From Wembley To Psychology – With A Few Broken Bones

There’s a rather wise head on the young shoulders of Nottingham Forest Women defender, Laura Jayne O’Neill, and rightly so considering what she’s already accomplished in her youthful years.

Having recently celebrated her birthday (December 1), LJ as she’s known, did so with an examination, of the educational kind, after all she’s got somewhat of an interesting career alongside life as a footballer and is one of several on the women’s team to hold a degree or two.

On the field she’s played for Calverton Boys, Chesterfield School of Excellence, Nottingham Forest (twice) and a spell with Notts. County, meanwhile off the field there’s a BA Hons in Sports Education and Psychology, and a Masters in Psychology, from Nottingham Trent University, whilst working in the mental health sector, most recently as a Trainee Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (via De Montfort University).

Oh, and she’s currently studying towards a Postgraduate Certificate in Low-Intensity Psychological Interventions – there’s a bright future ahead, one way or another for the number fifteen; although she does need to overcome that injury-prone path she’s taken in recent years.

If you’ve ever sat and wondered as to why LJ wears that soft-cast on her left arm, well so far there’s been three broken left arms, one broken right elbow (this season), and for added measure a torn ACL in 2018.

“Yes, you could say I’ve been extremely unlucky with injuries,” began LJ.

“That’s why I can been seen wearing a soft-cast on my left arm on match-days, and I think they’ve all happened whilst at Forest as well.”

For LJ though, this is her second spell with the Reds, the Arnold girl having begun there some twelve years ago, in 2008, after spells with Soccer Kids Saturday, Arnold, then Calverton Boys, when she was a youngster – she even recalls her first pair of football boots as well, just.

“It was a buzz when I got my first pair of boots and shin-pads,” continued LJ.

“They were a pair of black, Nike boots, with a red stripe on them; I was soon scouted by the Chesterfield School of Excellence at twelve which was really enjoyable and I soon came into my own whilst I was there.

“I really developed, as a person and a player, and had my first England camp as well, but, in coming to Forest (in 2008), that was a big decision for me.

“Mind you, my parents secretly wanted me to come back and play here so they didn’t have all that driving to do,” she laughs, “but seriously, I was what, thirteen, maybe fourteen, when I joined the club and would make my first team debut the season in which we got relegated.

“After that I went to (Notts) County for a couple of seasons, returning here a couple of years ago.”

The spell with County would see a trip to Wembley, in the Women’s FA Cup, where the other East Midlands side lost to Chelsea in the final; although LJ was an unused substitute that afternoon, it became an occasion she’d never forget – just don’t ask her where her phone etc ended up, parties are wondrous things after all, but the memories last forever.

“It was a great opportunity for me to play in the WSL with County,” admits LJ.

“A fantastic experience, and to reach the FA Cup final, against Chelsea, we felt as though the whole of Nottingham was behind us, an all-round, great day.”

Away from the football the Forest defender continues living out her dream career and, having finished University a couple of years ago, with a Masters dissertation entitled ‘Predicting self-efficacy for managing Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The role of trait mindfulness, emotional stability, hope and optimism – A statistical analysis using Pearson’s Correlations and Multiple Linear Regressions.’

She spent a little over two years after university working in a mental health hospital before heading to pastures new earlier this year.

“It’s a whole other world working in mental health,” explained LJ, “something you can’t really explain to those who don’t know or understand.

“I will admit that it did have a knock-on effect on my football, training, even sleep; it was difficult at times but also very rewarding and satisfactory.

“My new job however, it’s the next step for me in my career and, overall, it’s helped me as a person, mentally and physically, to which I can apply to all aspects of my life.

“It’s also helped me with coming back from injuries, helping me to not dwell on things too much.”

That dream career now, outside of LJ continuing to pull on the Garibaldi, is to be a Cognitive Behavioural Psychologist, a title she finds herself working extremely hard towards to achieving and, only in her mid-twenties herself, has time aplenty on her hands for both that, and for Forest.

“I’ve always felt a part of the club, the team, even when I’ve been injured,” LJ smiled, “they constantly keep me involved and we don’t shut ourselves away from each other, it’s a group effort.

“Now, with what has been a really strange year, and a second lockdown (due to an ongoing, global pandemic), I was adamant that we weren’t going to be playing again until next year.

“For me though, hopefully, I’m going to work my way back into first team contention before Christmas, and I want to stay injury-free to be able to contribute, personally, to the on-field success of the club.”

It’s definitely going to be an interesting future at hand for Laura-Jayne O’Neill, and one to be watched with great interest.

*Article provided by Peter Mann (Senior Correspondent).

*Main image @Josh Dixon Laura Jayne O’Neill in familiar surroundings wearing Garibaldi red.

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