Women in Sport awards: Denise O’Sullivan makes the ball talk

Northsider is a playmaker supreme who was sensational for her country across 2020
Women in Sport awards: Denise O’Sullivan makes the ball talk

Ireland's Denise O'Sullivan scores their third goal against Montenegro. Picture: INPHO/Filip Filipovic

WHILE the year 2020 was a turbulent one for us all, it seemed to have an impact on Denise O’Sullivan more than most others.

It was a year that started with her playing football in Australia before returning to her current home in North Carolina in the United States of America.

It eventually saw her enjoy a loan spell with Brighton and Hove Albion on the South Coast of England before concluding with a trip home to Cork, where she was able to spend Christmas with her family.

“It was a strange year, it was a bit of a rollercoaster, to be honest,” she told The Echo in an interview recently.

The first question that was asked was if she could provide a general reflection on how 2020 was for her.

“It was a rollercoaster for myself anyway,” she again insisted before continuing to summarise. “I was in Australia when I heard about the virus starting and then I went back to the Courage for most of the year.

“We were doing pre-season and then we weren’t really allowed train at the time because the pandemic just started in March. We were only allowed train in pairs and we were scattered all over the pitch which was very weird.

“We didn’t get to play a full season either we just had to do the challenge cup so all the teams in the league met in Utah. We all stayed in hotels there, in a bubble, just going to and from the football pitch to play games and train.

“I went on my loan spell then to Brighton for a couple of months and honestly I think if the pandemic didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere like.

“Me being able to play for the national team was the most important thing at that time because we had such big games.

“But I just think for everyone it was a very weird year. Nobody expected it to be like that. It was very important to speak to my family through Facetime.

“When you look at it really, you take some things for granted when you’re in that situation. You now enjoy the little things like going for little walks every day, I wouldn’t have done that usually if we weren’t in a pandemic.” 

Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

An interesting insight from the gifted midfielder and a modest take as she failed to give herself credit for taking it all in her stride like she normally does with a dropping football.

Moving from continent to continent to continent — from one side of the world to the other — is a challenging experience at the best of times but to do so during a Global Pandemic and still perform at the highest level out on the pitch is remarkable.


The Knocknaheeny native made such an impact in her time in Australia that a local fan recently got a tattoo of her on his arm. She was only there for a few months, playing just seven games and scoring one goal, yet she was clearly idolised.

She returned to the North Carolina Courage and was looking to build on the club’s back-to-back National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) Championship triumphs in 2018 and 2019.

But personally, O’Sullivan was looking to improve even further as a player even though after both those title-winning campaigns, her team-mates voted her the team’s Most Valuable Player.

With the pandemic wreaking havoc on the planet though, the structure of the league was forced to change dramatically for the 2020 campaign.

Rather than taking the usual form of a league, the NWSL introduced a shortened Challenge Cup to be played entirely in the state of Utah from June 27 to July 26.

O’Sullivan helped Courage finish top of the group but they crashed out in the quarter-finals following a 1-0 defeat to the Portland Thorns.

The 27-year-old then decided to join Brighton on a loan spell to ensure she could perform for Ireland as they looked to reach their first-ever major tournament.

O’Sullivan produced some exceptional displays for her new club and also her country but ultimately the Irish will not 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 costly.

A low point of her career she has since admitted but one she will use to motivate her going forward.

“It was an interesting year but the way I look at it is; it is what it is and you just have to get on with it,” she enthused.

And that attitude will more than likely ensure that 2021 is an even brighter year for O’Sullivan.

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