American-born but a leading light amongst the Irish international women’s team, SC Freiburg striker Fiona O’Sullivan will host her 10th annual soccer camp this summer and while passing on skills and virtues is very much in her remit there is some doubt over whether she will be sharing a specific element of her music collection!
The 2010 Irish International Player of the Year’s heritage is rooted in the Emerald Isle but she is a product of Marin County, California and grew up in San Geronimo and Fairfax. The 26-year-old is currently an important part of the Freiburg team who are challenging for the Frauen-Bundesliga title in Germany but her soccer camp is held each year back home at White Hill Middle School.
It is undeniable the impact that she has had in her community over a number of years and Fiona’s Soccer Camp was something she started for children while still in her teens. As is the format on here, we look at the varying ways that music links in to the life and career of Fiona and on this occasion there is no better place to begin than with the first record she ever bought.
The former Drake High School star often passes on so much of her experience together with her camp’s counsellors but it is perhaps fair to say that she may not be so keen to impart her early musical preference on those she works with!
“The first cassette I ever bought was MC Hammer, I’m embarrassed to admit. I bought it off a kid at school!’’
Fiona’s father Aidan originates from County Cork and the one-time Gaelic football player has been a constant influence on his daughter’s life and progress in her sport. Despite her Californian upbringing Fiona is an Irish citizen and she answered an offer to try out for their national team before making her debut in 2009.
Since then she has established herself extremely strongly to take her place as one of the most impressive talents in the women’s game in Ireland today. There are a whole host of potentially very powerful qualities that lie within certain songs and playlists and as a result music figures prominently in many pre-match team scenarios in both the men and women’s game.
For the Ireland team this most certainly applies, and with her experience of football in Sweden, France and Germany in mind Fiona describes how various tunes can go beyond merely acting as a motivational prop before it is time to step onto the field.
“Music does play an important role in our pre-game and on the bus. Sometimes we have long road trips so having an iPod is a great way to relax and pass the time.
“I have also found that it has been a great way for me to bond with new teammates from other countries or who speak different languages. Music brings people together!
“Pre-game in the locker room we always have music on to get us pumped-up and focused on the game. The players who get to choose the music can change but if you put on bad music no one’s gonna let you near the iPod or speakers again for a while.’’
A commanding presence in the air with close and long-range ability in front of goal, Fiona graduated from the University of San Francisco in 2008 with a major in International Politics and a minor in Latin American Studies. During her time there she played for the Lady Dons soccer team but suffered a serious injury to her knee in her junior year, tearing her anterior cruciate ligament and both menisci.
Although she was forced to deal with such a considerable setback, in hindsight she believes that it was a blessing in disguise due to the way it strengthened her mental resolve and increased her level of discipline. Finding a way to come back from a hugely significant happening such as a big injury takes a collection of different actions and efforts but motivation is certainly right up there at the top of the list.
Every player has their own ways of gaining the focus they need before a game or the push to drag them through the training and gym sessions and for Fiona music comes into the equation strongly.
“I listen to music when I am working out on my own, which is often. I don’t always listen to music before games, sometimes I want to talk to my teammates and not be in my own world with my headphones on.
“The kind of music that I listen to depends on my state of mind. If I am really excited for a game or need to calm my nerves then I will listen to classical, jazz, Zouk, or reggae.
“Those artists range from Bach (classical), Kim (Zouk), or Junior Kelly (reggae). If I am trying to get pumped up and excited for a game I’m gonna put on some classic hip-hop, rap, or country.
“I like Young Jeezy, 2Pac, Yung Joc and The Game for pump-up. I love country music and the song that I almost always listen to the day of a game is ‘Back Where I Come From’ by Kenny Chesney.
“I like all kinds of music, all over the board with that one.’’
The Irish team are preparing for the Cyprus Cup this month where they will face South Africa, South Korea and Northern Ireland in their group, playing the latter opposition in their opening game on Wednesday (6th March). Fiona has had to pull out of the squad due to injury sustained while training with her club Freiburg but she is highly regarded by her national team manager Sue Ronan and has hit the target 7 times in 21 appearances for The Girls in Green so far.
She will be an integral part of the squad for the 2015 World Cup qualifying games in September and with the likes of Arsenal Ladies’ goalkeeper Emma Byrne and defender Yvonne Tracy in amongst the ranks to name but two, she is encouraged by the blend they have.
“Ireland has a young team and we are progressing, at what speed I’m not sure. We have young talented players grouped with some seasoned veterans so hopefully we can put together a successful campaign in the coming years.’’
Despite her parentage (her mother is also of Irish descent, as well as Native American) and her status as one of Irish women’s football’s vital players, Fiona still comes from California of course so has this ever led to any breakdown in communications when she joins up with the national team?!
“I don’t have a problem understanding most of the players, I spent a lot of time in Ireland when I was younger and I stay in good touch with my extended family in Ireland. I do though have a hard time understanding the girls from Dublin, their accent is totally different from my friends and family’s accent from Cork!’’
As mentioned, Fiona’s father Aidan was born and raised in Ireland before moving to the US in his early twenties and his input with regard to her career is undeniable. With the mix of background and upbringing that Fiona has enjoyed in her life though has her love for music ever encompassed some traditional or modern Irish sounds?
“Yes it has. It didn’t really enter into my iPod until the last few years but Irish music and especially Irish dancing has always been a big part of my life.
“I can remember as young as 8 or 9 years old rolling up the rugs at our aunts’ and uncles’ houses so we could have a proper hard floor for dancing. I also have an uncle and a cousin who can sing so they would usually sing a few Irish songs as well when we would all get together.’’
