St. John's soccer star trades one island for another to make pro debut in Iceland

Holly O'Neill, left, is heading to Iceland for her first stint in professional soccer.  (David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill - image credit)
Holly O'Neill, left, is heading to Iceland for her first stint in professional soccer. (David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill - image credit)
David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill
David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill

Soccer star Holly O'Neill is trading in one northern Atlantic island for another.

The 24-year-old from St. John's has just signed her first professional soccer contract, with Iceland's Íþróttabandalag Vestmannaeyjar football club, known as ÍBV.

ÍBV plays in the Division I, eight-team Pepsi Max League.

"I'm very ecstatic. I'm still waiting for it to fully sink in," O'Neill said this week.

"I leave in two weeks. I'm kind of just digesting it all."

O'Neill has been turning heads on the pitch for the past decade, first with the Gonzaga High School Vikings, then with the Memorial University Sea-Hawks before captaining the semi-pro Electric City Football Club in Peterborough, Ont.

Her jump to pro will bring new challenges, O'Neill said, but there are opportunities that come with that.

David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill
David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill

"The league actually is pretty well known over in Europe. It's a good feeder league to some of the bigger teams that you might hear of, like Portugal, England, Spain, Sweden," she said.

"Funny enough, the team I'm going to is the same team that Cloé Lacasse played for and she's now over in Portugal.… It's a good place to get your feet wet in the pro league before you advance in your career."

Lacasse plays for S.L. Benfica in the Campeonato Nacional Feminino — the top-level women's league in Portugal — and is a member of Canada's national women's team.

On the radar

O'Neill said a couple of good seasons with MUN and Electric City put her on ÍBV's radar.

The team sought her out after seeing game footage her agent sent along and her stats to back it up.

"They liked what they seen and they decided to take me on as a No. 9, so I'll be playing centre striker there," O'Neill said, adding it's a spot she's familiar with after spending her time with the Sea-Hawks there before switching to the wing with Electric City.

"I'm very comfortable up there."

David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill
David Pickering/Submitted by Holly O'Neill

It'll be O'Neill's first trip to Iceland, she said, and she has a growing list of things she'd like to do and see while making herself comfortable in her new home for the next season.

Hiking and taking a dip in the the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa are at top of mind, she said.

Vestmannaeyjar, ÍBV's hometown, sits on an island off Iceland's south coast and has a population of just over 4,000.

O'Neill said she's looking forward to playing on the home pitch.

"I've just been informed it was ranked one of the top 10 places to visit and the field is absolutely beautiful. It's got mountains in the background, it's an all grass pitch, which is really nice. [It's] a nice stadium," she said.

"I was looking up Icelandic food yesterday because I was hoping they would have lots of seafood like back home."

O'Neill said she aims to move up the professional rankings and hopes to one day crack Canada's national team lineup.

Listen to Holly O'Neill's full interview with CBC Radio's On The Go:

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