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Ireland star O'Sullivan and Courage team-mates take a knee during US anthem as football returns Stateside

The Cork midfield maestro helped her side to a 2-1 victory.

AFTER HER TEAM took a knee during the US national anthem, Ireland international Denise O’Sullivan helped her North Carolina Courage side to victory in their National Women’s Soccer League [NWSL] return yesterday.

nc Denise O'Sullivan (fifth from left) and her NC Courage team-mates take a knee. Source: NC Courage.

Screenshot 2020-06-28 at 11.28.17

Courage’s 2-1 Challenge Cup win over Portland Thorns kicked off team sports in the US following the coronavirus shutdown.

Both sides kneeled during the pre-game playing of the anthem in Salt Lake City, Utah, with players wearing t-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter.” During the game, players wore “Black Lives Matter” armbands.

“We took a knee today to protest racial injustice, police brutality and systemic racism against black people and people of color in America,” the teams said in a joint statement.

“We love our country and we have taken this opportunity to hold it to a higher standard.

“It is our duty to demand that the liberties and freedoms this nation was founded upon are extended to everyone.”

Screenshot 2020-06-28 at 11.28.30 Source: NC Courage.

Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick became a lightning rod for controversy after kneeling for the anthem and starting the gesture to protest racial injustice in 2016.

He has been out of an NFL job for four years, but Kaepernick’s protest has gained huge backing as demonstrations against racial injustice and police brutality have swept across the US after the killing of unarmed black man George Floyd while in custody of Minneapolis police in May.

Athletes from various sports have backed kneeling for the anthem in peaceful protest when their leagues return from their respective Covid-19 enforced shutdowns.

It was Courage striker Lynn Williams who scored the winner in injury time, heading home a cross from Samantha Mewis to secure the 2-1 triumph.

North Carolina’s Brazilian star Debinha had opened the scoring in the 75th minute of the rematch of the league’s 2017 and 2018 championship games, only for Portland’s Naomi Charley to level matters five minutes later.

denise-osullivan O'Sullivan on the ball for Ireland. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Cork native O’Sullivan — voted MVP by her team-mates for the last two consecutive seasons — impressed throughout, and was referred to as “maybe one of the most underrated players in the league” at one point in commentary.

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“Me and Sam have been working for years to try to get on the same page,” match winner Williams said afterwards, reflecting on the decisive finish.

“I think in that moment, the clock is counting down, I like to think we have a mental connection. I just saw an opening and right when she looked up I thought ‘she’s going to cross it in.’”

While plans for the return of the NBA (basketball), NHL (hockey), MLS (men’s football) and Major League Baseball have garnered headlines, the NWSL yesterday became the first professional team league in action through the Challenge Cup.

It hasn’t been smooth sailing for the tournament — scheduled to run until 26 July — with Orlando Pride pulling out last week after six players and four staff members tested positive for coronavirus.

The tournament is also missing some of the best-known US stars, with Megan Rapinoe and two of her World Cup 2019 winning team-mates– Christen Press and Tobin Heath — opting out.

But Ballon D’Or Rapinoe still had her eye on the proceedings, tweeting her support for the pre-game protest.

“You love to see it,” Rapinoe tweeted. “You love to see these women using their voice, demanding better for America, and for black people and people of colour.”

Later, there was a powerful moment between Chicago Red Star duo Casey Short and Julie Ertz as they took a knee for the anthem.

- Additional reporting from AFP

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Emma Duffy

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