U.S. women’s national team legend Heather O’Reilly announced Thursday that she is coming out of retirement to join Shelbourne Football Club in Ireland.
After the news was announced by O’Reilly herself on the BBC World Football podcast, the reigning Irish Women’s National League champions issued a release announcing her signing through the end of the 2022 season.
O’Reilly, who won a World Cup and three Olympic gold medals with the USWNT through 231 appearances, retired in 2019. But she says that while participating in the Soccer Aid this summer, a conversation with Arsène Wenger, former manager at Arsenal and current chief of global football development for FIFA, convinced her to come out of retirement and join Shelbourne.
While O’Reilly has a résumé roughly a mile long, which included stints and championships in the NWSL and with Arsenal in the WSL, she said that not having played in the Champions League bothered her.
“I am somebody that chases their dreams,” O’Reilly said on the podcast. “It’s a little bit obsessive sometimes when I get an idea because usually I have to see it through.
“I had a long, successful, trophy-ridden career and I am very proud of that, but there was this one hole on my resume that I never played Champions League football. It was a disappointing end to my time over with Arsenal when I wrapped up with them in 2018, it irked me, it bothered me. It was always a thing in the back of my head.”
She initially reached out to Shelbourne FC, partially due to her Irish ancestry and also because she feels she can make an “immediate impact” with the club.
“They’re the champions of Ireland, they had a very successful season last year in order to win the league, but they are still very much a club and a league that needs a lot of growth,” she said.
Her experience playing with former teammates such as Denise O’Sullivan, Louise Quinn and Katie McCabe also drove the decision.
“They are producing some wonderful talent but they need a lot of help with their league in terms of resources and professionalism,” O’Reilly continued. “I think that’s sort of part of why I’m going as well. I feel that I could bring some eyeballs onto this league, bring some eyeballs onto this team and grow the game a little bit whilst living out this dream of mine to play Champions League football.
“A lot of people will look at this, raise some eyebrows and think that this is an interesting career move, but I’m chasing my dream. I had this unchecked box and I’m looking to go do it, and for good reasons. I’m thrilled about it, the club is thrilled about it, and I think it’s one of those situations where it’s just a win-win all around.”
She’ll join manager Noel King as the club opens its qualifying campaign for the Champions League on August 18 against ZNK Pomurje of Slovenia. For King, the signing offers not just a boost to the club but also the league overall.
“Heather is a proven winner, we’re thrilled to bring one of the greatest players to ever play the game to Tolka Park,” he said.
“It’s an amazing moment for the club and for the Women’s National League as a whole to have a player of Heather’s stature. I think in particular, our younger players will flourish sharing the stage with a player who has seen, done and won it all.”