As Lucan United under-10s took to the field, manager Ciaran Masterson was considering a big decision.
The opponents at Pearse Park were Crumlin United, making this a local derby in Dublin’s District Schoolboy League. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Nonetheless, he went with his gut and made the call. A gangly midfielder named Mark Travers went in goal for the first time. He never left.
Now 22 years old, Travers has established himself as AFC Bournemouth’s first-choice goalkeeper, he’s just won promotion to the Premier League, claiming the Sky Bet Championship Golden Glove award in the process.
Also a Republic of Ireland international, Travers is making his mark as a professional footballer.
However, his life might have gone in a different direction had he pursued a career in his other sporting love, golf.
“If he applied himself in the same way he did to being a football goalkeeper, he’d have been a professional golfer,” recalls former team manager Paul Mullarkey.
Mark showed a knack on the golf course from a young age, at one time holding a handicap of just four.
Playing alongside brother David, Mark represented local course Carton House as they won the All Ireland honours at the Fred Daly Trophy in 2014, while also competing on the Irish junior amateur circuit, playing scratch golf tournaments across the country.
Mullarkey recalls David, the older brother by 18 months, being the more prominent of the duo.
“Because David is slightly older than him, Mark was the quieter one. There was a lot of observing. He held his opinions until he was put on the spot or saw something which needed intervention.
“He’d be very aware of what he wanted and if it didn’t suit him, he’d be able to speak out for himself. But initially he’d be quiet as David was the older one and would do most of the talking and leading.”
Away from the talent, Mullarkey remembers the boys for their attitude and application, enthusing to afcb.co.uk: “Mark and David are extremely reliable, once they say they’ll do something or be somewhere, they’ll be there.
“Their application was in the top sphere in terms of training and practising. The other thing that Mark had in spades was his extreme politeness.
“He wouldn’t intimidate his opponent - his sheer physical size would do that alone! His attitude was very polite and very mannerly, they were very well brought up and that’s how they played golf.
“In terms of interacting with others, people found it very comfortable to be in Mark’s company because he didn’t impose himself verbally on other people, he didn’t dominate when in a group - he didn’t need to because his ability at both golf and football spoke for itself.”
There was only one problem for Mullarkey and Carton House golf course - his heart was never set on golf.
Mark’s first taste of football came with youth club Confey FC, based in a town called Leixlip in County Kildare.
Initially a midfielder, he joined Lucan United in Dublin as a nine-year-old, a small amateur team where his father Mick volunteered as an administrator.
His manager was Ciaran Masterson, a well-known figure in Irish amateur football, who also scouted for Liverpool.
Playing in an age group above, Mark played alongside Masterson’s son, Conor. A defender, Conor also progressed into the professional game and the duo reunited while on respective loans at Swindon Town in 2021.
The senior Masterson recalls Travers as a ‘gangly’ midfielder but reserved high praise for his strong technical ability, which was evident from the off.
“He was technically an excellent footballer with excellent feet. One of his strengths was his passing ability, he was very cultured.
“The only problem was he was so big and he couldn’t get around the pitch. Glenn Hoddle couldn’t move but what he could do was make a pass and Mark was a ringer for Glenn Hoddle.”
Taking note of his quick reflexes, Masterson made the decision to put Mark in goal for a game with Crumlin United.
The shot-stopper impressed immediately and soon established himself as an exciting talent.
His brother David was certain of his ability, often having his sibling represent his own team, despite being senior in age.
“That’s the one thing Mark always had going for him; how good he was at such a young age.
“Mark always played a year above growing up, so when he played for my team, he’d be stepping up two years, let alone the one.
“I always remember that when the goalkeeper was missing and Mark got called up, all of my team would be delighted because he was so much better than any goalkeeper we ever had. He was very good as a young lad.”
As he continued through the age groups, Travers’s family sought out Brendan Kennedy, the brother of former Liverpool star Mark, who specialised in one-on-one goalkeeper training.
