'Training with the boys' team helped to improve my game...'

'Training with the boys' team helped to improve my game...'
Lakewood celebrate their U12 victory against Midleton in 2017 as team captain and Player of the Match Heidi O'Sullivan lifts the Kay McGrath Cup. Picture: Larry Cummins

HEIDI O’Sullivan’s burgeoning talent has seen the Cork City striker make her mark on the international stage with the Republic of Ireland U15s.

O’Sullivan was a member of manager Richard Berkeley’s panel that lost this year’s John Read Cup final to England in Abbottstown. Disappointingly, Covid-19 robbed the Cork striker and her fellow international team-mates of an opportunity to play in the 2020 Bob Docherty Cup against Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales.

The former Lakewood striker impressed Berkeley and his management team at last year’s FAI Schools interprovincial tournament prior to their international campaign being cut short due to the global pandemic. It was only a few months before that Heidi O’Sullivan also played an integral role in Cork U15’s 2019 Gaynor Cup triumph at the University of Limerick.

For O’Sullivan, her love of football began long before she got an opportunity to don a Republic of Ireland jersey. Clearly, Heidi benefited greatly from her early years with Lakewood, especially being allowed to train with schoolboys of a similar age.

“I was always soccer-mad and never really played any other sport when I was growing up,” Heidi O’Sullivan said.

“I started off playing in Douglas Hall’s Academy before moving to Lakewood. I began playing at the U12 age-grade under coach Ger Cahill before moving up to U14 and then U15. That’s when I was allowed to train with the boys for a couple of training sessions.

“I didn’t think of it as that big a deal to be honest and just saw it as the next step up. The physicality was different but it is thanks to the coach, Colm Quinn, that I got a chance to train with boys my own age and it definitely helped my game. 

"As I said, it was a lot different from playing on a girls’ team, the ball moved a lot quicker and the games were much more physical, but I was able for it.” 

In 2019, Heidi was selected to travel to the AUL Complex in Clonshaugh, Dublin and represent Munster at the annual FAI Schools U15 interprovincial tournament. This was O’Sullivan’s second time playing for her province and her coaches underlined their belief in the Lakewood player by handing her the captain’s armband.

Heidi O'Sullivan has progressed from Lakewood to the Irish squad.
Heidi O'Sullivan has progressed from Lakewood to the Irish squad.

O’Sullivan responded in the best possible fashion by helping Munster come from 1-0 down to earn a draw with Ulster in their opening game. Any doubts about Heidi O’Sullivan’s ability to perform at interprovincial level were dispelled in her second outing against Connacht.

She netted a brace to hand her team a 2-0 lead before the Westerners fought back to level the score. Play was held up for over 20 minutes after Munster’s Maebh Russell suffered a nasty ankle injury. The game looked set to end in a draw until Munster were awarded a free-kick 35 yards from their opponents’ goal. 

That was Heidi O’Sullivan’s cue to unleash an unstoppable shot into the top corner direct from the free-kick and earn her side a 3-2 victory. A deserved ‘Player of the Match’ accolade was just reward for the hat-trick heroine.

Alas, a star-studded Leinster outfit denied Munster in the deciding game with Eve O’Brien scoring twice in a 2-0 defeat of Heidi O’Sullivan’s team. Despite falling at the final hurdle, the watching Republic of Ireland U15 management team had seen enough and promptly invited O’Sullivan to attend international trials shortly after the interprovincials concluded.

“Going up to Dublin to play in the interprovincial tournament for a second time was a bit easier as I knew what to expect,” the Regina Mundi College student remembered.

“My confidence was high at the time as well because the coaches named me as captain for the tournament. As a striker, I was expected to score the goals but I got moved into midfield during the tournament which I didn’t mind as we got the results we needed against Ulster and Connacht before our final game.

“Leinster are, by far, the toughest team I have played against at interprovincial level. We put an awful lot of effort into our game last year and I was pleased with my performances. I scored a hat-trick and was named ‘Player of the Match’ against Connacht. 

"The whole team put it up to Leinster in that final game, but it wasn’t to be.” 

Lakewood ace Heidi O'Sullivan with the Gaynor Cup after last year's tournament in Fota Island Resort.
Lakewood ace Heidi O'Sullivan with the Gaynor Cup after last year's tournament in Fota Island Resort.

The Lakewood and Cork City player didn’t have long to bask in the glow of her excellent displays as Ireland’s U15 Manager Richard Berkeley came calling.

“The Republic of Ireland U15 trials were held in Abbottstown in Dublin so there was a fair bit of travelling involved,” O’Sullivan admitted.

“It was a series of trial matches every time we got together. I found those games a big step up from the interprovincials as the best players from the four provinces were involved so you had to be at your best. I completed four trials in Dublin before a U15 Irish squad was picked for a friendly against the Galway U17s.

“Playing in front of nearly 1,000 people in Salthill was very different from what we were used to. There are never that many people at our club or interprovincial games so, even though it was only a friendly, to put on the Irish jersey and play in front of such a large crowd was something I’ll never forget.”

It has been an unprecedented year but the upward trajectory of Heidi O’Sullivan’s playing career looks set to continue unabated at both club and international level.

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