Denise O’Sullivan plays as a midfielder for Brighton & Hove Albion of the English FA Women’s Super League, on loan from the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL. O’Sullivan also plays for the Republic of Ireland’s women’s national team. She spoke with Just Women’s Sports about her decision to play on loan and how she’s adjusted to the change of scenery. 

What went into your decision to move on loan from North Carolina to Brighton & Hove Albion? 

Initially, I didn’t want to leave the Courage, but with the Irish national team, we had international games in September, October and December, which were all in Europe. So in order for me to be able to go to those games, I basically needed to be in Europe because otherwise I would have had to travel back and forth and done six weeks quarantine. And I would have basically missed maybe all of the Courage games and a lot of the training as well.

The club was really, really good to me. They understood what was going on and the situation, and they knew I needed game time and training. So Brighton were interested, my agent spoke to them, and I think it wasn’t a hard decision for me at all to come here. Two of my Irish teammates play for Brighton, and I had heard it was a great club. That was the decision, really.

How has the transition been, playing with new teammates and a new coach?

It’s been really good. Obviously when I got here I had to do two weeks quarantine. So that was tough. I had to go to an apartment by myself almost an hour away from everyone. That was probably the hardest bit about coming here. But once I was done and met the team, I really settled in very well. Having my two Irish teammates there made it a lot easier for me obviously, because I live with the two of them as well. But the team has been really nice, very supportive of me coming here. Really good girls, a very good club, and they’ve made me feel very comfortable. So I’ve gelled in really well so far.

How about the transition off the field? I know you said the team is great and you live with some teammates, but how has it been just adjusting to living in a new place, especially when we are still in a pandemic?

It’s hard. Obviously, living with the Irish girls, it’s made it a lot easier for me being with them every day and stuff, but really, we’re not allowed to do anything, to be quite honest. We go training, maybe go for a coffee or something like that, but we have to be really aware of where we’re going with all the restrictions and stuff, and just be really careful with this virus. I’m only an hour away from my family, but I can’t see them, I haven’t seen them in eight months. That’s been the toughest part for me. I’m so close, but they can’t come over and I haven’t been able to get back yet. Hopefully I’ll see them in a few weeks.

And how have you adjusted not only to playing with a new team, but playing your first season in the WSL?

It’s been good. It’s different. The league is really competitive. Obviously, you’ve seen so many players coming from overseas to the league. Really world class players, and it’s only making it better, but the league is growing every year. And it’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge that I’m relishing and playing in the games here. Obviously I had to get used to it. And I’m only five games in so far, so I’m still learning. I’m learning here with the new team and playing the likes of Arsenal and Man City, they’re really competitive games. But it’s only going to make me better as a player, so I’m very excited to be here with Brighton and learn from these players and coaches.

 How would you compare the playing style versus the NWSL?

I would say it’s more technical here in England. More technical players. I think that the US league is more transitional, if you ask me. But other than that, I think the quality of leagues, I don’t think there’s much between them at all. All of them are really competitive, top class players. So I wouldn’t say one is better than the other if someone asked me.

 And how would you describe Brighton’s mindset?

At the moment, we’re a lower ranked team in the league. But I think we’re the type of team that just goes out and works really hard. Working really hard for each other. We have each other’s back during games, whether we’re losing or winning. So I think that’s kind of the mindset with us. I would think just really hard workers, to be quite honest.

How would you compare the COVID protocols between the two leagues? Are they pretty similar or is there a difference given the different situations that each country is in?

I only played in the Challenge Cup in America. That was really strict. Obviously, it was very positive and it worked out great there, but here in England it’s pretty much the same. It’s very strict, and we are restricted from going places outside of training and stuff like that. And just hygiene, wearing masks. Everything is pretty much the same. I guess the only big difference is, well, not even between the leagues, but just in general, is not being able to see your family when you’re so close.

Do you have any specific personal goals for this season?

I wouldn’t say goals. I just think for me, I don’t really set goals, to be quite honest. I just want to get better as a player every day. I want to keep learning and growing. I think for the national team, obviously wanting to get to the Euros is huge for me. We are in second place and we have one more game to go next month. So I think that will be my biggest personal goal right now, if I said I had a goal.

And what does the next year look like in terms of balancing club and national team commitments?

With the Courage, I think we’ll probably start preseason in February or something like that, and then the season. But with the national team, I’m really unsure of what I have next year. So I think we’ll just have friendlies basically. Hopefully if we make the playoffs for the Euros then that will be next April. So that’s really what I know right now.