Anne O’Brien, from Inchicore, won six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italia medals and three French titles in a long career that stretched from the late 1960s to 1994, including spells at Reims in France and Lazio, Napoli, Reggiana and Milan in Italy.
Former team-mate Carolina Morace — Italian international and one of the greatest players to grace the women’s game — named O’Brien, an elegant playmaker who supplied many of Morace’s goals, as one of the best players to ever play in Italy. O’Brien’s talents were first spotted in 1973 when she was part of an Ireland selection that took on touring French side Stade Reims at St James’s Park greyhound track in Kilkenny.
“After that, they asked permission to my club if they could bring me around Ireland with them to play the other matches,” O’Brien told Newstalk in 2014. Soon after, she also played for Ireland against France at Parc de Princes, winning the player of the match award despite Ireland’s heavy defeat.
Duly impressed, Reims - one of the biggest women’s clubs in the world at the time — signed O’Brien and she won three French titles in a row between ‘73 and 1975.
She moved on to Lazio in 1976 to begin a glittering career in Italy, typically wearing the No. 10 shirt and playing behind the strikers in the traditional Italian trequartista role. However, there was little recognition back home and she only earned four Ireland caps due to the costs involved in transporting her home. “I was never brought home to play for the national team. I was never looked for. The only time I went home was in 1990,” O’Brien recalled.
After her playing career finished, she went on to manage in Italy for several years and worked for the Italian Football Federation as a coach. A relative of John Giles, O’Brien’s nephew Ger O’Brien plays for St Pat’s.
Yesterday FAI CEO John Delaney paid tribute: “Anne O’Brien was a legend in women’s football and her death is a terrible loss to her family and friends. Her loss will also be felt amongst those pioneers of the women’s game in Ireland who were inspired by her achievements to keep promoting women’s football. She achieved so much and blazed a trail for those Irish female internationals now forging careers in football.
“We will pay tribute to Anne’s memory at the Georgia international in October.”