?

A: Captaining Kerry was one of the biggest honours in my life. Playing for your county is what you dream of growing up, but to be given the opportunity to captain Kerry  is just incredibly special and it’s a moment I will never forget.

With referee Jonathan Murphy and Monaghan’s Sharon Courtney before a Lidl National League fixture in 2018. 


Q: What are your hopes and aspirations for the rest of your career?

A: An aspiration of mine would be to continue to play for as long as I feel I am able to and I would love to win an All-Ireland title with my club Beaufort.


Q: Have you played other sports?

A: No, football has been the main sport in my life. I played basketball when I was younger but I was at a slight height disadvantage so I didn’t stick at it for very long.


Q: Do you have a favourite photograph from your career?

A: One of my favourite photographs would probably have to be standing on stage in the city west collecting my very first All Star with my parents. It was a magical moment for us.

Sarah with Mum Doreen and Dad Jerry receiving her 2012 TG4 All Star award. 


Q: You were the winner of 3 TG4 All Star awards. How big a thrill were those individual accolades for you?

A: To be nominated for an All Star is a huge honour, I was fortunate enough to be nominated six times. Winning three All Stars is very special and it’s now that I have retired that I am looking back at these moments. I had all my family with me when I won all three so it was incredible special to share those moments with them. I am very proud of them.


Q: You’re renowned as a clinical finisher in front of goal. What do you regard as the strongest aspects of your game?

A: I feel the strongest aspects of my game are probably my speed, and being able to take scoring opportunities when they came my way. I never really had a height advantage on any of my markers so I had to find other ways to get the better of them. I was always known growing up as the ‘pocket rocket’ so I knew I had to keep my speed.


Q: What’s your career highlight?

A: I think one of my main career highlights is when we reached the All Ireland Final (2012).  These are the days you dream and live for and while the result didn’t go our way, to experience that journey with your closest friends… priceless.


Q: How confident are you that Kerry can re-emerge as a team capable of challenging for Senior All-Ireland titles?

A: I am very confident that Kerry will challenge for an All-Ireland title in the not too distant future. They have a great management team with them right now and some talented players are stepping up and developing themselves. They were doing so well in the League this year I felt they would have definitely been promoted back to Division 1. It was disappointing for them not to get that opportunity but hopefully when things settle down and they get back playing again they will have this chance again.


Q: What piece of advice would you offer to up and coming young players?

A: I would say to up and coming players: “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”. Enjoy playing because when you enjoy it, that’s when you play your best. Never give up, especially on the tough days.


Q: And who’s given you the best piece of advice during your career?

A: I think throughout my career I have received advice from plenty of people. I always took all the advice on board and it has helped me along the way.


Q: What hobbies do you enjoy?

A: I enjoy going running, going to the gym, walking and hiking. I love the outdoors, so I find a lot to keep me busy.


Q: You’re hosting a dinner party, and you can invite 5 people. Who’s on the list and what are you rustling up for your guests to eat?

A: Micheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Adele, Paul Mescal, Will Smith and Lorraine Counihan (leave her in the kitchen and she will prepare a feast!)


Q: And finally, who’s your all-time sporting idol?

A: My all-time sporting idol has to be Mary Jo Curran. She has won it all and to this day would offer you advice and encouragement. One of the greats.


Sign up to our email newsletter


Partners & Supporters





See all LGFAClubs