Masterson remembers the extra sessions having an immediate impact, “Brendan is an excellent goalkeeping coach and I have to say, credit where credit is due – he is the reason why Mark is where he is.
“They did one-to-one work together, his dad invested in it and the improvement was tenfold. Mark had that ability to be trained. You can teach Mark and he’ll take it on board and that’s why he’ll do really, really well.”
As he continued to develop, he started receiving admiring glances from clubs in England and Mark began to make regular trips for trials - his first coming as a 12-year-old with Manchester United.
The opportunities put the pre-teen in the spotlight in the local area, David recalling: “Going on trials with such big clubs was unheard of in my town, so he was the talk of the school!
“I think he trialled at ten or 11 clubs over the years, and it wasn’t that they were unsuccessful trials, he just knew the clubs weren’t the right fit for him.
“A lot of times, he’d be going over for two weeks at a time. He knew what he wanted and until Bournemouth came around, nothing was the right fit.
“He was looking to move to England when he was 16 but my dad told him to go to Shamrock Rovers for a year and get a bit of senior experience before he went.”
(Photo credit - Shamrock Rovers)
The influence of Mark’s parents, Mick and Louise, can’t go unnoticed.
Following the birth of their children, the couple purchased a newsagent, allowing themselves the flexibility to spend time with their children.
When taking them to compete in local sports, Mick and Louise operated a rota to allow themselves time to watch both of them, swapping every other weekend.
Masterson notes, “His parents are brilliant.
“His dad, Nick, would do all the administration for the team, so his father was heavily involved.
“When the knocks came, he had good support from his family so he was able to manage those challenges.”
“Owning a newsagent, they have to be nice to everyone,” added David.
“They taught us to show respect to people, they showed us genuine hard-work and honesty and that’s been instilled in us, just always be nice to people.
“That’s probably come from them owning the shop and knowing they have to be nice to people no matter what they said to you. I know Mark is well aware of that.”
As interest in Travers gathered pace, Mick and Louise encouraged the youngster to be picky with offers, an offer from Crystal Palace was rejected in favour for a move to local side Cherry Orchard, before joining Shamrock Rovers as a 16-year-old.
It was at Shamrock where he worked with coach Dermot O’Neill, someone who’d been keeping an eye on Mark for several years.
“I first came across Mark when I went to a cup final in Dublin, and Mark was about 14 or maybe 15 years old,” commented O’Neill, who also coached in the Republic of Ireland youth setup.
“They were beaten in the cup final, and I was looking at the other goalkeeper actually because we were going away to a European qualifier.
“They lost the cup final and he’d played well, you could tell that he was growing into his body but we kept an eye on him.
“As it happened, I was goalkeeping coach for Shamrock Rovers – it was around 2014 or 2015 – and Mark came to train with us. That was good for us to keep an eye on him.”
It was during his time at Shamrock where interest from AFC Bournemouth was registered, the teenager started travelling to Dorset to spend time with the club at regular intervals.
Cherries hero Mark Molesley, who was under-21 assistant coach at the time, remembers the first moment he lay eyes on the shot-stopper, who’d been spotted by the club’s Ireland scout Brian Brophy.
Speaking to afcb.co.uk, he recalls: “He first came over at 17. Straight away, I remember going to Stephen Purches and saying, ‘wow, this kid looks like he’s got it all!’
“It was always going to be an exciting time to see how he developed, and he certainly did that.”
With every visit to the south coast, Travers was developing at a frightening rate, something that was impressing his coaches at Shamrock.
O’Neill comments: “He did really well with us but he was coming back a better goalkeeper from Bournemouth, so whatever the goalkeeping coach at Bournemouth was doing, they were doing really well with him!
“Mark is the type of kid that, although he was quite quiet, he was driven. He’d do extra bits after training, before training he was always in early, his dad would bring him, and he was just a brilliant goalkeeper and a brilliant person.
“He was a really, really good lad. He took everything on board and anything you tried to tell him, he would implement it in his training; we were really pleased with him.
