Joy in her eyes, ice in her veins - Ireland debutant impresses against USA
Sinead Farrelly’s remarkable story continues in the green jersey.

AN HOUR WAS more than enough for Sinead Farrelly to prove her worth.

With exactly 60 minutes on the clock, the Republic of Ireland’s newest international came off the pitch at the Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas with a huge smile on her face.

She was greeted with a warm embrace from Vera Pauw, the USA underage international a standout performer in yesterday’s 2-0 international friendly defeat to the back-to-back world champions.

vera-pauw-with-sinead-farrelly Ryan Byrne / INPHO Sinead Farrelly impressed on her Ireland debut. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Farrelly’s story is remarkable, really.

Her name will have been recognised by many before last night.

In 2021, her whistleblowing sparked a league-wide NWSL investigation, which ultimately found widespread sexual abuse and misconduct (Pauw was named in last December’s report). She and Mana Shim came forward with allegations of sexual coercion and harassment against former Portland Thorns coach Paul Riley.

Farrelly originally retired in December 2016 at the age of just 27, having struggled with injuries, some of them sustained in a car crash. Her retirement statement referenced mental health battles she had endured through her recovery, but her harrowing revelations five years later provided further explanation.

The 33-year-old midfielder is now rebuilding her career, having recently signed for Gotham City.

She made an emotional — and promising — return to the NWSL last weekend, before a whirlwind few days in Ireland camp.

The FAI announced that Farrelly would train with the Girls In Green on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and in Friday’s pre-match press conference, not only had she been parachuted into the squad, but the starting team.

Farrelly — who qualifies through her Cavan-born father — was one of four US-born players in the XI; Courtney Brosnan, Marissa Sheva and Kyra Carusa the others. She was one of three 2023 recruits included as World Cup competition reaches boiling point, alongside Sheva and Aoife Mannion. And ultimately, she was among two debutants: Peamount United youngster Tara O’Hanlon made her senior international bow in the closing minutes. 

The game was decided by that point, the final scoreline 2-0. Goals in either half from Emily Fox and Lindsey Horan ultimately settled the first of back-to-back contests.

Ireland saw their record unbeaten run of nine games — including eight clean sheets, seven in-a-row stretching back to last April — come to an end, but will take huge encouragement from their first-half display in particular.

Ultimately, mistakes proved costly, but there were no shortage of positives and improvements as they fell to another defeat to the all-conquering USA.

Farrelly was central to the good stuff.

While others were nervy early doors, the Pennsylvania native was comfortable and composed on the ball. Her first involvement was a positive run forward and she grew into the game from there

She got stuck in, broke up play and brought more control to Ireland’s attacking game.

She looked sharp and skilful, her touch sublime with some clever flicks and deliveries on show. For the most part, she was defensively strong too.

“To be honest, because of her, we could play the way that we did,” Pauw told RTÉ afterwards. 

“You could also see the difference — the moment you miss the player that can keep the ball for that little moment, it was a struggle for us, we couldn’t get away anymore. We were waiting for a player like Sinead and after the first training, we said, ‘We are just going to do it’ and get her in. That balance makes other players perform better.”

sinead-farrelly Ryan Byrne / INPHO Farrelly on the ball, with captain Katie McCabe. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Denise O’Sullivan, a fellow midfield maestro fresh off earning her 100th cap, echoed her manager’s sentiments on the newcomer. Having hailed Farrelly as “the standout player” in training during the week, O’Sullivan beamed:

“Absolutely fantastic. Sinead was great. She just brings a calmness and she’s very good on the ball. She brings other players into the game as well, we’re delighted to have her.”

From almost eight years away from the pitch to the cusp of the World Cup.

Farrelly will be hoping to make her case further when the sides meet in Tuesday’s rematch in St Louis, Missouri [KO 12.30am Irish time, live on RTÉ 2].

Squad rotation is expected, but it appears the Gotham City star is a big part of Pauw’s plans going forward.

That she came in for high praise from her home nation when all was said and done further adds to the excitement — and remarkable story.

“It was amazing,” US manager Vlatko Andonovski told the post-match press conference. “Overall really happy for her.

“I saw her after the game and I gave her a big hug. It was so good to see her on the field, just in general, not just on the international stage — a good opportunity for her to earn a spot on the team competing at the World Cup — but just to see her back on the field.

“We know she’s a tremendous player, I’ve had a chance to work with her. She’s really skilful, a total footballer.

“When I saw her after the game, I could see the joy in her eyes too.”

Joy in her eyes, ice in her veins.

An hour was more than enough for Sinead Farrelly to prove her worth.

No doubt we’ll see many more.

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