Eager to make up for lost time, Gemma McGuinness has certainly hit the ground running since joining AFC Bournemouth.
A summer signing from Galway United, ever-present McGuinness has plundered 11 goals in as many games, her exploits helping the Cherries climb to the top of the table and reach the first round of the FA Cup.
The Cherries put their 100 per cent winning start in the National League on the line when they host Portishead Town at Vitality Stadium on Sunday (2pm kick-off).
By her own admission, McGuinness’s love for the beautiful game waned and she spent a couple of years away from football, focusing on other pursuits and interests.
She threw herself into her studies, McGuinness boasting an impressive CV which includes a Bachelor of Science in food and nutrition and a Master of Science in sport and exercise nutrition, both from Ulster University.
She combines playing for the Cherries with working as a performance nutritionist.
As well as expanding her knowledge of the nutrition industry, McGuinness also started bodybuilding, her football career disrupted by the fact her university had no women’s football team.
Having turned 28 in August, the talented attacking player is in a hurry to prove herself and knows delivering the goods for the Cherries could help her achieve her goals.
Asked what had made her turn her back on football, McGuinness, who hails from Moville, a coastal town in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland, told afcb.co.uk: “A number of things really.
“I remember getting some feedback after an under-19s’ tournament. It was all very positive and I was advised to build up a bit of strength.
“I went to the gym and got really interested in physique competing on stage. A combination of falling out of love with football and having another goal got me into bodybuilding which I pursued for two years.
“I wasn’t enjoying my football as much and it didn’t help that my university didn’t have a women’s team.
“I also put a lot more focus into my studies and my passion for nutrition and building experience in the industry.
“Looking back, I definitely wouldn’t say taking a break was a regret because I learned a lot of hard lessons from the experience. But I do look back and think where I could be in football now if I hadn’t done it.”
McGuinness, who has represented both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, the latter through her Derry-born mother, got her appetite for the game back after going travelling to Vietnam.
“I moved to Vietnam shortly after I finished my masters,” said McGuinness, who is also head of performance for Motorsport Ireland. “I went there with the intention to stay for about a year and ending up being there for two.
“I got a job teaching English so didn’t do as much travelling as I would have liked. I did that for six months and then got a job teaching maths and science in a secondary school.
“It was incredible. I got to explore the country and every part was extremely different. The culture was fascinating, the way of life, the appreciation of food and family is incredible.
“It was a really good experience for the two years. I met a lot of amazing people and it has shaped a lot of the way I think about life.
“When I came back, I had a better drive to push forward. I got back into football and had more support. People encouraged me and the League of Ireland had developed significantly so there were more opportunities.”
McGuinness, who played youth football for Greencastle and was also on the books at Derry City and Sligo Rovers, caught the eye of Cherries boss Steve Cuss when she scored against them during a loan spell with Keynsham Town last season.
And with the women’s setup having been brought under the direction of the club this summer, McGuinness is hoping her decision to cross the Irish Sea and relocate in Bournemouth pays dividends.
She said: “I’m happy now and understand myself a lot better in terms of what I need to do to feel good and perform well.
"I’ve got a really supportive family and work environment group so I’m in a good place.
“I think the UK definitely offers more opportunities than Ireland at the moment.
"I think the league back home will continue to develop significantly but, with my age and where I am in my career, I think the UK has more eyes on it.
“My past and the opportunities I’ve missed are big drives for me. I’ve learned a lot, taken everything on board and reflected a great deal.
“Missing a couple of years of football is a big part of why I’m trying to get everything right at the moment, things like fitness levels, recovery and mindset.
“It’s an exciting time to be here. I’ve watched the development of the men’s team and now the club has the drive and resources to push the women’s game forward.
“I’ve heard the plans for what they want to build within the team in the next couple of seasons so I’m absolutely delighted to be here.
“There have to be certain things in place to get players from overseas to want to come. This club have the resources and ambition to progress.
“We want to push on and get to the next level. When you have goals like that in place, you can attract other players and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the future holds and being a part of it.”
Click here for ticket information for the game at Vitality Stadium against Portishead Town.
This article appeared in MATCHDAY for the visit of Arsenal earlier this season.