“When he was goalkeeper number one in the under-17s and the under-19s, we knew that we had a quality goalkeeper, we knew that we could depend on him.
“His kicking was good, his handling, his communication, he was brilliant for us; really, really good.
“I think a testament to Mark would be is that when he left us, I said to our head coach, ‘There’s the next Irish goalkeeper, him and Caoimhin Kelleher.’ I didn’t factor for Gavin Bazunu but in Mark I knew that he would go on to bigger and better things.”
In July 2016, Mark signed a permanent contract with the Cherries and made the move to England.
David recalls the goodbye being a difficult one for his parents and family, “Initially, it was very tough. That first day of dropping him at the airport was hard for the family.
“He’d had experience of going to England for a couple of weeks at a time but obviously it’s completely different when you’re moving over for good.”
His parents committed to travelling to visit every four weeks, opting to book in advance as much as possible in order to give Mark something to look forward to.
He stayed with fellow goalkeeper Will Dennis in his first set of digs, before moving into Caroline Cook’s house in July 2017.
Cook has been hosting Cherries players for nine years and has also had the likes of Jaidon Anthony, Jack Simpson and Gavin Kilkenny between her walls, Mark living with the latter.
She recalls Mark for his politeness: “He is literally one of the nicest people you could ever wish to meet, let alone have live in your home.
“He is one of the most respectful, hard-working, disciplined, humble, focused people ever.”
Kilkenny and Travers lived in a converted loft on the third floor of Cook’s home, where she lived with partner Rick and teenage son Josh.
The two Cherries stars connected over their Irish heritage, often donning Ireland shirts to watch international matches in the lounge.
At one stage, they even realised that their mothers used to be old friends in Ireland, playing camogie together at school.
Kilkenny notes the goalkeeper as being the ultimate professional, even as an 18-year-old.
“He was being really healthy; I was only young so I was probably eating a bit too many sweets and chocolates and he was having green tea!
“He’s very determined and works very hard. He’s worked for this opportunity for a very long time.
“Sometimes I think people think he’s very serious and it’s probably not true, he likes to have a bit of craic as well, you can get a good laugh out of him.
“I think there’s a good mix with him and he’s definitely found a good balance, which has contributed to his success on the pitch this year.”
Upon his permanent move to Dorset, Mark continued to impress in training and Molesley made it his mission to sign the shot-stopper for Weymouth, where he was now managing.
“When I first got the Weymouth manager’s job, I was working full-time with the development squad set-up and I, obviously, knew Travs very well having had him around training with us every day.
“The first door I was knocking on was Neil Moss’, begging to have him on loan.
“I remember, he had a very minor car accident right before the start of the season and his airbag went off. With him being very young, you don’t take any chances with concussion.
“I don’t think he had a concussion but we just couldn’t take any chances and I remember him missing the first two weeks of the season. We lost the first game and I had to try and convince Gareth Stewart to let him play.
“I said, ‘How can you stop him playing for me, he hasn’t got a concussion,’ I was having a laugh and a joke about it, but he said we couldn’t take any chances. I came back with, ‘Right, Gaz, you’ve got to play in goal for me then.’
“So, I got Gaz Stewart to come and turn out for Weymouth and he had a great game for me!”
Mark returned and made his debut for his loan side in an encounter with Bishop’s Stortford. With the scoreline settled at 2-2, he stepped up to take a free-kick deep in his own half.
Spotting his opposition counterpart hovering on his 18-yard line, Travers decided to have a go, finding the back of the net with his long-distance effort, the goal ultimately proving to be the winner.
Molesley couldn’t believe his eyes.
“He spotted the ‘keeper off his line; he completely meant it. I know him and I saw the way he shaped up to the ball.
“I remember because my wife and kids were at the game and we’ve all followed him and supported him in the background, my boy has a shirt with his name on the back and he enjoys going in goal as well.
“I think people like Mark and Aaron Ramsdale have influenced my young boy into liking goalkeeping as well, so I blame them for that!”
After making 26 appearances for his loan club, Travers returned to the Cherries in high regard.
