Denise O'Sullivan joins Dash without her biggest fan

The phone calls from her father came every day - sometimes three times daily - and just like any teenager yearning for independence, Denise O'Sullivan often felt like it was a little too much.

O'Sullivan was 19 when she signed her first professional soccer contract with Glasgow City FC of the Scottish Women's Premier League. It was a great moment for her, but it meant a long move from her home in Cork, Ireland.


Excited to get updates, John O'Sullivan rang his youngest of 10 children as often as he could. The one thing he always asked was, "Did you have your dinner?"

"I'm fine. You don't need to worry," Denise would tell him.

Today, the Dash midfielder would give anything to take his call one more time.

Days before the Dash announced O'Sullivan's March signing, her father died at the age of 63. He had been diagnosed with cancer five weeks earlier.

Although he did not get to see his daughter's NWSL debut last week at BBVA Compass Stadium, John's influence on her career is alive and well.

'Over the moon'

He signed her up to play on a boys team at 6. Throughout her childhood, he woke her up every day and encouraged her to go to the fields with him so she could play.

He took her to training and picked up. He paid for club memberships, bought her boots and cooked for her.

"He was a massive part (of my career)," O'Sullivan said. "He's the reason I am what I am today. He did every single thing possible for me. He gave me what I needed. It's an expensive thing to do when you're growing up playing football."

John O'Sullivan's support helped his daughter turn into one of Ireland's best young players. In 46 games with the Irish National Team, she has scored eight goals. She scored 33 times in 65 matches with Glasgow City.

Dash coach Randy Waldrum noticed O'Sullivan when he was looking at video of former Dash signee and Irish international Stephanie Roche. Waldrum saw a skilful and technical player who is clean on the ball.

"That always catches a coach's eye," Waldrum said. "The more we watched, her attacking abilities and her soccer IQ was very high.

We liked her better and better every time we saw her."

Due to NWSL rules, the Dash had to wait until she was in the final six months of her contract to contact her. Then Waldrum jumped at the opportunity.

The Dash paid a four-figure transfer fee, making O'Sullivan the first player in the Scottish WPL to be sold.

The negotiations took some time. John O'Sullivan wanted constant updates. Eventually, Denise was able to tell him she was for sure heading to Houston to continue her budding career.

"He was over the moon," she said.

That was the case also when she called him during the Cyprus Cup in March. She talked his ear off. He loved every second of it.

Beaming from above Days later, Denise got a call from her family saying her dad did not have long to live.

He tried to stay awake for the whole day so he could see her when she arrived. But before she could get there, he had trouble breathing and doctors had to put him in a coma.

He was in a coma when Denise arrived. She spent two nights with him in the hospital before he died.

The daily Skype calls continue with her mother while Denise is in Houston. The support from her family remains as strong as can be.

"I think about (my father) every single day," she said. "It's a bit tougher being over here away from home. This opportunity for me he would have given anything to be hearing stuff.

"With him here, it would be so much better, but I know how proud he was. He got to know (about Houston) before he went. That eases my mind a bit."

Reported by Freelance writer: Corey Roepken

Photo: Karen Warren

Houston Chronicle