Q&A: Ireland Native Grainne O'Neill

On St. Patrick's Day, get to know Ohio State's only Irish scholarship athlete.

Ohio State junior women’s tennis player Grainne O’Neill is off to a 2-0 start in singles in Big Ten play. The Blessington, Ireland, native spoke to BuckeyeSports.com about coming overseas, St. Patrick’s Day back home and her favorite Ohio State memories.

BSB: When did you start playing tennis?
O’Neill: “I played a bunch of sports growing up. My mum used to play tennis, and she was actually a tennis coach growing up. I just used to play on the weekends and I enjoyed it the most so I stuck with it.

BSB: When did you know you could play at this level?
O’Neill: “I was just playing in Ireland but I actually did quite well at the national championships in Ireland and won the under-18s. My coach said, ‘Hey, you should look into looking for a scholarship in America, that’s a really good path.’ I looked into it and that’s why I chose to come here.

BSB: Is it common in Ireland to want to come play at NCAA schools?
O’Neill: “It’s more common with guys. I know a lot of guys growing up who went to America, but not a lot of girls did. I knew two girls. Actually one of the girls helped me out a lot. She went to Vanderbilt and helped me out a lot with the process and told me good places to check out, so that was a really good help.

BSB: How did you end up at Ohio State?
O’Neill: “An Irish girl has gone here before, Ciara Finucane (who played at OSU from 2005-08), and she really recommended it. She said it was a brilliant experience and she loved every minute of it, so that was a big factor. When I came on my recruiting visit I was completely sold. It was unbelievable.”

BSB: On your visit, how did it compare to your expectations?
O’Neill: “I was not expecting how many people take pride in college, because in Ireland nobody really has an affiliation with universities and stuff. Here, I feel like it’s much more of a community. When we travel to other places everyone is like, “Go Bucks!” or “O-H!” even in Ireland and stuff. I feel like everyone takes pride here in where they’re from and what college they went to.

BSB: What makes coming to America an appealing path?
O’Neill: “In Ireland, our national facility isn’t half as good as this. The fact that you have a whole team around you who is looking out for you and our coaches are some of the best in the country. They want to help us improve as a person, in academics and athletics. That’s really good.”

BSB: Was it difficult to get into the OSU-Michigan rivalry?
O’Neill: “When I first came over here I didn’t know the rules of football or baseball or anything, so it was a big change. I really got into it because of the whole atmosphere on campus and everything. It was brilliant.”

BSB: What is your favorite memory in your time at Ohio State?
O’Neill: “I think making the NCAA Tournament last year was huge. Just last week we beat Northwestern and we had a streak of 16 years without beating them. That was a huge accomplishment for our team, and the fact that it was a beatdown was the craziest thing. That was a great feeling for our whole team and one of the best memories.”

BSB: Do you get teased by your teammates for any Irish expressions?
O’Neill: “I have a lot of phrases and stuff. Like when I came over here, I used to say ‘grand’ for everything. When people would ask how I was I’d say “Oh, I’m grand!’ and they’d be like, ‘Grand?’ I’ve had to adjust a few sentences and stuff I say.”

BSB: What’s it like being an Ireland native in American for St. Patrick’s Day?
O’Neill: “It’s great! It’s unbelievable. I didn’t realize how big of a deal it is over here. In Chicago and Boston when they do everything green, it’s unbelievable. It’s a pretty nice feeling going around campus and stuff.”

BSB: How does it compare to the celebrations in Ireland?
O’Neill: “I would say… it’s quite rowdy (in Ireland). Really, really rowdy. It’s sometimes on the negative side of things, which isn’t great. We have a lot of parades within villages and stuff. It’s like the Fourth of July here. Everyone goes out and goes crazy and stuff.”

BSB: It looks like you’re the only Irish scholarship athlete at Ohio State…
O’Neill: “I haven’t even seen any Irish people on campus. I’ve always tried to look, but no.”

BSB: What do you miss about home?
O’Neill: “Sometimes I Skype my friends and family just to hear the accent. It’s a different kind of atmosphere in Ireland. We have a word, craic… I don’t know how to describe its equivalent in America. It’s like a thing unique to Ireland where we have our own type of fun. When I go home, I love it. I think I miss the people most. I don’t miss the rain.”

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