Sinead Farrelly (centre) and Marissa Sheva (right) with Ireland team-mate Abbie Larkin. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Irish-American dream

World Cup reality yet to hit Ireland's new US-born duo as they brace for 80,000-plus fans

Sinead Farrelly and Marissa Sheva look like they will play big parts in Australia.

IN TRUTH, THE reality of the World Cup is yet to hit Ireland’s new US-born duo.

Sinead Farrelly and Marissa Sheva both made their home debuts in Thursday night’s 3-0 farewell friendly defeat to France, having declared for the Girls In Green earlier this year.

Midfield maestro Farrelly won her second cap after an impressive bow against the USA in April, while Sheva looked her brightest yet on her fourth appearance at Tallaght Stadium. Both came in for special praise from Vera Pauw post-match. “I hope you see that quality and why we brought them in,” the manager enthused.

Farrelly’s remarkable story is well documented. The 33-year-old Gotham FC star is rebuilding her career, having recently returned to the game after an eight-year hiatus.

After her whirlwind journey of abuse, whistleblowing, injury and mental health struggles, and a promising start to life as an Ireland international, she’s gearing up for the biggest stage possible.

As the 20 July opener against Australia moves into full view, does the World Cup feel real yet?

“No,” Farrelly tells The 42. “When it’s over, I’ll be like, ‘Oh that happened’. It is hard not to feel that it is real when you step out for that first game and there is 82,000 people there. It still feels a little bit surreal. It almost feels a bit of a blur.”

For Sheva, who plays her football with Washington Spirit, the feeling was mutual after Thursday’s game – and ahead of departure for Down Under.

“I don’t know if it’s fully actually hit me yet, and I’m not packed so I think it might hit me later tonight when I’m trying to figure out what needs to come to Australia with me!

“I’m so grateful that Vera finally brought me into camp, we had been chatting for quite a while so I feel really lucky to be in with this team. It’s such an honour, I can’t even put that into words. I just feel so lucky to be here with this group. I can’t wait to head down to Australia and represent Ireland with this group. I think that we’re going to do the country really proud.”

The thoughts of stepping out in front of over 80,000 fans for the highly-anticipated opener at Stadium Australia is slightly daunting. It’s something the pair have discussed together, with Sheva using several tools in preparation.

The biggest crowd she has played for to date is 25,000. “This will be nearly quadruple that! I’ve definitely thought about it, I feel like I have to get my mind used to it.

“I think visualisation is actually a huge tool. Unless you’ve done it before, there’s no way to replicate playing in front of 80,000 people. I’ve been working on that with my sports psych, just trying to find ways to minimise the shock factor. At the end of the day, it’s 11-v-11, we know what we need to do. We’re more than capable. We’ve shown that we’re a very resilient group and we know things don’t really rattle us.

“Sinead and I were talking about it: Will we notice that it’s quadruple or does 20,000 feel like 40,000, 50,000 you know? I’m sure 80,000 will feel like a heck of a lot of people. They had to move from a 40,000-person stadium to the 80,000 stadium and I know that it has to do with demand from Irish fans in Australia. I’m looking forward to it feeling like we’re not playing the host nation because I think that we’re going to have a tonne of fans down there and the Irish will be loud and proud in that stadium.”

Farrelly echoes much of those sentiments. “It is crazy. 30,000 is the most I’ve maybe played in front of before. That is a pretty big difference. When you are on the field you’re kind of present with what is going on but who knows what it is going to feel like.

“I trust that once I’m playing I’ll be focused on getting the job done and I’ll block it out. The second I start overthinking, it is just a disaster. I’m just hoping for the best.”

marissa-sheva-with-selma-bacha Sheva in action against France. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Alongside Denise O’Sullivan, Farrelly and Sheva belatedly joined the Irish camp last week due to their NWSL commitments. It’s been an up and down few days, bookended by the France send-off fixture.

While Sheva spent last weekend off in and around Dublin, Farrelly headed for Delvin, co. Westmeath to join her family as her sister had just moved over. With her Dad’s roots in Cavan, they Farrellys were then amidst a record attendance in Tallaght on Thursday.

“I was really nervous about it and I was excited,” Farrelly explains. “The support from the entire country and the fans is amazing and I think this is just one example of that. Seeing all the flags waving, you can feel the passion and the heart, hear the cheers from everyone.”

While Sheva’s sheer athleticism was clear for all to see as she played in the pocket, Farrelly showed glimpses of brilliance around the middle. She was forced off late on, but will hope to go the distance at Stadium Australia.

“I think I got 80 minutes before my calves started cramping. Nothing serious but super embarrassing! Hopefully I can push it to 90 if they need me. It was great. For me it is just about getting more experience with the team and touching the ball and really getting the anxiety out is helpful. I just have to be positive as I will spiral.

“We are having fun with it and celebrating and getting excited.”

Onto the World Cup, living the Irish American Dream.

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