Champions League and Slovenian ice cream

When Shelbourne FC crew captain Pearl Slattery picked up her two teammates, Shauna Fox and Izzy Glennon, for the drive to teaching in North Dublin, she was downright giggly. “i’ve the craziest information,” she said as she drove. “however i am unable to inform you, I swore i wouldn’t inform.” A second later: “we have a mannequin new participant.”

Fox and Glennon started guessing Irish names. Slattery said no — try American. so as that they rattled off U.S. school gamers, and Slattery said no, suppose larger. “So we start saying in all likelihood the most outrageous names we will contemplate,” Glennon says. “And Heather was a variety of outrageous names.”

She was talking about Heather O’Reilly, a three-time Olympic gold medalist, World Cup champion and scorer of forty seven targets for the U.S. nationwide crew. as quickly as they lastly guessed precisely, Slattery giggled and confirmed — “will not be that mad? it is utterly mad. ” as quickly as the full car knew that O’Reilly was coming to play with ireland’s Shelbourne FC, they had been all giggly collectively. “We did not think about it at first,” says Glennon. “We advised Pearl she should’ve misheard.” They had been shocked, excited — and, properly, confused. Why was Heather O’Reilly coming to play with them?

O’Reilly is 37 years previous. She is fortunately married and the mom of two small boys. She’s an assistant coach at her alma mater, the college of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a perennial powerhouse, and he or she’s a pundit on numerous soccer broadcasts. She ran the Boston Marathon in March. She even had a stint on “American Ninja Warrior”, which is pretty emblematic of O’Reilly usually: She’s the variety of 1 that tends to say sure. (On the “American Ninja Warrior” broadcast, they patched in fellow U.S. legends Julie Foudy and Abby Wambach to cheer for her all by way of her run. Afterward, as quickly as they requested Wambach if maybe she’d additionally come on the current, Wambach scoffed — like, solely Heather is recreation ample for that.)

It has been a vigorous, various put up-having fun with life. “i’ve an unimaginable existence,” O’Reilly says. however she’ll additionally inform you straight how a lot she misses having fun with.

“although it is my biggest buddies having fun with in the NWSL, and on the nationwide crew, it is difficult for me to watch,” she displays. “i do not know, maybe i am nonetheless grieving this former life and former id. i am envious of people who retire and do not crave it — I do and that i really feel rather so a lot of completely different people do as properly.”

“moreover my husband and my kids,” she says, “soccer is the love of my life.”


O’Reilly retired from the U.S. nationwide crew in 2016 and membership soccer three years later, however you do not simply neglect with regard to the love of your life. O’Reilly performs every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at lunch with the UNC males’s coaches, 5-on-5, trash-can targets.

“I get my fill having fun with small-sided,” she says. “The prepare is there, the targets are there, the extreme-fives are there — it is virtually ample. it is by no means pretty the true factor. however it certainly’s elevated than nothing.”

Then, in June, O’Reilly performed in a charity match for Soccer assist with the likes of Usain Bolt, Andriy Shevchenko, Carli Lloyd and Patrice Evra. She was coached by the legendary Arsene Wenger, former Arsenal supervisor. After a teaching session, he said to her — his French accent making every phrase sound all of the extra profound — “Heather you is in all likelihood good. it is biggest to nonetheless play.”

Wenger’s reward despatched O’Reilly down a tunnel of reflection: properly, it was true that she’s by no means performed in the Champions League, and it was true that has always bothered her — it was the one dream that bought away.

quickly this thought of having fun with as quickly as extra took maintain. O’Reilly was in respectable type — she recurrently jumped into health classes collectively with her UNC crew. (there is a narrative a few observe inside the summertime warmth of Chapel Hill, when the crew peeled off their T-shirts for the ultimate few sprints. O’Reilly, six months pregnant, additionally whipped off her shirt, massive stomach uncovered to the world, and stored on sprinting. “It was pretty a sight,” says O’Reilly.) put up infants, O’Reilly typically threw on her boots and went out to the sector for “previous-school soccer health,” although she had nothing to educate for.

