Quentin Batalillon

General News 2024

From Australia, a pandemic and motherhood to a shocking call – Julie-Ann Russell relishes return to Ireland

Since her last appearance as a substitute against Greece in 2020, it has not been a matter of recovering from the years but of putting together several chapters of a sustainable existence.

Australia. Pandemic. Marriage. House building. Motherhood. Ireland at a World Cup.

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

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

That she did so in an astonishing three hours and forty-eight minutes is perhaps a testament to her continued commitment to getting the most out of life.

Julie-Ann Russell during an Ireland Women’s training session at the FAI National Training Centre in Abbotstown, Dublin. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And perhaps it also explains why she is preparing in a hotel in Norwich for the first Irish team to visit England since 1991.

“It still feels surreal,” beams the Moycullen resident. “Everyone is so welcoming. I’m a bit shocked to be honest. I’d obviously seen them perform well and so it never really occurred to me. I’m so happy. But then again, I never officially retired…”

Since Rosie’s birth in June last year, Russell decided she would resume her club career, which all began in her first year of national competition in 2011 with Salthill Devon.

She tested it at the end of last semester and has now dug deep into it.

A hat-trick and the player of the month award during Galway United’s impressive early stages to league leadership were a touching reminder of her qualities.

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

For over a decade she was a stalwart of football (as was her older brother John, who was no mean midfielder himself). She made her first-team debut in October 2009 against Kazakhstan and also played Gaelic Football for the youth side, partnering All-Ireland winner Niamh Fahey.

She was FAI Senior Women’s International Player of the World in 2014 and competed at the World University Games in 2013 and 2015.

After leaving Salthill she won several awards with Peamount and UCD Waves, but also played in the US (Los Angeles Strikers) and England (Doncaster Rovers Belles).

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She earned two degrees and went on to work at Microsoft, but between 2017 and 2021 she lived in Australia, where she played for the University of Sydney and then the Western Sydney Warriors in the W-League.

When Covid hit, Ireland seemed further away than ever. After becoming a mother, it may have seemed like the return of the Irish team did too.

“When I lived in Australia it was hard to leave and come back with the strict rules. Then I got pregnant in Ireland, so it was a really hectic few years,” she said.

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

“And it is not so difficult for me to keep everything in balance. From a young age I am used to having a hectic life, playing football and studying from a young age.

“I have always been able to combine everything with work and now also a baby! I think it is great.

“I’ll keep playing as long as my body can and until I don’t like it anymore. Right now I’m happy and I’ll keep going.”

Eileen Gleeson may have stunned Russell with her phone call last month, but her resurgence among awakening Westerners did not surprise the manager.

“I’ve known Julie for a long time, obviously,” said Gleeson, who won the Cup twice with Russell during their time at Peamount.

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

“She is super fit, we know she is a phenomenal worker without the ball, her work ethic is excellent and she brings experience.

Julie-Ann Russell during an Irish women’s training session

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

As a mother, it will be even worse – and she will have plenty of potential babysitters.

“It’s just great having her around, it just makes my life a lot easier,” says Julie-Ann.

“The FAI have been so accommodating and welcoming, I am so grateful and I think if you had said in 2017 when we had the strike that people were saying you might have had a baby in the camp, you would have laughed. It has happened so many times and I am so grateful.

“Rosie has a lot of new aunties which is great. She is the star of the show and is really enjoying life here and she has some role models too.

“It’s amazing that she gets to experience this and I can tell her in a few years what she did when she turned one.”