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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Denise O'Sullivan celebrates after Ireland's win last night.
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World Cup play-off system 'really confusing' for Ireland's goal-scoring hero
The Cork star scored the match-winner last night against Slovakia.

IRELAND’S DENISE O’SULLIVAN says the World Cup play-off system is “really confusing” to understand as her side continues to advance towards a first-ever major tournament.

Vera Pauw’s side are in this encouraging position thanks to O’Sullivan’s sweet finish in the first half of Ireland’s 1-0 win over Slovakia last night.

The Cork star says her teammates have tried to explain the qualifying competition to her “100 times” and she still can’t compute the details ahead of that next stage in October. She’s not alone on that score as the play-offs have been described as convoluted and difficult to tease out. Emma Duffy of this parish has broken it down as simply as possible in this explainer. 

But explanations and permutations aside, the key headline is that Ireland are closing in on World Cup qualification, and the realisation of a childhood dream for O’Sullivan and co.

“I can’t even describe it. It would be a dream come true. This team has worked really hard and been through a lot. I think it’s something we do deserve. Now is the time to make it happen. It’s very exciting, fingers crossed we get there.”

Elaborating on the mind-melting layout of the play-offs, O’Sullivan adds:

“Getting to the play-off is absolutely amazing but even if we win that game we might have to go through another tournament in New Zealand. It’s crazy to me. The focus for us is the game on October 11. It’s going to be the biggest game of our lives as players.

launch-of-european-week-of-sport-2022 David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE David Fitzgerald / SPORTSFILE / SPORTSFILE

“It’s a really exciting time. The play-off system is really confusing and I still don’t really understand it. The girls have tried to explain it 100 times and I just have to completely switch off from it. I’m just going to focus on the game on the 11th and see where we go after that.”


Coming away from the trip to Slovakia was the main objective for Ireland, but the result came at a physical cost. Captain Katie McCabe commented on the nature of the bruising encounter in the aftermath of their 1-0 win, saying that she had been “F***ing kicked up and down the pitch.”

O’Sullivan says it was difficult to maintain their discipline when their skipper was being targeted on the pitch, but she points to the maturity in the squad to hold firm in those situations.

“There was a lot of emotions out there last night. There were some dangerous tackles. It’s easy to get carried away, and freak out.

“We were warned before the game to not get any yellow cards! It was very important, as a team, that we just kept our heads. We kept control of the game, we didn’t lose it.

“We kept really level-headed. We’ve shown that maturity last night to close it out, even though it was a pretty dirty second half. It was just important to close that game out, and get the three points.”

O’Sullivan is heading back to America today to rejoin her club North Carolina Courage. Her career has been elevated to new heights since first joining the National Women’s Soccer League [NWSL] side in 2017 and she has a hectic schedule over the next few weeks ahead of those World Cup play-offs with Ireland in October.

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“I have a flight at 4:45pm today. So, I’ve got to go straight to the airport from here. I have a game on Saturday. Then after that I have five games between now and 30 September. It’s game after game, midweek games, weekend games. I’ll on the go, keeping fit, and even coming in fitter to the next [Ireland] camp. That’s the focus for me.

“I’ll go back now and focus on club for a few weeks. That’s important, to get a playoff place with them also, and have that different mindset going back into club – try to switch off from all this national team stuff.

“I would say it’s a lot. Six games in two-and-a-half weeks is a lot. For me, being part of the Courage for the last six years, I’m the type of player that the coach keeps in the game so I usually play for 90 minutes in every single game.

“They might manage [it] hopefully, and take me off for a few minutes at the end of games. They’re pretty good at that but it is a lot of load. But for me, I love playing games, it’s what I thrive on. I’d rather play games every few days than train.”

Ambassador Denise O’Sullivan was speaking at the launch of European Week of Sport 2022, in partnership with Sport Ireland. European Week of Sport is a week-long celebration of sport which promotes physical activity in people of all ages, backgrounds, or fitness levels.

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