FROM Ballincollig to the Bronx.
Cork City FC captain Maria O’Sullivan is set to leave for the States on a soccer scholarship, an ambition of hers since a child.
The 19-year-old netminder from Ballincollig is due to depart next month, and although she will find it hard to leave her beloved Cork City, she is excited to start a new chapter in her footballing career.
“I am really looking forward to going to the States,” said O’Sullivan.
“To play football in America has been a dream of mine for a very long time and I cannot wait to eventually get there.
“I was due to go over to the States the end of July for preseason which would have started the start of August but due to Covid-19 and visa issues there were some complications so I’m hoping to make it over there for the end of August.
"I’m heading to a Division 1 college called Fordham University in the A10 League which is located in The Bronx, New York.
"I’ve always dreamed of living in New York and the idea of going to college and playing over in America was always in my head. My older brother was in the process of getting a basketball scholarship over there [Daniel] before he did his ACL so it was him who opened the idea to me.
“I’m heading to The Bronx which is located only 20 minutes away from the heart of Manhattan which really attracted me to the college. Fordham university is well known for the sports they have but they are also renowned for their academics as well, they are ranked #74 in National Universities.
"For my first year I’ll be living in a dorm on the campus with another girl on the soccer team. There aren’t any other Irish girls going to Fordham but I know a good few that are heading to colleges nearby so that’s great."
The former Ballincollig and Lakewood star has gained a lot of success underage and through her performances between the post, she earned International recognition from U17 level and hopes she can make it as the senior International Number one sooner rather than later.
“I earned my first international cap at an U15 tournament in Wales. There’s no other feeling that comes close to the feeling you get representing your country. There’s a great sense of pride and a feeling almost of relief because you know that the hours of hard work you put in are starting to pay off."
Unfortunately in 2017 she suffered a horrible knee injury that she had to get surgery on which resulted in missing out on the chance to play in the U17 European Championship.
"Mentally this was quite tough to take but after months of rehab I got back to where I was and last year I made it back onto the U19 team. We qualified for the elite phase in the euros which was supposed to take place in April but due to Covid that was cancelled which was heartbreaking.
“I’ve been in and around the senior home-based training for the past year or two and this has been extremely beneficial playing with players who are on the Senior squad, there’s a lot to learn from them. In the future I hope that I can someday make the senior Irish squad but I know I will have to put in a lot of work and continue to develop and learn in order to do so.”
O’Sullivan has a sporting family background, with a strong connection to the Ballincollig Basketball club, and it’s from here she admits her love for the game began.
“I grew up in a family where sport was at the forefront so I started playing soccer with my brothers and dad from a very young age. I first joined Ballincollig boys team at the age of five because there wasn’t a girls' team.
"I then moved onto Lakewood athletic girls team when I was 10 and enjoyed a great seven years there where I achieved significant success with the team winning many leagues and cup titles and competing in National Cups. I will always be grateful for the years I spent in Lakewood because if it wasn’t for the coaches, especially Ger Cahill and players there I wouldn’t be in the great position I am now."
The first bit of success she got outside club level was at just 12-years-old when she made the U15 Munster schools team.
"I would say I gained the most out of this team as I was playing with players years older than me who went on to become internationals then so I definitely learnt a lot here.
“I’ve had a few years at Cork City which I have thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much from Ronan Collins, goalkeeping coach Eoin Murphy and fellow goalkeepers Amanda Budden and Eva Bandana. It’s sad to leave a club I have so much love for.
“With regards to my position as goalkeeper, you could say I never got to choose,” laughs O’Sullivan. "When playing with my brothers and friends they were always stuck for a goalkeeper and I was always thrown in goal with no say!
"After a while I got used to the position and eventually began to enjoy playing there. I just loved the thrill of making a save and the bravery that was needed.
"Once I started playing in goal I never really played anywhere else except for the odd time when I would come out and play centre-back but those were rare occasions. I love playing in goal and I am looking forward to developing in the States.”