DENISE O’Sullivan made a huge impact during her loan spell in Australia but even she is surprised by the lasting impression she made on one local fan in particular.
“I woke up and I had like seven messages on my phone. I was like ‘what is this about?,’ they were all sending me the pictures of it,” she tells the Echo.
The pictures were of a Western Sydney Wanderers fan who had just got a tattoo of the Knocknaheeny native on his arm.
“Yeah…. I don’t know what to think of it. It’s crazy, it’s kind of a compliment. It does look like me, it’s pretty close I guess.”
Is he the only fan with a tattoo of her?
“I hope so!” she laughs.
Will her fans at North Carolina Courage follow suit with similar tattoos?
“We’ll see about that, it’s a big commitment like!” she jokes, sipping on her coffee in a cafe in the American city.
It’s a year since O’Sullivan departed Sydney following the conclusion of her loan deal, where she represented the club on seven occasions across a four-month period, although the final few weeks were spent exploring.
She returned to the North Carolina Courage looking to build on the club’s back-to-back National Women’s Soccer League Championship triumphs, and also her own Most Valuable Player awards for those campaigns, as voted by her teammates.
The outbreak of the Coronavirus would soon change the world and after a long delay, it was finally confirmed the NWSL would go ahead, albeit with a different structure.
Rather than taking its usual format, it would instead be a shortened Challenge Cup to be played entirely in Utah, where they would quarantine in a hotel, from June 27 to July 26.
The Courage’s hopes of claiming a third title in a row would end abruptly as they crashed out at the quarter-final stage with a 1-0 defeat to the Portland Thorns.
“That was very surprising for us,” she admits.
“We were expected to go in there and win that tournament but it happened, we just lost the game.
“It was disappointing not to win it but our mentality and our culture at the Courage is to grow every day and to get better as a team, hopefully, we’ll do that this year.”
The Global Pandemic remained an issue in the Autumn and for the playmaker, it meant she needed to return to Europe or else potentially miss some crucial games for the Republic of Ireland.
In September, O'Sullivan officially joined English Women’s Super League side Brighton & Hove Albion on loan.
She would play five matches for the club on the pitch while off the pitch, she would be involved in some competitive Teqball games with her housemates Rianna Jarrett and fellow Leesider Megan Connolly.
“Honestly, Megan actually beat us a few times,” said O’Sullivan when asked who was the best Teqball player.
“I’m going to give it to her right now but if I played her another few times I think I would be champion!
“The weather wasn’t the best there so we couldn’t play it a lot. Those girls are very competitive so we had a lot of fun with that.
“It was a great few months. They asked me to stay on but my heart was with the Courage.
“I didn’t really want to leave them in the first place but I really had no choice if I wanted to play with Ireland which is very important to me.”
O’Sullivan’s availability was a huge boost for Ireland but unfortunately, they won’t be at the 2022 European Championships as a 1-0 defeat away to Ukraine - where a draw would’ve been enough to earn a playoff spot - proved decisive.
“Yeah…. Oh my goodness, I can’t even describe that moment still. It was heartbreaking,” she laments.
“I don’t think I got over it until…. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it actually. It’s always in the back of my mind but those few weeks after it were dreadful.
“We were so close. The odds were with us, we were supposed to beat Ukraine and we should have beaten them.
“I think we are always saying ‘oh we’re so close to this tournament, so close’ but that’s just not good enough anymore in my eyes, we need to get there.
“It was one of the lowest points of my career, definitely. But look, we have to try and take some positives and grow from it.”
The year which saw O’Sullivan move from continent to continent to continent - from one side of the world to the other - ended in familiar surroundings.
After a Christmas spent with her family in Cork - walking the streets with her mother and sisters, training on a nearby pitch with her nephews - she was eager to return to North Carolina and begin pre-season training.
Now, her sights are set on a more positive year than the last with the Courage looking to recapture their league crown and Ireland’s World Cup Qualifiers also to come.
A permanent return to Leeside is a thought for another day.
“I loved Australia, I think after football that is somewhere I could see myself living but I could also see myself living very close to my family so it’s a tough one. I don’t really know the answer to be quite honest,” she admits.
“Now I’m after travelling the world and I’m very independent now, I’ve been out here by myself and just doing my own thing every day and I’m used to that now.
“My family I’d say really want me back there once football comes to an end but that’s a long time away.
“I ain’t done yet, not for another good few years!”