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Denise O'Sullivan on recovery, switching positions and the 75 Hard Challenge

The Corkonian has consistently been a key player for Ireland of late.

Denise O'Sullivan (file pic).
Denise O'Sullivan (file pic).
Image: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Updated at 20.29

FOOTBALLERS INVARIABLY get praised for moments, split seconds of magic or impeccable judgement on the pitch.

Really, though, it is the long, mundane hours they spend away from the spotlight that count for the most.

Denise O’Sullivan certainly recognises the importance of good habits in relation to match preparation.

It is why she has starred so frequently for Ireland and North Carolina, winning most valuable player (MVP) in 2018 and 2019 for the latter, as well as helping them claim a couple of trophies during their time in the US.

In the current Irish squad, arguably only Arsenal’s Katie McCabe rivals her in terms of importance to the team.

With four goals in the campaign so far, no Irish player has found the net more often, and she will hope to add to this tally against a star-studded Swedish team that they are due to face on Tuesday in an important World Cup qualifier.

“I’m very happy with that,” she says. “Obviously I play in the number 10 role, that’s my job, to get assists and score goals. So once I can do that for the team, then I’m really happy. But I’m never fully happy with what I have. I always want to go a step further and that’s to score more goals for the team. If I can contribute in any way to help the team go further in this competition, I think that’s really important.

“Individually, I’ve had a good time so far but I think it’s all about the team and the team has been fantastic. Every single player that’s played throughout this qualification has made a big impact for this team.”

Her success in this regard is all the more impressive when you consider she plays a totally different role at club level — for North Carolina Courage, she has consistently won plaudits as a deep-lying midfielder.

“I don’t play at all in the 10 role for my club,” the Cork native adds. “It’s fine — two completely different roles. For the Courage, playing in that deeper role suits me more because of the players around me. Debinha and the players we have at 10 at the Courage and then coming in here, I think I’m more effective on the attacking side with the Irish team. It’s not a huge challenge for me. I just change my mindset and do whatever I can for the team here and playing both roles is really important and I enjoy both of them.”

So does she prefer one more so than the other?

“No, not really,” she laughs. “They’re two completely different roles, two completely different teams so whatever I have to do for each team is the most important thing and I come in here and try to refocus. I’m obviously closer to goal a lot more with this team. Whereas with the Courage, honestly, I’d get on the edge of the box probably a few times, I’m more of the anchor for that team.”

At 28, O’Sullivan is widely regarded as one of the best midfielders currently playing — when The Guardian compiled their list of the world’s best footballers in 2020, she came 74th.

The former Glasgow City player partially attributes all she has achieved down to the meticulous work put in off the field. 

“For me, it’s one of the biggest things outside of playing. My recovery I would say is really good and I try to do everything possible to recover well. 

“We have great resources at the club and everything is provided for us. I’m a professional athlete, so for me to be at the top of my game, I need to do everything possible to recover well.

“So I do all of that every week right after every game, and I think that’s why I have been at the top of my game.

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“But I always look to strive for more and get better, so recovery is definitely the number one priority for me.”

She continues: “In America, we have it all provided there, so why not use it? It is the little details right after games that count, getting your protein shake in right away, they’re the little details that matter to me.

“I will say I take those details into account and I do everything I can possible to be ready for the next game.”

And like all top-level athletes, O’Sullivan thrives on completing tasks or goals, which is why she is currently partaking in the 75 Hard Challenge.

For those unfamiliar, it was created by author and entrepreneur Andy Frisella.

Its rules include following a diet that does not include alcohol or chocolate, working out twice a day for at least 45 minutes, drinking four litres of water per day, reading 10 pages of nonfiction a day and taking progress photos all over the course of 75 days.

The plan has been criticised by some as potentially dangerous as well as for the fact that Frisella is not a certified trainer or dietitian, but O’Sullivan says she is well able to handle its rigours.

“Honestly, I don’t know how I ended up doing it. A few of the girls were doing it already and I’m always down for a challenge. I’m on day 14 now I think, so it’s grand. Most things in it are okay. No chocolate, no sweets, that’s okay. But then no alcohol, a gallon of water, they’re little things that I do anyway. I don’t drink, so they’re easy, it’s just chocolate and stuff, it’s just a mental challenge, that’s all it is. 

“Obviously for me, the workouts probably add up to more because of the intensity of our training sessions. Then it’s just reading, it’s grand. It’s nothing too much for me, honestly. It’s only the chocolate and sweets that really catch me out — I love a bit of chocolate after a game.”

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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