Saturday, June 3, 2023
    HomeSportSinead Farrelly makes Ireland debut more than six years after retiring from...

    Sinead Farrelly makes Ireland debut more than six years after retiring from soccer, shares her road back

    On Saturday, Sinead Farrelly made her international debut for Ireland against the United States. Her switch to the Ireland women’s national team was only announced on Friday, and was a shock to many — while she had been training with the Girls in Green all week in Texas, it had largely flown under the radar. Twenty-four hours later, she played 60 minutes in the 2-0 loss to the USWNT.

    A player changing national teams tends to be a story, but Farrelly’s journey to playing for Ireland is more remarkable than most. Farrelly returned to the NWSL after being signed by NJ/NY Gotham FC this past March, almost eight years after her previous appearance in the league in 2015. She was forced to retire in 2016 after a car accident, but another major reason for the early ending to her soccer career was not made public until much later. Farrelly, along with former Thorns teammate Mana Shim, accused then-Portland coach Paul Riley of sexual coercion and harassment in a story on The Athletic published in September 2021. 

    In the tunnel at Q2 Stadium, sporting Ireland team gear and needing to catch the bus for their flight to St. Louis, Farrelly was all smiles in the mixed zone.

    “I am so overwhelmed,” she said. “Very happy, excited — obviously we wanted to win — but I am just really proud of the team. I am also very tired.” 

    After joking that she expected to crash in an hour from the high of gameday and making her Ireland debut, she focused on the bigger picture of the emotions of joining the team. 

    “I feel so supported here, and this journey back to soccer has honestly been insane,” she said. “I’m just trying to stay centered and grounded, and be in my body.”

    While she had looked confident and ready in her first appearance for NJ/NY Gotham FC on her return to the NWSL, a casual viewer of her performance with Ireland on Saturday would never know that she only made the decision to try playing again less than a year ago.

    “In July, I decided that I wanted to do this,” Farrelly said on Saturday. “I was lifting, and trying to run, I was at zero — I just hadn’t done anything.” 

    She hired a trainer; a couple of months before the NWSL preseason started, she was back to playing pick-up. Then, she said, she got “thrown into preseason,” doing double days. She said multiple times she’s also still managing her load during this stage of her return, even now. 

    “Once preseason hit, it was like, you’re in this and you can either hang or you can’t,” she said. “I was crying every day because I was like, ‘I can’t do this.’ It actually felt that hard, physically, mentally, all that stuff.” 

    Once she got over the initial shock of a demanding NWSL preseason, once she felt like her body had adjusted, once she felt free to play, then something was unlocked. “But there was definitely a very big uphill climb to get to that point,” Farrelly said.

    As for Ireland, “it was always an option,” Farrelly said. 

    She played with the U.S. youth national teams, and had been called into the U.S. senior national team camps ahead of the 2011 World Cup with a potential roster spot on the line. 

    On Friday, the FAI announced that FIFA had approved her switch, and Farrelly has wasted no time in making an impression.

    “She’s only been here a few days, but already in training she has been the stand-out player to be quite honest,” Ireland’s Denise O’Sullivan said on Friday. “Her calmness on the ball is different to everyone on the team. Her ability to get into spaces, in the half turn, she’s an excellent player with the ball at her feet.”

    Farrelly’s first touches in Saturday’s game confirmed this — she looked comfortable facing pressure first from Andi Sullivan, then Sophia Smith. 

    Sinead Farrelly advances the ball while marked by Sophia Smith. (Photo: Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images).

    The door, potentially, has been opened to a World Cup place. Farrelly laughed and said that she’s of course ready and willing to go, but right now that’s not her primary focus. 

    “I don’t want to lose sight of why I came back to play. It was just to have the game back in my life, and feel that joy and passion again, and I don’t want to attach (myself) to any outcomes.”

    The pressures and expectations put upon players are only elevated in a World Cup year. Trying to balance the normal emotional battles of playing a sport at the highest level with Farrelly’s return after a six-year absence from the game is a dance no player has ever experienced in the same way.

    She has no doubts about her ability when she’s on the field, though. 

    “It’s like no time has passed. I feel comfortable and natural there,” Farrelly said. “The biggest thing for me is my mind — just believing that I belong here, that I have the confidence to show up and play with these players. Taking so much time off, I can feel behind everyone. And I have felt so supported by everyone, but I am someone who internalizes that as pressure, and things (need) to be perfect.”

    At this point in her journey, the biggest challenge Farrelly said she has to conquer is her own mind. 

    “Completely surrendering and trusting that all I have to do is show up and try my best, and that’s enough. Every practice, every game, I’m battling with my mind to bring myself back to that place.”

    The emotions on Saturday were good ones, though. That’s important. And it wasn’t just the case for Farrelly herself.

    Farrelly with her first Ireland cap. (Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

    USWNT head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who coached Farrelly in her first year of the NWSL with FC Kansas City back in 2013, was beaming in the press conference when asked about her.

    “I saw her after the game and gave her a big hug. It was so good to see her on the field,” he said. “Just in general, not just for the national team on the international stage. Obviously it’s a good opportunity for her to earn a spot for a team that will compete in the World Cup. But also just to see her back on the field because we know she’s a tremendous player. She’s really skillful, total footballer. So when I saw her after the game, I could see that joy in her eyes too.”

    When Alex Morgan, her teammate in Portland and the key player who supported Farrelly and Shim in the process of telling their story, came through the postgame mixed zone, she could only express her pride over Farrelly’s return to the NWSL and her international debut.

    “She’s the Sinead I remember playing with on the Thorns,” she said. “I’m just so impressed with her.”

    And Morgan will be on a mission after the U.S.’s second friendly against Ireland on Tuesday. 

    “I told her she gets to keep this jersey because it’s so special, but I want the next one.”

    (Top photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)



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