“it is simply what i do know,” O’Reilly says. She then clarifies: “i am not like a loopy maniac or something.” however sure, typically, she does nonetheless want to get on the avenue.

She did the maths in her head: she had three weeks till the Champions League started.

Then she started presenting the thought to Dave, her husband: She would uncover a crew that can allow her to play inside the Champions League — she would as quickly as as quickly as extra have a dream to chase. His response? “i really feel it was a little bit of little bit of an eye mounted roll,” O’Reilly says. “Any companion of an elite athlete is aware of what comes with the territory — we’re extremists. you have gotten some obsessions and that is an ingredient of what makes you good.”

At first, the plan was to play for FC Zurich and intern for Wenger, who’s now FIFA’s Chief of worldwide soccer enchancment, however that proved inconceivable: she wouldn’t have been in a place to get a Swiss visa in time. O’Reilly was disenchanted — “Dave might see how bummed i used to be,” O’Reilly says. “i would actually gotten my hopes up.” Then she found Shelbourne FC — having obtained the Irish league, they’d licensed for the Champions League. And, properly, she’s an O’Reilly.

Her agent reached out to Shelbourne. They responded immediately: sure.


At first, the pondering was that she’d go pursue this on her personal, to be absolutely centered — she’s bought 20 or so constructed-in babysitters on the UNC crew. however, she realized, she did not actually want to go away her household behind. So Dave, husband to elite athlete, took a large inhale and said, “Alright, let’s go stay on the shores of North Dublin.”

it is important to discover that the full Irish league is newbie. nobody will get paid. O’Reilly did not care. She wasn’t going there for the paycheck. She was going for the dream, for the journey, to stay a little bit of her previous life and to expertise a mannequin new one.

women’s soccer is spreading like wildfire world broad: on the 2022 Africa Cup of nations in Morocco, a continent file-setting 50,000 stuffed the stadium for the semifinal. In England, Euro 2022 in England noticed file-breaking crowds: 87,192 spectators witnessed the ultimate in Wembley. By going to ireland, O’Reilly might take part on this world rise, bringing momentum to the women’s recreation in an ingredient of the world the place it nonetheless stays inside the shadows.

The day O’Reilly and her household arrived in ireland, they headed straight to Shelbourne’s Tolka Park, the storied soccer grounds courting again to 1924. O’Reilly would do a photograph shoot and converse to the native information. The Shelbourne supervisor despatched out a gaggle textual content material: “simply picked up Heather on the airport — any likelihood somebody coming can carry her a hair dryer?” Alex Kavanagh, a midfielder on the crew, texted again — she had one. The others had been desperate to know: Can we come too?! Can all of us personally ship this hair dryer?

Glennon, a 22-yr-previous who simply graduated from Dartmouth with a diploma in neuroscience, is one in all two individuals on the crew. She was 10 or eleven — peak fangirl age — all by way of the peak of O’Reilly’s success.

“We see Heather stroll into the dressing room — we’re shaking — and we’re training the biggest reply to say hey, actually training our hellos the full stroll up the steps,” she remembers. “Telling ourselves, Be cool, be cool, be cool. pondering, this might’t be exact.

O’Reilly smiled and launched herself, “hey, i am Heather.”

“It took all the pieces in me to not be like, i do know,” says Glennon. “a little bit of later, Heather says, ‘I went to UNC,’ and as quickly as extra, i am pondering, i do know.”

all of them milled with regard to the sector, O’Reilly smiling for the cameras. O’Reilly’s 2-yr-previous son, Will, toddled over to get hold of her. as a outcome of the reporter requested her questions, he stood beside his mom, his small hand on her leg. She wrote on Twitter: “grateful for this alternative to level my boys what occurs if you uncover your self brave.”


inside the mornings, whereas Dave took the kids inside the double-stroller to get espresso and groceries inside the seaside metropolis of Portmarnock, Heather O’Reilly met the power and conditioning coach on the sector. “it might not be a great look to be the 37-yr-previous who comes into Champions League with a bum hamstring,” O’Reilly says.

