Women’s World Cup: ‘The Matildas are underestimating the Irish turnout, but we’re going to have the louder voices’

Ireland team fans descend on Sydney for ‘once-in-a-lifetime trip’ to support the girls in green, joining a huge Irish diaspora in the Australian city who will also show their support

Wrapped up in green hats, scarves and jerseys, dozens of Irish fans braved a chilly winter sunrise in Sydney to show their support for the Irish team, a day before their opening Women’s World Cup match against Australia, known locally as the Matildas.

Fans fresh off the plane from Ireland joined the long-standing Irish community to spell out COYGIG on Coogee Beach – known locally, and fondly, as “County Coogee”.

One of the organisers, Keith Donnelly, originally from Glasnevin in Co Dublin, said the Irish community in Sydney, which is like a tight-knit family, will be the voice of all the supporters back home who couldn’t make it out to Australia.

“The Matildas are underestimating the Irish turnout, but we’re going to have the louder voices.”


Donnelly, a mental health nurse who runs a charity, Keith’s Closet, which supplies clothing for people presenting to mental health services, said the Irish community in Sydney is “so excited”.

“It’s not often we get to experience a World Cup. It’s the first time for the women’s Irish team to be involved. And do you know what, they’ve won already. They’ve won the hearts of the nation; they’ve won the hearts of us here in Australia. We’re going to be there to scream them home tomorrow night.”

Another set of fans made their way down to Sydney airport to meet the team as they stepped off a flight from Brisbane, where they’d spent that last week-and-a-half in training.

They cheered, sang and waved the tricolour as the team walked through the arrivals gate, led by Denise O’Sullivan and Katie McCabe.

Jerseys were signed, selfies were taken, and the chants didn’t stop until the team’s bus drove off.

Sinéad O’Sullivan and her 12-year-old daughter Danielle, both from Kerry, were there to welcome the team.

O’Sullivan’s older daughter Julie has just moved to Sydney to take up a contract with the Sydney Swans AFLW team. Luckily for them, Julie’s settling-in period also happens to coincide with the Irish women’s team’s first-ever World Cup.

O’Sullivan wiped tears from her eyes as she described how historic this moment is for women’s sport.

“Think how far they’ve come, how far women’s sport has come,” O’Sullivan said. “It’s unreal. It’s huge... It’s just a really proud moment.”

To be part of it is “incredible”, she said. Meanwhile, 12-year-old Danielle can’t wait to tell her friends back home about her first World Cup.

Ireland’s consul general in Sydney, Rosie Keane, who has been behind the scenes organising events with community groups and making sure things run smoothly over the next few weeks, said she expects roughly 4,000 fans to arrive from Ireland.

Although there are no official numbers yet on how many Irish supporters are expected at the 83,500-capacity Stadium Australia on Thursday, Keane said the sheer size of the wider Irish community and the interest the consulate has had running competitions for tickets gives some indication.

“Australia has the largest diaspora as a percentage of the overall population. In Sydney alone, we have almost 30,000 Irish-born and almost 700,000 that claim Irish descent. The community is huge.”

An event such as the World Cup has the perfect mix of “excitement and pride”, Keane said, adding that the “Irish fans are some of the best in the world and spur each other on”.

Lisa Cox, from Co Meath, arrived on Monday. When Ireland qualified, she booked tickets to the games in Sydney and Perth without even looking at the price of flights.

Having secured the tickets, she then watched and waited for air fares to come down from €3,600 to €2,400.

Even at that price, the cost didn’t put her off. “This is the trip of a lifetime,” Cox said.

Cox said she is quietly optimistic about the game on Thursday but, regardless of the result, the team has inspired so many at home already.

“I’ve got two girls and this team has given such a boost to Irish kids in general, to look at them and go: these guys are professional footballers, they’re getting paid to do what they love, just like lads do.

“They’re doing better than the lads are. We’re in a World Cup, it’s absolutely outstanding what they’ve done.”

Laura McDonnell, Noeleen O’Brien, Davina Carey, Jennie Cusack and Majella Egan all met playing soccer at Waterford Institute.

“We left nine children and four husbands behind to come on a trip of a lifetime,” Egan said.

Now in their 40s, they’re all still involved in the sport and coach underage soccer in Wexford and Dunshaughlin.

McDonnell said more pathways have opened up for women in soccer at home, but this tournament will affect the future of the sport.

“I think it’ll hit a lot more when this is finished, when we actually sit back and see what this team and Vera [Pauw] have done. It’s phenomenal.”

As she looked over to her lifelong friends, who she met through soccer, McDonnell said sport is not only about reaching the highest levels such as the World Cup, it’s also about encouraging friendship and passions in young people.

Deirdre Berry, who has lived in Sydney for 23 years, took her soccer-mad son Conor, aged 11, out of school this morning to welcome the Irish team.

“We just thought – once in a lifetime.”

With Conor’s dual identity comes dual support for the Irish and Australian teams, and he’ll be wearing a split jersey at Thursday’s sold-out game.

“It was really amazing when they came out because they were giving high-fives and everyone was so excited to see them,” Conor said.

Conor’s favourite Matilda, said Deirdre, is Mary Fowler, whose father is from Ballymun, adding that Conor is leaning towards the Irish team.

At least Conor, unlike everyone else who came out today, will be celebrating a win for either team on Thursday.