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From Euros heartbreak to World Cup dreams, Liberty Hall and everything in between

The past, the present and the future: Denise O’Sullivan spoke brilliantly after her Ireland team etched their names into history.

TWO DEFINING IMAGES.

One stark contrast.

dinny3 The difference 21 months make for Denise O'Sullivan and Ireland. Source: Inpho.

1 December 2020, Denise O’Sullivan was on her honkers, crying into her beloved Ireland jersey, the Euro 2022 dream well and truly dead at Tallaght Stadium. She stayed out on the pitch for for what felt like an eternity by herself afterwards, cutting a dejected, solitary figure.

1 September 2022, O’Sullivan fell to a similar position on the very same turf, this time joined by captain Katie McCabe. A heartwarming embrace, tears flowing — happy ones this time — on an historic night as Ireland secured a World Cup play-off spot.

A simply beautiful outpouring of emotion, an already-iconic picture, one that will live long in the memory.

The scars of that gut-wrenching failed Euros campaign remain, but Thursday night went some way in banishing the ghost. It’s one of the first things O’Sullivan says in this post-match interview.

“I just dropped to my knees,” she begins, visibly exhausted but enjoying every moment.

“It was very emotional. I just dropped to the floor and there were definitely a few tears. This team has been through a lot and not getting to the Euros was a big blow. It was a nightmare so to get to a play-off tonight was unbelievable.

“Compared to that moment I was dropping on the floor crying at the end of the Germany game… it’s mad looking at it. The contrast is something else. That was a huge blow. That was probably the most heart-breaking time in my career, not making that Euros.

“Myself and Katie sitting there tonight, so happy. The team has come a long way from 2017 in Liberty Hall. All those girls, Emma Byrne, Yvonne Treacy, Áine O’Gorman, they all came before us, worked really hard and this moment we’ve done that for them tonight.

“It is a historical moment. There are also girls who have been in the squad years like Savannah McCarthy who are injured. I’m sure they were quite emotional watching the game and wishing they were part of the team tonight, but they are. They are part of the journey. That was for them and all those young girls who were at the stadium tonight who look up to us. It was just fantastic. Ireland showed up for us tonight for sure. They were amazing.”

Somehow, some way, the world-class Cork midfielder has a word for everyone amidst the madness of the famous 1-0 win.

For all of those who went before, for those who will follow their lead, and for “fantastic” goal-scorer Lily Agg. Her face lights up most as she speaks about her family, who she always pays a touching tribute to.

“I think they all went to my Mam’s house to grab all the Ireland jerseys I left behind,” the North Carolina Courage ace laughs. “Family is everything. They know what it means to me. They show up for me in every single game. I live in America but we’re on the phone every day. They have done a lot for me and they’re my biggest supporters so to have them there was amazing.”

denise-osullivan-celebrates-winning O'Sullivan celebrating after the Finland game. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

O’Sullivan won’t shy away from the nervy start Ireland endured, but stresses the need to “bring our second half performance into Tuesday” when they face Slovakia in their final Group A qualifier.

All of these things signal the team’s growth and development in recent times, though.

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“We didn’t play well in the first half and a few years ago we might have let that slip and lost the game but it shows how much we have grown as a team. To get that goal, stay compact, go to the corners and keep the ball there I think it is huge. I’m really proud of the team.

“This is a very special group. We have huge talent within the team, with a mix of experience and youth. Jess Ziu, Heather Payne who are all coming through and are unbelievable talent. We have a lot to improve on and we aren’t at our pinnacle but we are going to get there.

“A few years ago, we couldn’t have done this. Finland are a very good side so to get six points shows how much we have grown, it’s unbelievable. It sets us up well going into these play-offs. And if we get another top team, we can take on anyone because of that growth.”

She won’t get too far ahead of herself, her feet firmly on the ground as she stresses, “We have a long way to go,” over and over; the admittedly “too confusing” play-off route moving into full focus.

“I couldn’t even explain the process to you. We’re there now, I’m very happy. [A home draw] would be unbelievable. They came out tonight. The energy, the atmosphere… we are after doing a big thing tonight for Ireland. We are after bringing happiness to the country.”

Here’s to more of that. Onwards and upwards.

“We won’t fear anyone,” a bullish O’Sullivan concludes. “We’re a confident team and it feels really good. We have important fixtures and we’re really excited.”

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Emma Duffy

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