Dual sports star eyes another career change

Mary Waldron laughs that if she were umpiring her younger self during her early days playing cricket, she would “100 per cent” report herself for dissent.

Having grown up playing football, including two international caps for Ireland and appearances in the UEFA Champions League, Waldron had become accustomed to the more robust conversations players can have with match officials whenever a decision doesn’t go their way.

She insists she was at the mild end of the scale as a footballer, but looks back in horror at her on-field behavior early in her cricket career.

Waldron enjoyed a successful football career before turning to cricket

“I remember very clearly getting given out caught down the leg side off my thigh pad,” she recalls. ‘And I stood there with my arms out like,’that is an absolute joke, I haven’t hit that!‘.

“If I ever got something that I didn’t like, I would question it. But I had no idea that it wasn’t OK.

“I was never reported, but I should have been, 100 per cent.

“I obviously had no idea about cricket.”

Having raised more than a few eyebrows in her homeland when, just before her 30th birthday, she gave up her international football career to pursue one with Ireland’s cricket team, Waldron has since made the sport a major part of her life.

Waldron has played 68 times for Ireland // Getty
Waldron has played 68 times for Ireland // Getty

The now 37-year-old is her country’s second-most capped female cricketer as well as her greatest-ever wicketkeeper, and while she continues to represent the national team as a player, it’s as an umpire that she’s made an impact in Australia.

Having spent the past eight northern winters Down Under playing club cricket, Waldron has also been a regular umpire in the men’s Premier Cricket in Adelaide and has officiated in the WBBL, the WNCL and men’s second XI cricket.

She has also stood in the men’s T20 World Cup qualifiers in Europe and is part of a small but passionate group of female umpires in Australia led by trailblazers Claire Polosak and Eloise Sheridan, the latter with whom Waldron made history in 2019 as the first all-female umpiring duo in Adelaide’s first grade men’s competition.

But despite being comfortable as a woman in a predominantly man’s world, Waldron is frequently reminded of how the glass ceiling for female umpires remains somewhat intact.

“They definitely treat me differently,” she tells cricket.com.au of umpiring men’s matches.

Waldron stands during a men's Premier Cricket match in Adelaide
Waldron stands during a men’s Premier Cricket match in Adelaide

“I can see it in their eyes when they turn around to abuse me, and they don’t. And some of the guys that I umpire with say there’s less cursing and stuff.

“And look, I mean, that’s probably not the worst thing in the world, is it? Especially in this day and age when we’re trying to change the culture of society a little bit.

“(But) there is a line where if they don’t treat me equally, it can be a little bit condescending. I don’t mind that they curse less and don’t go off as much, (but) there’s nothing wrong with having a conversation and… if they don’t say anything to me, I think that’s nearly worse.

‘I’d rather them curse at me than not say anything because I’d rather go,’ I have a reason I made that decision … and these are the reasons why ‘.

“I’ve been part of A-grade in Adelaide for a good long time now, so the players are comfortable with me… you build those relationships and build the option to have those conversations.”

Waldron (right) with Eloise Sheridan // Getty
Waldron (right) with Eloise Sheridan

Despite “living the life” of endless summers for almost a decade, Waldron is constantly reminded of her status as a part-time professional, despite being a dual sports star, an internationally accredited umpire and, to complete the picture of an over-achiever , fluent in French and Italian.

A combination of flexible employers and a supportive family has allowed her to maintain her largely amateur sporting lifestyle for almost two decades, and with Ireland having recently qualified for the ICC’s ODI Championship for the first time, she isn’t looking towards a post-playing career just yet.

“There are times when it’s a bit stressful (financially), but I think I enjoy what I do that much that it’s always worth it,” she says.

“You can always be assured that any female athlete does it for the love of the game.

“I do feel like I’m still getting better as a player and still learning a lot about batting … and I do really enjoy it. I can umpire forever, but I can’t play forever. Playing still does come first, but I like to keep taking my (umpiring) opportunities when they come around.

“However, I may have to start earning an actual wage soon. I have been living the life for the last seven or eight years, coming to Australia and spending my savings.”

Waldron will be long retired by the time Ireland’s leading female cricketers are adequately paid professionals, but she says umpiring does offer an alternative career path when she finally does give the game away.

And even if she’s not able to climb the ladder to the point of professionalism, she concedes she has the umpiring bug, even if she can’t quite explain why.

“I can never quite put my finger on it,” she says. “You don’t earn a lot of money from it (at club level) and it’s your free day on a Saturday.

“But I watch a lot of cricket, I enjoy watching the games, and I think I enjoy the challenge of trying to get it right.

“I enjoy it, and if it pays the bills, brilliant.

“If it doesn’t, it’ll still be a side hustle.”

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