Why we should appreciate the remarakble achievements of Irish football legend Anne O'Brien

She passed away aged 60 this week

BY Raf Diallo 15:59 Tuesday 30 August 2016, 15:59 30 Aug 2016

One of Ireland's greatest footballers wasn't a household name.

But she had a remarkable career even though circumstances meant playing in the green shirt of Ireland was only a rare occurrence.

Anne O'Brien passed away this week in Rome at the age of 60 and was a pioneers for women's soccer in this country.

She emerged at a time when pursuing her love of football could only be truly followed through by going abroad.

"I always had a ball at my feet. I loved football," she recalled just two years ago when she chatted to Ger Gilroy on Off The Ball.

"I can remember the first time that I was given a doll at Christmas. I didn't want a doll. I wanted either an Annie Oakley set or a ball. I was just mad into football!" 

Thus in the early 1970s, an adventure was launched that took the Inchicore woman - who is related to John Giles and Jimmy Conway - from Dublin to France at the age of 17.

There she linked up with Stade de Reims and as she told Newstalk, heading over to French football happened almost by chance when a Dublin selection took on the Gallic club.

"After that match, they asked permission to my club if they could bring me around Ireland with them to play the other matches," she said.

O'Brien would go on to play a key role in winning three French league titles in a row with Stade de Reims, who were one of the biggest clubs in women's football at the time. 

"I didn't realise on the continent that women's football was so big," said O'Brien.

"That was when I was on Tangents and on BBC News at 10 and things like that because I was the first women to go away from Ireland or from England to go on the continent to play professional football."

She didn't just remain in France but after a successful few seasons at Reims, took her career to Italy - arguably the strongest club competition in the world at the time - where she would enjoy further success and also ultimately settle.

"I was suppose to move on to Germany or Italy. I chose Italy though because the Lazio team brought me straight to Rome and I loved it immediately when I got to Rome," she said, adding that she found the warmness of the Roman people to be similar to her fellow Dubliners.

O'Brien went on to win six Italian leagues with Lazio and other clubs, playing central roles in those successes.

But unfortunately that Midas touch with trophies at club level never translated internationally with Ireland.

Due to logistical problems she could only represent the Irish team on a handful of occasions during her playing career.

"First of all, I was never brought home to play for our national team. I was never looked for. The only time I went home was in 1990. We played against Holland. When I was home, I played for the national team because I got onto the national team when I was young [at about] 15," she explained.

"I played about four matches with the Irish team and then afterwards when I went away, I never had the chance to play for Ireland anymore. In those days, the federation I think it was divided. It didn't belong to the men's federation. It was the civil servants that ran the federation."

O'Brien also added that she "would have been very proud" had she been afforded the opportunity to return home and represent Ireland during her time abroad. But alas, it was never to be. 

But she was still a pioneering figure as an Irish women shining on distant shores and truly deserves her achievements to be brought into the light.


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