With the assist of the coach, and a few telephone calls to daybreak Scott, the earlier U.S. women’s nationwide crew power and conditioning coach, they labored on getting O’Reilly ready for his or her first match in the direction of the Slovenian side Pomurje on Aug. 18. On Instagram, O’Reilly shared a pair reels, set to Irish flute music and Dropkick Murphys, of sprints round cones, with the hashtag #stillchasingdreams.

The exact crew practices had been at evening time, as a outcome of the women work day jobs: at a school nursery, a gymnasium, a financial institution. a pair of are of their 30s and deep into non-soccer careers. The others are youthful, of their late teenagers and early 20s, working side-hustle jobs as they try to maintain the sport alive.

These tales are all by way of the place in women’s soccer: Elite athletes decide the biggest reply to make ample to stay whereas persevering with to play. In the ultimate episode of “Hustle Rule,” a dozen gamers throughout generations shared comparable tales: from Betina Soriana, an Argentine who works an eight-hour shift as a police officer after which heads to the sector, to Izler Browne, who spent years having fun with on the Trinidadian nationwide crew whereas working in an oil refinery.

Shelbourne’s Kate Dowd, 18 years previous, makes sandwiches at a nook store that gives sandwiches to completely different nook retailers: They make 600 sandwiches and fruit salads a day. “I come up at 5 every morning, journey half an hour into Dublin, start at 6 a.m., cease at 5 p.m., eleven hours, making sandwiches,” Dowd, a midfielder, says. “it is not unhealthy — you go in, you get your work finished — I come dwelling, typically can catch a quick nap, after which I head to the sector.”

Dowd, one in all 4 siblings, has performed since she might stroll. “As a toddler, you may not get me out of my soccer jersey — I had Messi on my again 24/7,” she says. “You develop up watching your Ronaldos, your Messis in Champions League — you dream of it as a toddler, being an ingredient of one factor like that, however you by no means suppose it is one factor which will truly happen to you.”

Over the following two weeks, Shelbourne performed in two league video games and a cup recreation — O’Reilly bought an assist inside the cup semifinal — after which they took off to Slovenia to play inside the fabled European rivals.

On Aug. sixteen, the crew was on a three-hour bus journey from Austria. Like Dowd, O’Reilly was feeling pretty dang excited — she was sitting there inside the bus collectively with her teammates, ruminating on all of the clutch-your-coronary heart video games and spectacular performances of the Champions League greats, like Lionel Messi, like Cristiano Ronaldo.

As she stared out the window, she took notice of some amusing similarities: She’s 37; Ronaldo’s 37. His jersey quantity is 7; her jersey quantity is 7. He performed proper winger for years; she performed proper winger for years. after which she bought here across a variety of preposterous fact: This yr Ronaldo will not be going to the Champions League whereas, she, Heather O’Reilly, is. Grinning to herself, she threw out a tongue-and-cheek joke on Twitter.

definitely not was she making an try to say she is pretty a lot as good as he is. She considers him one in all many prime three gamers of all time. It was solely a neener-neener-mannequin joke. On her telephone, she noticed it start to choose up steam. Then the suggestions took a flip: The Cristiano fanboys arrived on her Twitter and Instagram en masse to defend their god by placing her down: Ronaldo’s gardener makes better than you, Ronaldo’s maid makes better than you. Your whole life

okay, she thought, let’s maybe put away the electronics. As they drove by way of the Slovenian forest, she and her teammates bonded, buying and promoting tales — what’s the craic, as they are saying in ireland, that means: “How are you?” or “What’s taking place?”

Shelbourne’s Emma Stone has performed in ireland, Denmark, Czechia and Austria. If a crew will give her a spot to maintain and ample to eat, she’s proper down to go. She’s in it for the journey — soccer is an reply to stay in far-flung areas and expertise cultures and peoples she wouldn’t in any other case have had the likelihood to know. Born with a situation acknowledged as congenital central hypoventilation syndrome, the place her mind does not inform her physique to breathe when she’s sleeping, she’s always wished to order backpack dwelling for a BiPAP machine, a ventilator for when she sleeps. That hasn’t stopped her; she’s backpacked by way of 38 nations and does freelance writing to assist herself on the side all by way of the offseason. This summer time she went to Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, off-grid, for 5 weeks. “it is in all likelihood cool to encourage extra youthful women and footballers to merely make a residing being impartial and following their goals,” Stone says.

it is not simply O’Reilly. they’re all in it for the nice of the expertise alone.


