O'Sullivan urges more Ireland team-mates to turn pro
Denise O'Sullivan is one of those players you can't take your eyes off. The type with that unquenchable spark, that ability to light up the pitch, or produce a moment of magic when a game is drifting.
The Republic of Ireland women's international is small in stature but lean; standing outside Tallaght Stadium in her team tracksuit after Friday night's qualifier defeat to Norway, she looks every inch the professional athlete.
The 24-year-old has carved a life for herself in America, playing football at the highest level and emerging as one of the game's brightest stars. She is a regular starter for North Carolina Courage, top of the National Women's Soccer League.
"Things are going really well and I'm really enjoying it," explains O'Sullivan. "We train for two hours every day and then we go and lift [weights] together as a team once a week. Outside of that I'm an athlete going to the gym myself, eating properly, taking care of my body. On a day off I just do my recovery, do cryotherapy."
O'Sullivan lives with her American boyfriend and he is a big part of her contentment over there.
"I met him in Houston and three weeks after I moved to North Carolina he moved up. He's been over three times to Ireland, he really likes it. He's here right now for the game; once I left for camp he stayed in Cork in my house. I have five brothers and four sisters so it was a busy house with loads of kids around but he loved it and they love him."
As the women's game in Europe goes from strength to strength and contracts for top players improve, O'Sullivan must surely have an eye on a move closer to home at some stage in the future?
"Obviously that's a thought in the back of my head always but right now I'm not thinking about going anywhere else because I'm so happy with the club that I am in now," she says. "I'm getting game time and the environment is very professional.
"We play in the Champions Cup in July against Man City and PSG or Lyon so we will see what kind of competition there is between us and them, and maybe in the future I'd make the move."
While O'Sullivan is riding high with Courage, she's had a rocky journey to reach that place in her life. She joined Houston Dash in 2016, signing the contract in the same week her father passed away, and while the first season went well, in year two a change of coach meant she wasn't getting much game time. It was a frustrating experience.
"It was the first real big setback I had to deal with, coming on with three minutes left in a game," she recalls. "I knew when we went to play Scotland with the national team that I wasn't at my best, that I wasn't really focused because I wasn't getting game time; I just picked myself up and I carried on for the team.
"With Houston I just stayed as positive as I could and encouraged the players around me. I never felt like giving up; once I got the courage to go and speak to the coach and say I'm not happy then I knew something positive would happen for me and I got a move then to North Carolina."
The Cork native has had her ups and downs with Ireland too; they had a really strong start to their World Cup qualifying campaign, the highlight being their hard-fought draw against European champions the Netherlands. But they suffered a 2-0 defeat to the Dutch when they came to Dublin in April and then followed it with that 2-0 loss on Friday night.
"It was very disappointing," says O'Sullivan. "I don't think we are very far behind those teams . . . to concede two goals the way we did, it was really sloppy from us, but we will pick ourselves up for Tuesday."
So how do the women's team close the gap on the stronger sides?
"Half of our team are away playing professional and half of them are here in Ireland still," says O'Sullivan. "I think the next step is for everyone to be playing professional.
"I know that is easier said than done for the girls to pack their lives and leave but I think if some of them had the opportunity to go and play at a higher level overseas or anywhere, just a step up to where they are training every day, they should go. I think if we were all doing that we would be better as a unit."
Tuesday's re-match with Norway is to keep their dream of World Cup qualification alive. It's a huge ask to go on the road and win against a strong Norway team but for O'Sullivan and this Irish team, beating the odds is part of their identity.
Sunday Indo Sport