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The Ireland team stand for the national anthem last Thursday Ryan Byrne/INPHO

How Amhrán na bhFiann became a galvanising moment for the Irish women's side

Marissa Sheva was instrumental in helping everyone on the squad belt the anthem out ‘loud and proud’.

ONE OF THE most divisive talking points in international sport is as frustrating as it is existential – who gets to say who belongs to which nation?

Tony Cascarino. Ray Houghton.

Jean Kleyn. Eoin Morgan.

Who is more Irish? What jerseys should they be pulling on? Is it generational allegiance or sporting tourism?

It’s often a fruitless conversation with little in the way of hard-and-fast rules over how people feel about any international declarations.

For the four US-born Irish players on the Women’s National Team, there is an understanding of their position in this debate.

When the cameras panned to Marissa Sheva last Thursday as Amhrán na bhFiann was played for the first ever time at a Fifa Women’s World Cup, she was singing the words like someone who’d stood in the stands at Lansdowne Road every year of her life.

The Pennsylvania native, it turns out, was instrumental in helping everyone on the squad belt it out ‘loud and proud’.

“Marissa sent me a thing that helped her, it typed it out so you could do it phonetically,” her fellow Pennsylvanian, Sinead Farrelly, told reporters during media interviews at their Brisbane base camp.

“And so I just kept watching this YouTube video of this woman singing it. I’ve just been listening it on repeat.”

Although Farrelly spent some time living in Shankill, Dublin as a young girl, she did have to learn the anthem from scratch.

“I had to learn it, and it’s hard! There’s this middle part that I still don’t understand but I’ve been learning it phonetically. It’s been really difficult and it’s been stressing me out because I’m like if the camera is on me, I need to be able to get it right!

“So I still have to lock it down. But the first-half is so in my brain! And so it’s just finishing up. It’s tough, it’s a tough language.”

The team’s rendition did not go unnoticed with people on Twitter praising the efforts of the American-born players who only joined the squad this year.

“I just think it’s important,” explains Farrelly. 

“When I’m out there with the girls before, they’re so loud and proud singing it and I just think that’s part of being on the team and showing my commitment and devotion to this.

“So it’s been important to learn it. It’s just taking a little longer than I thought. It’s fun. And then you get to sing and feel like you’re participating and being part of the community.”

While Sheva – whose grandparents emigrated to the US – was the first person the camera focused on, veteran Aine O’Gorman was the last.

Arm around the squad’s youngest, her Shamrock Rovers teammate Abbie Larkin, O’Gorman sang with the delirium of someone who thought the World Cup was an impossible dream; more a ‘if I happen upon a million euro and had to spend it in a day – what would I do with it’ dream than a ‘dream-come-true-someday’ goal.

Speaking to Gav Cooney of The 42 on the eve of their flight to Australia, she said: “It’s something I never thought would happen in my career, going to the World Cup.”

And that’s how it looked on Thursday. Lung-defying singing and face-covering smile to endear a nation.

“Obviously we came out of the tunnel earlier and then there was the ‘Olé, Olé, Olé’ and I went around trying to stay composed. Everybody was like, ‘Just take in the moment’, and I turned around and said, ‘something hell!’ Then the anthem played, I was beside Abbie and we just belted it out loud and proud. It was a nice moment.”

Writing for The Players’ Tribune on the eve of the World Cup, captain Katie McCabe opened her piece with a flash-forward to the anthems. 

“When you see players line up for the World Cup to sing the national anthems, they always look so serious,” she said. “You know what I mean? Like they are always thinking about the game. And, well, yes, usually we are. At least we should be!!

“But when I’ll be leading Ireland out for our first ever World Cup, and we’ll be facing Australia in front of 81,500 people in Sydney … I’m not gonna lie. I will think back to this journey.”

That journey for McCabe included that now-famous 2017 strike threat which brought the conditions the women’s team were playing under to national attention.

Was O’Gorman also thinking about those days at 7.50pm on Thursday?

“Yeah, it just gives you goosebumps. All the hard work and dedication over the years, and the support from your family and friends and everything that comes with it The team, sticking together in 2017, and now we’re here on the world stage. It’s just pretty special.” 

It’s conceivable without that great stand six years ago, the support for this team might not have been as strong. Instead, there were 76,000 people at Stadium Australia, with a significant portion of them wearing green.

“All the Irish fans were amazing, louder than the Australian fans, which was great. It was a great moment,” said O’Gorman. 

About 20,000 are expected in Perth on Wednesday and with the level of migration from Ireland to Western Australia, it’s thought the Irish will outnumber the Canadians and neutrals.

Has all this history been communicated to the newer members of the squad? Were they asked to learn the anthem for instance?

“I suppose they probably had to make an extra effort to prepare and make sure they were ready,” O’Gorman said. “But there was no, I suppose, organised communication about it. It just happened naturally. Everyone sang loud and proud. Obviously it means a lot to us to wear the jersey.”

Farrelly agrees: “Totally. It’s the pride.” 

Ireland take on Canada in the second Group B game on Wednesday at 8pm local time, 1pm Irish time. Sinéad O’Carroll and Emma Duffy are in Australia reporting for The Journal and The 42

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