The initiation procedure of singing for the pleasure (in some cases at least!) of team and staff colleagues is widely used by clubs across football as a way for new players to be welcomed into the fold. Although Fiona’s experience of it with her national team had the quintessential light-hearted edge it was still a task of sizeable magnitude considering the song in question and the audience looking on!
“I had to sing the Irish national anthem in front of my team, coaches and staff, about 30 people, in Gaelic of course. I did alright, I’m not a great singer but I can carry a tune.
“What I lacked in singing talent I tried to make up for in enthusiasm.’’
In addition to her time with the San Francisco Dons at university, the early stages of Fiona’s career were played out in familiar surroundings as she represented Sonoma County Sol and California Storm (her first team after graduation in 2008) of the Women’s Premier Soccer League. A short stay with Chicago Red Stars preceded her adventures in Sweden where she had spells with AIK Fotboll Dam, Piteå IF and Kvarnsvedens IK (on loan).
Her career to date has also taken her to ASJ Soyaux of France and her current team, German Bundesliga title-challengers SC Freiburg. There are a clutch of American-born players in the top two leagues in Germany and Fiona is joined at Freiburg by three of them in Chioma Igwe, Jennie Clark and Katherine Reynolds.
While it can help immeasurably to have people from the same country with you as you take on the challenge of a foreign nation there is also a lot to be learnt from people of different nationalities. Fiona also has experience of the Swedish and French game of course and her career has seen her link up with teammates from all over the world, enriching her musical appreciation along the way.
“Music is a great reflection of the culture in a country, everywhere that I have gone I have picked up new genres and discovered new music. The artists and their influences are different and teammates have always had a pretty wide array of music, as they should, music can mean different things for different people.
“You should listen to what you like, not what others like. Everyone has a couple of songs that anyone could laugh at but in general everyone has all the chart music.’’
Away from the pre-game playlists and the German schlager (which New Zealand captain Rebecca Smith told all about on here recently), Fiona has been fixated on helping Freiburg in their pursuit of the Frauen-Bundesliga crown. The south-west club are currently 4th in the 12-team division with VfL Wolfsburg, 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam and 1. FFC Frankfurt taking up the top three places in descending order.
“I am with Freiburg until May 2014 when my contract expires. We are currently in the top of the league standings, I am enjoying my time here with a new club and excited for the rest of the season.’’
The Frauen-Bundesliga holds status as one of the best in women’s football worldwide but away from her Freiburg endeavours Fiona has an extremely meaningful project back home. From June 24th to the 28th, Fiona’s Soccer Camp will run for the 10th year in a row, at White Hill Middle School in Fairfax, also taking place in Novato during July. The sessions run from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm and the itinerary is designed to offer a mix of high-level coaching, enjoyment and inter-personal skills that the children can take into their everyday lives.
Fiona is no stranger to putting in the hard yards outside of her playing career and she has been a head counsellor at University of San Francisco soccer camps, a trainer for teams in the Bay Area, and the assistant coach for Drake High School’s Girls Varsity team. She said when she was just starting out with the Irish national team that her work in the community was every bit as crucial and worthwhile to her and she told me what gives her the most pride from her camp.
“I started the camp when I was 17 and I had three sign-ups. Last summer was the 9th year I have ran the camp and I had 140 sign-ups.
“I have put a lot of work into my camp and I am so happy that kids are enjoying it as much as I am. One aspect that I am very proud of is that past campers still want to come back and work at camp, to teach and support the younger kids in their community.
“I started it to teach, share and inspire the next generation of kids and now those kids I started with want to do the same thing, and that makes me proud.’’
In the early stages of this year I have gathered the thoughts of a range of international women’s players on here, asking them to give their first-hand insight into how they believe the game is moving forward, both in their respective nation and in a global sense. I have looked for their opinions on how they believe the obstacles and the ignorance displayed by some can be overcome, as well as the wholly positive aspects to focus on. I have been given some thought-provoking responses from each interviewee so far but the overriding picture is always one of hope and this was evident amongst the pertinent points Fiona made.
“That is a pretty big question, I could write a book on it. The short answer is I think that the women’s game is progressing and I am encouraged that more and more people are interested in it and want to learn more.
“These things rarely happen overnight. One area I would like to see improved is more long-term investment.
“I see people who want to be a part of it who invest in a team and want to see results overnight. Like any of the sports for men, it takes decades of financial and fan commitment to build something great.
“Of course some people will always be ignorant of the game, the same is true of men’s soccer, but I think that the sky is the limit. The women’s game offers something different to the men’s game, there is still the same thrill, athleticism and drama that you get in any sport but the characters are different.
“I think after the last Olympics anyone who watched women’s soccer can say that they were entertained.’’
We rounded off the interview with a look at the best players Fiona has played alongside in her career so far and I construct this question so that the interviewee puts themselves into a fantasy 5-a-side line-up. What I need from them is the four players they would select to go out there and play in this team with them and Fiona began with an international colleague in goal and a current Freiburg teammate at the back.
Supplying the goalscoring ammunition for her and her chosen strike partner is a now-retired Brazilian star and the joint-leading scorer with China’s Sun Wen at the 1999 World Cup on American soil. Completing Fiona’s selection is a former California Storm teammate in 2010 and someone who has fought her way back from an ACL injury in the past to flourish from then on, just like Fiona.
“Emma Byrne, Jennie Clark, Sissi, Alex Morgan and me! Emma has such a great knowledge of the game, a very experienced player.
“Jenny is fast, athletic and calm with the ball. Sissi is very technical, has great vision and can get you the ball through seemingly impossible situations.
“Alex is a great compliment to my style of football. She is fast, makes good runs and has a great shot.’’