By her own admission, Republic of Ireland international Denise O'Sullivan is living out her childhood dream.
The 25-year-old has excelled on the club scene in both America and Australia, but it is tonight’s 2021 European Championships qualifier at home to Ukraine which is the immediate focus of attention.
More than anything, it is a measure of where the sport has travelled in her time as an international.
New manager Vera Pauw will be in the dugout for the first time as the Girls in Green look to build on their opening 2-0 victory over Montenegro in Group I and for the first time, the team will be playing in front of a sell-out crowd.
Demand has outstripped supply with all 8,000 tickets either sold or claimed by FAI season ticket holders.
"I remember a few years ago we would only get a couple of hundred at Tallaght and now it's a sell out and that’s something I’m really proud of," she told RTÉ Sport. "I hope they can really push us on.
"Hopefully we put on a good show and the fans will enjoy it and come back again."
Ukraine arrive in Dublin as second seeds, but understandably a little short of confidence having suffered 8-0 defeats home and away to Germany who have blazed a trail thus far. The World Cup quarter-finalists opened their campaign by putting 10 past Montenegro in August.
Ukraine's failed 2019 World Cup qualification campaign mirrored Ireland’s – third place in the group with four wins, three defeats and a draw – and O’Sullivan knows what is in store for the home side.
"Ukraine are a good team and will be a tough opponent. They will be well organised and will sit in, trying to stop us from attacking, but we have great strengths in our team and we will be using them.
"We have been focusing ourselves, focusing on how we can control the game going forward."
Now 71 caps into her international career, the midfielder has been central to Ireland’s attacking game plan from the outset, mainly as a provider. She marked her debut in 2011 with a brace in the 2-0 victory over Wales, though will be hoping to add to her tally of just one in the last five years
Having started her career at Wilton United, O’Sullivan has travelled far and wide since departing Leeside in 2013, turning out for Glasgow City, Houston Dash and North Carolina Courage in the intervening years.
There was even a loan stint with Canberra United last year during the off-season of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL).
"It’s something I dreamed of as a kid, now I’m living it. I’m taking it all in, every experience as it comes, and I want more of it.
"Last season was fantastic, we [North Carolina Courage] won the championship and we are in the play-offs this year. It’s been a really good time there.
"I play with four World Cup winners day in, day out. I’m learning so much from them and it’s something I can bring back here [Ireland camp]."
Getting picked by your team-mates as MVP is something really special. I was really delighted and honoured with that
The 2018 season was indeed a notable one for O’Sullivan, as North Carolina claimed a second successive title while the Irish player was named Most Valuable Player by her club.
"That was a bit of a shock. Getting picked by your team-mates as MVP is something really special. I was really delighted and honoured with that."
Much has changed since goals from Tyler Toland and Arsenal striker Katie McCabe secured the three points against Montenegro last month.
Interim manager Tom O’Connor oversaw the win in Tallaght, but now Pauw is at the helm, though the Dutch woman has had little time to implement her ideas to date. Still, the early impressions have been positive.
"We are only just getting to know her the last few days, but we are really excited to have a new coach in. The environment in the camp has been excellent, the energy has been great. Vera has done a really good job.
"We are going to give 100% in training and bring that into the game."
"A few years ago we would only get a couple of hundred at Tallaght and now it's a sell out. That's something I’m really proud of" - Denise O'Sullivan can't wait to play for Ireland against Ukraine in front of a full house tonight - live on @RTE2 from 7pm https://t.co/oRijKTAbnL pic.twitter.com/5SOpGSatfk— RTÉ Sport (@RTEsport) October 8, 2019
Despite the failure to qualify for this year’s World Cup, there were signs of progress. Four wins were picked off - one more than the 2017 Euro qualifying campaign - and for all her success at club level, the burning ambition is to make history with her country.
"My main one [goal] is to get to the European Championships with Ireland. We have never been to a major tournament with the senior team, so that is something I really want to do. These girls mean a lot to me and representing my country is something I am very proud of.
"That’s where we want to be. Our goal is to get to the European finals and World Cups and we will keep fighting for that."
Ireland’s last qualifier of the year will be away to Greece next month, before welcoming the Greeks to Tallaght next March. The Germans are looming on the horizon, but Pauw will hope to have a healthy points tally before their April clash.
O’Sullivan’s excitement over the future of Irish football is borne out by the dispersed nature of the squad, with defender Claire Walsh, Shelbourne’s Chloe Mustaki and Wexford Youths striker Rianna Jarrett the only players in the squad currently plying their trades domestically.
It's fantastic that the girls are playing in top leagues
The remainder of Pauw’s first squad have assembled from England, Germany, Portugal, Italy, America and Australia and O’Sullivan is adamant is a sign of strength for Ireland’s international standing.
"A few years ago we had a lot of players playing in Ireland and now I think we are down to three players here at home. It’s fantastic that the girls are playing in top leagues.
"We have some youth players and more experienced players and they are getting the best training at their clubs and coming together for the national team."
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