He made his senior debut in May 2019 against Tottenham Hotspur, becoming the first teenage goalkeeper since Joe Hart in 2006 to start a Premier League match.
His brother David recalls finding out that Mark was due to start: “We heard the day before that he was going to be in the team and I was shocked.
“My parents bought a last-minute flight and I was watching at home with my aunt and my sister, it was horrible, horrible to watch!
“Telling my mates that morning that Mark would be starting against Spurs that day, they couldn’t believe it. The amount of people texting me, asking if that was my brother playing on TV, it was so unexpected.
“I remember watching his Instagram followers going up and up as the game went on.”
Mark made a stunning impact, making a series of top drawer saves to keep a clean sheet before Nathan Ake headed home in stoppage time to secure the club’s first-ever win over Tottenham.
The youngster was named man of the match and received worldwide attention but appeared to be taking everything in his stride.
David added: “It sums Mark up, he’s so laid back. He doesn’t really care about the occasion, he just wants to play football.
“He classes every match the same – whether it’s against Dele Alli or me out on the green, he just wants to play. I think the family are more nervous than he is!”
Chances continued to be in short supply for Mark as the form of Aaron Ramsdale and Asmir Begovic dominated the spotlight in the subsequent seasons.
The appointment of head coach Scott Parker in the summer provided the opportunity for sustained appearances and he’s done more than reward the Cherries boss for his faith.
With 19 clean sheets, Travers has proven to be a match-winner on a number of occasions this season and was voted the club’s Player of the Season.
After the final day game with Millwall, the shot-stopper collected the division’s Golden Glove award.
To those closest to Mark, his success is just rewards for the efforts he puts in on a day-to-day basis.
Masterson succinctly puts it: “It's lovely to see good things happen to good people and that’s what’s happening with Mark.
“A good lad getting the true reward for honest endeavour and hard work. It’s a beautiful story!”
Molesley recalls similar traits in the goalkeeper, noting Mark for his off-the-field behaviours as much as his talent.
“I think he’s very well brought up, I think he’s got great morals and above being a great footballer, he’s a great person.
“He’s such a modest and humble lad as well, I think that’s the beauty of him.
“He’s not looking for any fame or fortune, he just goes about his work in a diligent way, he’s a real humble and great character – I think you can see that.
“He always seems so calm and not flustered and you can see that coming out in his performances now, I always keep a very, very keen eye on him.”
“It’s almost like your children in that it's special watching them thrive and be successful,” added Cook, who speaks about Mark with genuine affection.
“He’s just having the best season. We’re really proud of him and we’re so pleased with how well he’s doing.
“He was a real role model for my son, who is now playing for Davenport University in Michigan.
“People like Mark, who are so disciplined and focused, have really been a huge part of my son’s life and led him, and pushed him and encouraged him, to do what he’s doing now.”
The goalkeeper is the pride of his hometown in Ireland, O’Neill enthusing: “I am so proud when I see Mark.
“What makes matters even better for me is the fact that when I text him, which is rare because I don’t text the players I’ve trained an awful lot, but he gets back to me instantly.
“He’s such a humble kid and he just wants to do well, that’s all. As I say, I’m so, so proud of Mark in particular because I had him at Shamrock Rovers, at club level, and he’s gone on to be a senior international; I couldn’t ask for any more.”
Being picky has worked for Travers. He’s now settled in Bournemouth, personally and professionally.
David surmises: “He’s got a house, girlfriend, a dog – he loves the area, we’ve been over thousands of times now, so we’re well used to the area too.
“It’s a great club, a tight knit club and he’s been treated really well there so we all love Bournemouth.”
For Masterson, who has watched his own son on his own footballing journey, he believes that Bournemouth and Travers are the perfect match.
“Bournemouth have been brilliant to Mark, I speak with open honesty but Bournemouth has been a match made in heaven for him.
“You’ve got a gem. He’s going to develop with every game, every session, every conversation and he’s going to get better and better.
“Let me tell you, he’s going right to the very top.”