Sunday, December 10, 2023

Irish Eyes Are Smiling: Madie Gibson Helps Lead Her Soccer Team to Finals

Madie Gibson, left, moves the ball past opponents from the Sligo Rovers in a league semifinal game in Ireland. Gibson, a standout athlete at Lower Cape May Regional High School, is now playing soccer in Ireland.

By Christopher South

Madie Gibson, a soccer standout while attending Lower Cape May Regional High School, is now displaying her considerable talents for a professional team in Ireland.

Gibson, a 2015 graduate of LCMR, was named Player of the Match in a Women’s Football Association of Ireland Cup semifinal match Saturday, Oct. 14. She plays for Athlone Town AFC team, in the Women’s Premier Division of the League of Ireland.

She scored two goals – one of them on a penalty kick – and had two assists in the game. Her team defeated the Sligo Rovers, 4-0, and advanced to the finals against Shelbourne, a team that beat Athlone 2-0 in the finals last season. The team is looking to even the score this year.

Gibson, whose home was in Erma, grew up in what was mainly a soccer family, complete with a “soccer mom” in the truest sense of the word. Her mother, Anne, was a soccer player and, later, a coach.

Her sisters, Francesca “Frankie” Gibson and Johanna “Jojo” Gibson, were also standout soccer players at LCMR. Frankie went on to play for four years for Montclair State University, and Jojo played one year for Rutgers-Camden. Their father, Frank, was a football and hockey player.

Gibson excelled at soccer in high school, setting a record for the most career goals (126) and a single-season record of 36. After graduation, she played soccer at Monmouth University and then entered the 2019 National Women’s Soccer League draft, but wasn’t selected.

She was, however, invited to try out for NJ Sky Blue FC, a professional women’s soccer team based in Harrison and now known as NY/NJ Gotham FC. By this time, she had an agent to help her find interested teams, and she ended up being invited to play in Lithuania. Not knowing what to expect, she went to Lithuania and found it a “really cool experience.”

“I learned a new culture, lived on my own, got to meet different people from all over the world,” she said.

Gibson also got to play professional soccer, learning a different style of play and seeing how teams from other countries play while taking part in the Champions League. Then, before the 2022 season, her friend and teammate from Monmouth, Dana Sheriff, called her and asked whether she would be interested in playing soccer for Athlone Town AFC in Ireland.

Within two weeks she was in Athlone, located in the center of Ireland, between Dublin and Galway. Gibson said the biggest change was the style of play: In Lithuania the play was more technical-skill-oriented, building up to attacking a third of the field and focusing on accurate passing to find a teammate’s feet with the ball.

Madie Gibson, a 2015 LCMR graduate, set several school records for scoring in soccer. She is now playing for Athlone Town AFC in Ireland.

“Irish play is purely based on athleticism and strength,” she said. “It was a change, but it was kind of like college. In Ireland they kick the ball and depend on their athleticism to find the back of the net.”

Gibson said she appreciates the two years she spent in Lithuania, saying they made her a better player. On the other hand, in Ireland she has gotten in better shape and is a stronger player. That helps in a season that runs from March until November.

She said there are 12 teams in her league, and they generally play each team three times, but this year they only played each other twice because there was a break for the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Gibson said she is having a very positive experience in Ireland.

“I love, love the people here,” she said. “The people are probably the best thing about it.

“Also, the landscape – just acres of the greenest grass you’ve ever seen, and more sheep and cows than people.”

She likes the food, although she is now spending more time preparing her own food. The food is fresher than that in the United States, she said, and with fewer preservatives. She said she had to get used to the bread going bad in two days, but that it was very good. She said some of the girls on the team had gluten issues in the United States but are completely fine eating the bread in Ireland. The cheese is also good, she said.

Gibson said the downside is the weather, with “wet days” ranging from 151 days of rain in the east and southeast to 225 in the west.

One thing she had to get used to was the local lingo. She said the term “craic” initially threw her off, as it did her parents when they visited, which they have done twice. Craic (pronounced “crack”) is a Gaelic term for fun, entertainment or enjoyable conversation, including gossip.

She also said it was different to hear her Irish teammates say it is “roasting” outside when it is hot or call food “gorgeous” when it is delicious, or greet you by saying “Well.”

“The first time I heard that I said, ‘Well, what?’” she said.

Another difference is the way the Irish express 30 minutes past the hour.

“When the coach would tell us to meet at 5:30 he would say ‘half-five,’” she said. “That took me a while to get used to.”

Gibson said the Irish refer to the sport she plays as “soccer” as they do in the United States, explaining that when people say football they are referring to Gaelic football, Ireland’s number one sport.

Besides the people, Gibson said she loves the music.

“They have really good live music, good musicians here, and I love the old Irish music,” she said.

Gibson said it’s easy to keep up on what is going on in the United States, and she is aware of the Phillies’ success this season, although she is not really interested in baseball or football. She is more apt to follow English Premier League soccer.

Despite the long-distance separation, her mother, Anne, said she believes Madie is living her best life.

“She loves it, and we are so happy for her,” she said. “She is really excelling and feels she can go anywhere and play. She has that ability.”

Anne Gibson is a good judge of soccer ability. She grew up in a family of six brothers and sisters, and they all played soccer. She was in the Olympic Development Program, as was a brother who went on to play for the University of Hartford. Prior to that, Anne Gibson played for her high school boys soccer team for two years because there was no girls team.

She said Madie loves Ireland but is not sure if she wants to sign on for another season or play in another country.

“Her main focus is to finish up the season,” she said.

Gibson said her last match of the year will be Nov. 19 – the cup final. When the season wraps up she will probably have a chat with the team manager, who might offer her another contract.

After that, she plans to be home for Christmas.

“I will be home for about a month and will decide what to do next,” she said.

Contact the author, Christopher South, at or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.


Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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