Their first evening time inside the metropolis of Murska Sobota, Slovenia, O’Reilly and a few teammates decided to go away their resort to exit for ice cream. The particular person behind the store counter spoke no English they usually walked out with completely different flavors than what they tried to order. subsequent door, they popped their heads proper into a rinky-dink on line casino bar, simply to see what it was like, taking inside the two previous males on the bar and the one hundred-yr-previous-trying slot machine earlier than ambling onward.

As they walked by way of the evening time, O’Reilly variety of regarded round and said, “that is pretty random. positively not the most random factor I’ve finished, however nonetheless pretty random.”

Glennon, beside her, stopped her brief: “Heather, are you kidding me? Not in all likelihood the most random factor? i am actually strolling down a darkish Slovenian avenue consuming ice cream with Heather O’Reilly, about to play inside the Champions League — that is positively the most random factor I’ve ever finished — i’ve to be honest with you.” They laughed — actually laughed — licking ice cream and strolling again to the resort at midnight.

Then, recreation day. Wenger despatched O’Reilly a great luck video: “hey!” he said. “we’re going to ponder you. i am sure you will have an unimaginable recreation. we’re behind you — all of us know you is in all likelihood utterly unbelievable.”

As she warmed up, these first couple of minutes she was stiff — “i used to be pondering every cross, i used to be very aware of my physique and the biggest method i used to be transferring,” says O’Reilly, who had final performed professionally for the North Carolina braveness in 2019. right here, her voice sounds each shy and elated: “after which I bought again into my stream, like i would by no means stopped.”

A bus of Shelbourne followers travelled with the crew — household, plus a dozen completely different devoted Shelbourne supporters. One supporter, John Langan tweeted: “i used to be to go to Portugal on a golf journey however I requested Rob if we’d go to Slovenia to watch @shelsfc instead. biggest decision ever.” Kev Doyle, one other, and his mate taught the households the chants and provided ideas — drink lemon and honey so your throat can grasp on. inside the stands, they’d as many followers as a outcome of the Slovenian crew, and the Shelbourne Reds supporters had been loud — they always sing-shout “by no means Gonna current you with Up” by Rick Astley; “The Reds Go Marching On” and “My lady” by The Temptations, swapping out “lady” with “Pearl,” in honor of Slattery, crew captain.

the sport started and by the second minute, Shelbourne was awarded a penalty kick — they usually missed. In minute 4, an alternative: usually O’Reilly is the crosser of balls, not the receiver, however there was the ball, hanging inside the air earlier than her. She headed it up and over, and watched it sail into purpose. She had scored a purpose inside the Champions League. Oh my gosh, she thought. I simply did that.

The chills kicked in. Her teammates rushed her and there was all that momentum — however there have been nonetheless 86 minutes to go. They finally held on — “Our goalkeeper performed lights out,” O’Reilly says — and Shelbourne FC obtained their first Champions League match. inside the stands the Reds supporters went wild: “We love Shelbourne, we do, we love you Shelbourne, we do …”

O’Reilly was greeted by a sea of textual content material messages from her buddies: “Boss Ass Bitch,” “Irish-American legend” and Wambach’s: “Yo, a purpose for the win, you are actually f—ing cool and unstoppable. blissful you knew your dream and are going for it. it is rad, you are rad.”

Then there have been these completely different messages — the hate mail from misogynists. They hadn’t died down. The trolls had been all by way of her posts now, whether or not or not they’d something to do with Ronaldo. Her picture of a winding Irish avenue with the caption, “one factor deep about an open avenue” has 952 suggestions, most of them hateful, like they’re having fun with a recreation backwards and forwards to see who can say the meanest factor. after which there are the DMs: grasp your self. Kill your cherished ones.

