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From Australia, COVID-19, marriage and motherhood to a shocking calling, Julie-Ann Russell is happy to be back in Ireland

From Australia, COVID-19, marriage and motherhood to a shocking calling, Julie-Ann Russell is happy to be back in Ireland

Since her last appearance against Greece in 2020, it has been less a case of constant wobbling and more of charting the next chapters of a lasting existence.

Australia. Pandemic. Marriage. Building houses. Motherhood. Ireland at the World Cup.

If it seemed more likely that she would run a marathon a few months after giving birth than that she would be called up to the Ireland national team again, that was confirmed last November.

Five months after the 33-year-old Galway United midfielder and his husband Kieran welcomed Rosie into their lives, she has fulfilled her dream and completed the New York Marathon.

That she accomplished this in just three hours and forty-eight minutes perhaps reflects her unwavering commitment to extracting as much bone marrow from life as possible.

Julie-Ann Russell training with the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And perhaps it neatly explains why he is in a hotel in Norwich, preparing for the first visit of the Irish team to England since 1991.

“It still feels unreal,” the Moycullen native beams. “Everyone has been so welcoming. I’m a bit shocked, to be honest. Obviously I saw they were doing well, so it never crossed my mind. I’m so happy. On the other hand, I never officially retired…”

Following the birth of Rosie in June last year, Russell decided she would finally resume her club career where it all began in the inaugural year of the National League in 2011, at Salthill Devon.

At the end of last semester, she found out what she was capable of and dove deep into it.

Three goals and a player of the month award during Galway United’s impressive early run to the top of the league were a telling reminder of her ability.

The FAI have welcomed Rosie into their camp, but Russell remains unfazed; she has spent most of her life juggling her home life, sport and work.

A mainstay of the game for over a decade (as was her older brother John, who was no great midfielder himself), she made her senior debut in October 2009 against Kazakhstan, while also playing for the Gaelic youth teams alongside All-Ireland winner Niamh Fahey.

In 2014, she won the title of FAI Senior International Player of the Year 2014, and in 2013 and 2015 she played at consecutive World University Games.

Since leaving Salthill she has won honours with Peamount and UCD Waves, but has also played in the USA (Los Angeles Strikers) and England (Doncaster Rovers Belles).

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She completed two degrees and joined Microsoft, but lived in Australia from 2017 to 2021, where she played for the University of Sydney and then for the Western Sydney Warriors in the W-League.

When Covid hit, Ireland seemed more distant than ever. After becoming a mother, perhaps the return of the Irish national team seemed more distant, too.

“When I was living in Australia, it was hard to leave and come back because of the strict rules. Then, in Ireland, I got pregnant, so it was a really crazy two years,” she said.

“It’s funny, I feel like I’m fitter and stronger with Rosie. I don’t know why. I’m older and I have more experience. My perspective has changed, she’s my number one priority and that helps.

“And it’s not so hard for me to reconcile everything. I’m used to a hectic life from a young age, playing football and studying from a young age.

“I’ve always been able to juggle everything around work, and now I’m adding a baby! I just love it.

“I will play as long as my body can, as long as I love it. Right now I am happy and I will continue.”

Eileen Gleeson may have surprised Russell with her call last month, but her return to favour with an awakening Western audience has come as no surprise to the manager.

“Obviously I’ve known Julie for a long time,” says Gleeson, who won back-to-back Cups with Russell during his time at Peamount.

“She’s a very experienced player, 60 caps. We’re actively watching the League of Ireland games and Julie is doing really well for Galway.

“She is super fit, we know she works great without the ball, her work rate is excellent, she brings experience.

Julie-Ann Russell training with the Republic of Ireland Women’s Team

“And then when she has the ball, she likes to dribble. We think she can really add something to the team with her experience and the type of player she is.”

As a mother, this will be even more apparent – ​​and she will have plenty of potential babysitters.

“It’s amazing that she’s with us, she makes my life easier,” says Julie-Ann.

“The FAI have been so understanding and welcoming, I am so grateful and I suppose if you had said in 2017 when we had the strike, people had said you might have had a baby in the camp, you would have laughed. It happens so often and I am so grateful.

“Rosie has a lot of new aunties, which is amazing. She is the star of the show and absolutely loves life here and she has some role models too.

“It’s wonderful for her to witness this, and in a few years I’ll be able to tell her what she was doing when she was one.”