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  • News

Fionas flying high

Thursday, 22nd August, 2013 5:00pm
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Fionas flying high

The Southern Star, Saturday August 24th 2013

AMERICAN by passport, West Cork by the grace of God.

She may have been born and raised in California, and currently plies her trade as a striker with SC Freiburg in the German Frauen Bundesliga, but a part of Fiona O’Sullivan will always belong to West Cork.

As a kid, trips across the Atlantic, from her home in San Geronimo – right across the street from White Hill Field in Fairfax where she spent countless hours kicking a ball after school – to her father’s home in Bantry were the norm. And Fiona (26) loved it.

‘We used to go back there in the summers when I was younger and stay in my grandmother’s house. It got a little bit more difficult as football got more serious, but I definitely love going back when I get the chance,’ the Irish international told The Southern Star.

‘I always remember going to watch camogie matches when I visited. I really enjoyed them. We used to mess around then, with the cousins, with a hurley and a sliothar; nothing too serious, just a bit of fun.’

But as incredible as her own sporting story is – which we’ll get to very soon – equally as engaging is the story of how her father, Bantry’s Aidan O’Sullivan, set down roots in the Golden State many decades ago.

From what Fiona recalls, Aidan was just 22 years old when he decided to live the American dream, with his friend Michael O’Mahony, from Sheep’s Head.

In New York, the two decided on an adventure, and they don’t come bigger then heading south to Brazil, but – as fate would decree – the bus they were on broke down, they ended up in California, Aidan met Fiona’s mother (who sadly passed away last December), and the rest is history.

Strong

With such a strong Irish connection, a name as Irish as they come, and being a hell of a soccer player in her high school days in Drake High and then with the University of South Florida, it was only a matter of joining the dots before she came to the attention of the Irish senior women’s soccer team.

Or was it? Not so, it seems.

In fact, it took an email from her boyfriend Devon, back in 2009, to the FAI, to open a door that has since seen Fiona win 23 international caps, recently scoring a brace to rescue a 2-2 draw against Austria in a friendly in June.

‘When I had just finished university in the States and I was saying that I miss football, my boyfriend said that I should email the FAI and see if I could play with Ireland,’ recalled Fiona, Ireland’s Senior Women’s International Player of the Year in 2010.

‘I was saying to him that you don’t just email the FAI, it’s not like one of those open trials. He said to email, I wasn’t sure, and then in the end he just sent an email to the FAI website.

‘Noel King, manager at the time, had a training camp at the States, and he said if I wanted to come along and see how I got on, so I did. It went well enough. And here I am.’

Here she is indeed, about to embark on the 2015 World Cup qualifying campaign, which starts next month with the visit of Slovakia.

‘I’m pretty excited about it all. I’m not quite sure what to expect. We had our captain, Ciara Grant, retire last year, so it’s a little bit of a time of change on the team,’ the talented striker explained.

‘We have a lot of good young players – Denise O’Sullivan is playing over in Glasgow now – and they are stepping up from the younger ages, taking a more professional role. The more players that we have playing at a higher level, it’s only going to help the team grow and improve.

‘It’s at the first stage of this new period for the Irish women’s soccer team, and it’s exciting to be a part of it all.’

As for her American background, Fiona quipped: ‘I would definitely be getting a little bit of banter from the girls in the team for being a Yank,’ before adding, ‘but I feel like I do have a good understanding of it all, because I have an identity with the country.’

But when she was younger, she was never tempted by the dream of professional soccer, for one simple reason – she never knew it was possible.

That’s also the reason she runs soccer summer camps at home, to give kids the chance to fulfil their dreams.

Dream

‘Did I dream of this as a kid? Jesus, no, I had no idea!’ Fiona said.

‘I just liked to play football and play sport, and I didn’t know that any girl could play football like this. Sometimes people say to me “is this everything that you ever dreamed of?” It isn’t because I had no idea this existed! This is beyond a dream.’

Now playing in the Bundesliga with SC Freiburg, after spells in Sweden and France, the much-travelled Fiona now feels settled in Germany, relishing the chance to play in one of the top women’s leagues in the world.

With Wolfsburg the current holders of the women’s Champions League crown and Germany, again, European champions, there’s no better place to be right now, as Fiona explains.

‘It’s so far, so good. Last season I had a strong year. Unfortunately, I had two mishaps. My mom passed away in December, and I missed the last two games in the first half of the season,’ she said.

‘Then when I got back I suffered a knee injury, so I needed surgery, and I missed almost the whole second half of the season last year. I scored a lot of goals in the first half of the season, and I am looking to do the same in the coming season.’

On the league itself, she said: ‘It’s the best football that I have seen so far, and is consistent right across the board. It’s well funded and the league is taken very seriously.’

Fighting fit right now, with her knee injury behind her, Fiona is ready for the upcoming season and all the excitement and challenges it brings with it, including the start of the World Cup qualifying, safe in the knowledge that one pocket of West Cork is behind her all the way.

Fiona wants to play in Ireland some day

BY KIERAN McCARTHY

IRELAND international striker Fiona O’Sullivan, whose dad Aidan hails from Bantry, admits the chance to play in the land of her father – who played a huge role in her development as a top-class soccer player – might prove too hard to resist in the future, but right now she’s more than content with SC Freiburg in Germany.

‘I would consider playing in Ireland,’ Fiona admitted.

‘It’s something that I have thought about a lot, getting involved in the league, but at the moment I am at the height of my playing career and I have a great opportunity here in Germany. I can’t foresee passing that up in the next year or so.

‘Possibly, in the future I might play in Ireland, but right now I am happy where I am.’

Fiona, who is starting her second season with Freiburg in the Bundesliga, also feels that Cork Women’s FC, which competes in the top tier of Irish women’s soccer, gives talented players in Cork the perfect stage to show off their skills.

‘It’s great exposure because girls from Cork are getting the chance to play against Raheny and Peamount, the top teams. That can only help them improve as players, and it will make coaches sit up and take notice of the talented players in Cork right now,’ she said.

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