“it is so a lot to unpack,” O’Reilly says. “I’ve by no means been cyber-bullied earlier than. It gives me extra empathy and perception into what people bear.”

if you journey world broad, having fun with the sport you are eager on, meeting people from all walks of life who share your ardour, it makes you be comfy with humanity. the internet world has the completely different impression. and maybe inside the navy of keyboard warriors who observe every level out of Ronaldo, there’s one other takeaway: How fortunate it is to not have the world taking a look at you on a daily basis — to have the power to play solely for your self and your membership.

Shelbourne’s subsequent opponent, the Icelandic crew Valur, is expert and also you’ll possibly inform: they’re larger, sooner, stronger, fitter. simply three days after O’Reilly’s epic recreation-winner, Shelbourne lose three-nil to Valur, bringing their Champions League run to an finish. “It was brief however superb,” O’Reilly says.

O’Reilly is grateful to Shelbourne for the likelihood. “i would have launched so a lot to them, however they launched simply as a lot to me.” She was struck by “how a lot care is put in, how a lot time and power goes into it — from Liam [Kelly], who picked me up day-after-day, to Gordon [Ewing], the membership secretary. They’re all volunteers, people doing this completely free, simply out of affection for the sport.”

She has returned to Chapel Hill to proceed teaching at UNC, however she has her eye on returning to Shelbourne on the tip of September, maybe inside the position of participant-coach. The crew continues to be midseason and there is a title at stake. She desires to assist them win.

in the meantime, her husband, who detests social media, had hoped the Ronaldo incident could be ample to persuade O’Reilly to again off social media. and maybe it is going to. however for now, she simply posts a video of Betty White dancing, as if to say, i am a cheerful previous lady and there is nothing you will current you with the various to do to carry me down.


there is a narrative that many soccer dreamers grew up listening to: 1992, Mia Hamm’s senior yr at UNC, in Chapel Hill. She was out on the fields, working sprints by herself and head coach Anson Dorrance occurred to drive by and see her. He wrote her a notice she would finally embody inside the opening of her autobiography: “The imaginative and prescient of a champion is somebody who’s bent over, drenched in sweat, on the purpose of exhaustion when no particular person else is watching.”

For the previous few years, a distinctive brunette has been working solo sprints on that very similar subject — Heather O’Reilly has been the one who’s bent over, drenched in sweat, with nobody watching. The day Dorrance glimpsed Hamm working, she was 22, all her goals nonetheless forward of her. O’Reilly, 37, has already made her goals come true, however she is typically on the market, anyway. And even after her run with Shelbourne ends and her profession is as quickly as as quickly as extra over, you will current you with the various to guess she’ll nonetheless be on the sector, working sprints on her personal and having fun with in her lunchtime recreation with trash cans for targets.

Now that the women’s recreation is evolving and there is extra funding, Eniola Aluko — former English nationwide crew participant, current director of recruitment for the NWSL’s Angel metropolis FC — has talked about how essential it is to confirm “we do not lose that actually pure ingredient of women’s sport.” regardless of having a legal guidelines diploma, Aluko opted to play soccer for years instead, although she would have earned extra working as a lawyer. that is the factor about women’s sports activities: it is typically very clearly about love.

Izzy Glennon, the 22-yr-previous Dartmouth baby who might not think about her luck when O’Reilly confirmed up, said her full mindset modified as a outcome of of O’Reilly. “It allowed me to see this [Shelbourne] expertise as an even larger expertise and by no means solely a soccer endeavor,” she says. She’d been uncertain of who to be now that her school profession was over, figuring this Irish stint was in all likelihood the tip for her.

however now O’Reilly’s gone and impressed her. “i seen that I even have by no means bought to be finished with soccer at 22,” Glennon says. “after I play, I enter a mannequin new world, which I variety of forgot about after i used to be in school. i like it and that i actually want to maintain having fun with at a extremely aggressive diploma — which I did not discover till she bought here right here. And, after that, beer league. I in all likelihood will play endlessly.”



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