Republic of Ireland midfielder Denise O’Sullivan is less than a week away from making her World Cup debut in front of more than 80,000 people – but confesses it was perhaps the fanfare-filled Knocknaheeny farewell in front of far fewer that will ultimately prove the more intimidating atmosphere.
O’Sullivan’s name will go down in history as one of the 23 women who were chosen to represent the Girls in Green at their maiden World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, where they will take on the Matildas in their July 20 tournament opener at Sydney’s sold-out Stadium Australia.
When the North Carolina Courage captain steps onto the pitch in front of that cauldron of Aussie support she will particularly feel the absence of a few familiar faces in the crowd.
Though her family was unable to make the trip, they did their best to compensate with a spectacular home send-off in front of the hundreds who descended on her mum’s house and decorated the neighbourhood to wish her luck.
O’Sullivan said: “I was mortified, but it was class to be fair. A few weeks before that I got permission from (manager) Vera (Pauw) just to go home to see the family because unfortunately, they weren’t coming over here to the World Cup.
“The minute I told them that, they were organising something and I knew it! But I didn’t know they were organising to that extent, to be quite honest – band and everything.
“Rappers, bands, oh my goodness. It was mad. My family have always been a great support and you can see what football does. It just brought the whole community and everyone together that night to support me. It was a great send off.”
O’Sullivan, 29, was speaking at Brisbane’s Meakin Park a few days before the Republic’s final friendly against Colombia.
Group B encounters with Olympic champions Canada and Nigeria follow the opener against FIFA world no 10 Australia, with the top two from each group advancing to the last-16 knockout round.
The long journey is now behind Vera Pauw’s squad, who have been adjusting to the nine-hour time difference through a strict training regimen of shifting start times. On Wednesday, they hosted an open session and invited local Irish fans to watch the team in action.
O’Sullivan is motivated by a desire to inspire the next generation (Brian Lawless/PA)
Those kids in the crowd sporting tiny green kit – whether in Queensland or Cork – are what motivate O’Sullivan to keep going.
She said: “In that field where I was that night with my family and everyone, that’s where I grew up playing football. That’s where I played street football with my brothers and all the boys. That night, I was there signing autographs for kids sitting in that same field, so just to look forward and look how far I’ve come and what I’m doing now.
“Look, I have a platform to inspire people and I think that’s what this team is doing. I want to leave this green shirt in the best condition I can for when I’m about to retire – not anytime soon [laughs], but that’s definitely what it’s all about. It’s about inspiring the next generation.”
O’Sullivan, pictured here with manager Vera Pauw, is one of 23 Girls in Green selected for the World Cup (Brian Lawless/PA)
O’Sullivan was just a young girl herself when father John brought her to a bar early in the morning to watch the Republic face Germany in the 2002 World Cup, when Robbie Keane scored his historic equaliser in the second minute of stoppage time.
In 2016, O’Sullivan, who was preparing to move to America to play for Houston Dash, lost her beloved dad just five weeks after he was diagnosed with cancer. Her World Cup debut is the realisation of a long-held dream shared by them both.
She added: “He was the biggest supporter for me in my journey to get to where I am. Obviously, to have him here would be a dream but I know he’s looking down. He’s proud anyway. He pushed me along the way to get to where I am today.”