Sinead Farrelly says she wouldn’t have been able to play soccer again if she hadn’t told her story.
In 2021, Farrelly and fellow player Mana Shim accused former National Women’s Soccer League coach Paul Riley of misconduct and sexual coercion in an article published by The Athletic. The allegations, which he denied, rocked the women’s game, sparking a pair of investigations by U.S. Soccer and the NWSL that concluded there was widespread player mistreatment.
Farrelly retired more than six years ago but returned over the weekend to the game she loves, starting for Ireland on Saturday in an exhibition match against the U.S. national team.
She also signed this season with NJ/NY Gotham after joining the NWSL team in the preseason as a non-roster invitee.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it unless I was able to get that off my chest and get that story out because that healing, and the liberation from that had to occur before I could ever play again, so that was a huge catalyst,” she said.
Farrelly didn’t show much rust in Austin on Saturday. The 33-year-old was one of Ireland’s most impactful players in the first half, but acknowledged afterward that she was tired — a good kind of tired. The only thing that dulled her joy was that the Irish lost 2-0.
“I’m so overwhelmed, very happy, excited,” Farrelly said. “Obviously we wanted to win but I’m just really proud of the team. I am also very tired. I feel like I am manic right now and in an hour I’m going to completely crash. But I feel so supported here.”
U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski coached Farrelly for a time 10 years ago when she played for FC Kansas City, one of the founding NWSL teams.
“Obviously it’s a good opportunity for her to earn a spot for a team that will compete in the World Cup,” he said about Farrelly’s call-up to Ireland, “but also just to see her back on the field because we know she’s a tremendous player. I had a chance to work with her. She’s a really skillful, total footballer. When I saw her after the game, I could see that joy in her eyes, too.”
Irish teammate Denise O’Sullivan said Farrelly is a welcome addition.
“Her calmness on the ball is different than everyone on the team, then her ability to get into spaces, get on the half-turn, she’s an excellent player with the ball at her feet,” O’Sullivan said.
Farrelly has said Riley’s alleged harassment started in 2011, when she was a player with the Philadelphia Independence of the now-defunct Women’s Professional Soccer league. It continued when Farrelly joined the NWSL’s Portland Thorns in 2014. Shim, a former Thorns player, also said she experienced harassment. The Thorns said the team investigated the claims and did not renew Riley’s contract.
Riley went on to coach the Western New York Flash and the North Carolina Courage before he was fired — one of five coaches in the then-10 team NWSL who were either fired or dismissed in 2021 because of misconduct.
Shim now heads a player safety task force at U.S. Soccer.
Having just started training for a return less than a year ago, Farrelly could now have a chance to represent Ireland at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Ireland and the United States will play again Tuesday in St. Louis, the final tune-up before soccer’s biggest tournament.
“That would be a wild part of this year, but it’s just too overwhelming for me to think that far in the future. Especially now, I’m just trying to stay healthy, trying to monitor my load to make sure that I’m not going to get injured,” she said. “And I don’t want to lose sight of why I came back to play, which was just to have the game back in my life and feel that joy and passion again.”