Heather O’Reilly scores for Shelbourne FC in Champions League victory
If you weren’t paying attention to the UEFA Women’s Champions League first round draws, you might have missed the fact that UNC legend Heather O’Reilly is no longer retired from professional football and that she is noticeably absent from the UNC women’s team.
O’Reilly decided to lace up her boots for one more race to glory and cross one achievement off her to-do list that she couldn’t do at Arsenal: play in the Champions League. Enter Shelbourne FC Heather O’Reilly signed for the Dublin, Ireland-based club in July for the final half of their season (the Women’s National League, Ireland’s premier football league, plays from March to October, out of step with most of the European leagues which play from August to May) and their journey to the Champions League qualifiers.
Shelbourne must pass two qualifying rounds to be included in the group stages. Once in the group stage, they will be able to face some of the best teams in Europe, home and away, in order to qualify for the round of 16, which will determine the eventual champion.
Shelbourne is a too long shot to win the Champions League, should they even qualify for the group stages, but what Heather O’Reilly is trying at 37 – and after giving birth to her second child less than a year ago – is both commendable and remarkable.
And Tar Heel fans, it’s not just a tourist in Dublin. It makes a big difference:
O’Reilly’s goal was the only goal in a tense 1-0 win over ŽNK Pomurje, a side from Beltinci, Slovenia. It’s not a typical goal for O’Reilly, who wasn’t known for her heading prowess, and it’s not even a typical header (they usually come from a cross kick that generates the major part of the power of the head). O’Reilly had a lot to do here, generating enough force with her header, and essentially “crushing” the goalkeeper, setting the ball high enough to avoid the tangle of defenders who were between her and the goal.
Here’s what she had to say about the win and the post-game goal:
It’s an inspiration to anyone who’s ever loved doing something and wanted to try again before age became a disqualification. My father, who retired from the Air Force many years ago, decided he wanted to fly again at the age of 61. The FAA requires every passenger pilot to retire at age 65, so he couldn’t wait until tomorrow. He was Mesa Airlines’ first senior officer to fly United jets, and he loved it, because I’m sure Heather loves his football.
Not too long ago I heard Heather O’Reilly do some color commentary for an Arsenal pre-season game in Baltimore against Everton, and thought she was working on TV during Carolina’s offseason. What a surprise it was to see her back in action, competing in the best club competition in the world. When she hangs up her boots, she’ll have quite a story to tell our current Tar Heels.
Shelbourne FC take on Reykjavík, Iceland today and the winner will advance to the second leg of Champions League group stage qualifying. Good luck to Heather and the Shels!