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Denise O'Sullivan - Football - AthletesVoice


From Knocknaheeny to MVP

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From Knocknaheeny to MVP


It’s funny how things work out sometimes. If a new coach hadn’t come to the Houston Dash in 2017 and put me on the bench, I might not be playing with the Wanderers today.


But here I am, loving life in a little suburb called Wentworth Point in Sydney, just 30 minutes down the river from the harbour. I can get a ferry there from just outside my front door.


I’m here on a seven-game guest stint from my club, North Carolina Courage, in the US National Women’s Soccer League, and two of my Courage teammates, Kristen Hamilton and Lynn Williams, are here as well. That’s definitely helped me settle in, on and off the field; having them around made it feel like home from the moment I arrived.


We’ve had a great start to the season with three wins and a draw, and hopefully we can keep that going on Friday against Sydney FC in the derby.




‘Mental’ Roy from Cork

I grew up in a little town in Ireland called Knocknaheeny. I started playing with a boys team when I was eight but it was from much younger that I was out in the terrace playing street soccer with all the boys.


I know I’m small but that’s where I got my aggressiveness from – ‘junkyard’ is the term some of the fans use at the Courage to describe me. The boys were always stronger, they were quicker, so you had no choice but to try to keep up by being physical.


I have five brothers and four sisters, and I’m losing count of my nieces and nephews – it’s 20-something. Four of my brothers played soccer growing up and one of them, John Paul, has a few underage caps to his name with Ireland.


Roy Keane was a role model for me. I’m a Man United supporter, not really because of Roy, but watching him play for United and Ireland, he was definitely someone I looked up to. Just a fantastic player, and a bit mental, too. He literally grew up 10 minutes from me, in Mayfield. The fact he had come from the same area, it made me want to work harder and chase my dreams.




‘I just hated it’

I played for Ireland against the USA in 2016 and pretty much got signed for Houston Dash from there. The first year I went OK, I was enjoying it, the city was pretty cool.


Then the new coach came in. Coaches have their own players they like and that’s fair enough, but it meant I went on the bench and was playing two or three minutes per game, and I just hated it. I trained with a smile on my face but deep inside I was very unhappy.


I built up the courage to go and speak to the coach. I was like, ‘I’m not very happy here – I’m not playing, I could have a team in Germany right now, so can you release me?’


It was a tough conversation to have, but I had no choice – I had to do it for myself. I was very close to signing with a German team when the Courage coach Paul Riley called me. Three days later I was there, and it’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.



The recognition has started to flow in

Going to the Courage was a huge thing. I was going to a top, top team. We’ve been fortunate enough to win the past two championships but at the time, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.


When I went there, training was really hard – it took me a good while to get used to it. Paul has drills that are great but they can be confusing when you’re new – so I messed them up for quite a few weeks, which was pretty embarrassing. But you get used to it.


I was shocked, honestly, when I won that first MVP at the Courage. It was amazing. I’m surrounded by world-class players so to be named MVP by your own teammates is very special – it just shows that they respect you and they know you’re putting in the work. Then getting it again this year was probably even more of a shock.



The last few weeks since we won the championship, the recognition from Ireland has really started to flow in. I won the PFA Player of the Year award with the national team, which was huge. And then getting shortlisted to the last 10 for the RTE Sportperson of the Year award, I was in with names like (boxer) Katie Taylor and (golfer) Shane Lowry and I was like, ‘How am I named among these people?’


Then just the other week I found out on Twitter I was ranked 65 in The Guardian‘s Top 100 Female Footballers list. Hopefully I can kick on and maybe go up in that ranking, who knows?





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