Relative of Ireland players Abbie Larkin Ringsend. Tom Maher/INPHO

Letter from Sydney: The calm before the storm ahead of World Cup D-Day

The42′s Emma Duffy and Sinead O’Carroll, Editor of The Journal, are at the Women’s World Cup.

THE WATER IN Sydney Harbour glistens in the sun, the calm before the storm.

It’s approaching lunchtime on Wednesday and the place is a hotbed of activity. Tourists sightseeing at the Opera House and Harbour Bridge; office workers weaving through them with takeaway coffees; locals out running; even a couple having their wedding photographs taken.

But the hustle and bustle is on another level today. It’s about 30 hours out from the World Cup kicking off. 

There’s no shortage of Irish fans around ahead of the historic opener against co-hosts Australia.

This is home away from home for so many, and even more so today.

“I don’t know how to describe the feeling,” Sarah Rowe, who is based in Melbourne where she plays AFLW for Collingwood, smiles. ”You feel really proud.”

Rowe is multi-talented sportsperson, who has also played soccer for Ireland and Gaelic football for Mayo in recent years.

“I’m just really excited for the girls. Obviously having relationships with so many of them, I think it adds that extra emotional pull for me to want to see those girls do well.

“I love to see Irish people around. When I’m away from home, I really miss Irish people and to know there’s so much amazing support from the Irish, it’s incredible.”

Two legendary figures of Irish women’s football pass by within minutes. Firstly, Michelle O’Neill. The Wexford woman is gearing up to referee on the world stage once more, but she stops to chat to any Irish fans she spots.

Olivia O’Toole, Ireland’s record goalscorer is also wandering around, soaking it all in.

There’s a buzz in the air and reminders everywhere you look, from Fifa branding and other promotions from the corporate world to FOX’s impressive set-up under the Harbour Bridge.

carlsberg-0-0-sand-installation-on-sydneys-bondi-beach-1872023 Carlsberg 0.0 Sand Installation On Sydney’s Bondi Beach Ahead Of Ireland's Upcoming Match Against Australia. ©Aquabumps / INPHO ©Aquabumps / INPHO / INPHO

15 miles away, the finishing touches are being put on Stadium Australia. Built to host the 2000 Summer Olympics, Fifa has reduced it to a 75,784-seater for the tournament and a sell-out is expected on Thursday.

Media, staff and co-ordinators rush around, with ‘MD-1′ in full swing, all wondering what story will unfold in a few hours’ time.

The Ireland press conference is short and sweet, Katie McCabe and Vera Pauw going over ground they have covered time and time again.

They are fresh off a flight, welcomed by family, friends and fans at the airport after the short journey from their Brisbane base.

“We don’t just want to create history,” McCabe said at one point.

“We want to leave a legacy.”

That word dominates the Aussies’ media duties with Tony Gustavsson and Sam Kerr appearing cool, calm and collected.

Cathy Freeman, the home hero of the 2000 Olympics, was in camp to speak to the team last week and that inspiring visit gets a good airing.

In between the talking, Ireland train at the Leichhardt Oval. They arrive over 30 minutes late after traffic delays, but appear relatively unfazed.

“She’s alive,” Amber Barrett shouts with a warm embrace for Denise O’Sullivan after her injury scare, and then it’s straight to work.

Denise Watch has been the nature of the job for the past few days — and The 42 is pleased to report that she looked sharp from the off. Ruesha Littlejohn followed her own programme as she manages her load, as normal, and fears were allayed when what looked like a boot was confirmed as ice strapped on her Achilles — as normal procedure — during a pitch walk back at Stadium Australia.

While I was keeping an eye on O’Sullivan and co., my colleague Sinéad O’Carroll was on the lookout for green jerseys and their, hopefully, loquacious wearers. There was no shortage of travelling COYGIG fans loitering around the Mercantile near the Harbour, many as excited to meet the Brosnan and Fahey families as they would be to meet the players themselves.

And all willing to talk. She was buzzed coming back to me, telling stories of supporters who had enough faith to buy tickets to last-16 games, and some, even quarter-finals. 

olivia-hayes-pictured-in-front-of-the-sydney-opera-house Ireland fan Olivia Hayes, from Drumcondra, pictured in front of the Sydney Opera House. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

There were couples, mother-daughter pairings, whole families and retired friends who had all made the trip of a lifetime because ‘getting to a World Cup’ is a big deal. But she was mostly taken by a young girl, Aisling, who was here after her Dad made a flippant promise during the qualifying campaign and she made him stick to it. She’s part of the FAI’s emerging talent programme and her parents say she couldn’t be more inspired by this group of women.

In the before times, she watched clips of men ahead of going out to practice after school but today, she looks up her female heroes. The Department of Foreign Affairs believes 4,000 people have landed here from Ireland for the game, while expectations are rising that there could be up to 30,000 Irish people in the stadium tomorrow.

Imagine all the little Aislings watching that? What a legacy.

A flurry emotions, banks of memories made and more to be created.

The last word goes to Rowe. She was on the Ireland U19s team that famously reached a European Championship semi-final in 2014. McCabe, Megan Connolly and Chloe Mustaki from the current crop were among her team-mates, with paths also crossed with O’Sullivan and Brosnan underage.

“I definitely feel really nostalgic. I actually went back over all my old photos yesterday of that 19s time, I had pictures of all the articles of that time. I remember the feelings I had.

“We had no right to win any game, we were ranked at the bottom, we were definitely the underdogs and that’s exactly where the girls are at at the moment. They’re in that position where they’re not really expected to do anything in the world of soccer but what Irish players bring is resilience, hard work. And if they bring that, it can be anyone’s game. You just never know with sport.”

You just never know, do you?

Bring on the storm.

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