(Anne O’ Brien right)
Five Scudetti and two Coppa Italia’s. There isn’t a footballer alive who wouldn’t be happy with that trophy haul come the end of their career. After all, it is pretty impressive.However the player who amassed this tally is a virtually unknown, even in the land of their birth the mention of their name would only be met by a vacant stare. The reason for this person’s lack of fame compared to the likes of Roberto Baggio and Francesco Totti, who have both won less titles, is down to one key fact. They are men playing a male dominated game, while she is just Anne O’Brien.
Anne was born in January 1956 in Inchicore, a part of Dublin located only a few kilometres from the city centre. From an early age she grew to love football and would spend most of her time out on the street with the boys, belting the ball from one end to the other.
Given that some of her family were Irish footballing royalty, her love of football was unsurprising. Jimmy Conway and Johnny Giles were both relatives, the latter being arguably the greatest player to pull on an Irish jersey.
Her first foray into organised football was with local Dublin club Julian Bar’s women’s side. Despite her tender years it was clear that Anne had talent in abundance. Along with football, Anne also excelled at athletics, in particular middle distance running.
Like her footballing ability, her talent on the track did not go unnoticed and many people urged O’Brien to give running her undivided attention, believing that one day she could progress to represent Ireland on the national stage. But football was her first love and she soon turned her back on athletics to sign for the Dublin All-Stars Club, who at the time were considered one of the best teams in the country.
Playing with such a prominent club meant that it wasn’t long before her big break in the game presented itself. In August 1973 she was called up to play for the Irish national team in St. James Park, Kilkenny. Their opponents would be Stade De Reims from France.
Reims were a real powerhouse of the women’s game and were considered by many to be the unofficial club world champions. As for the match itself, Anne would play a starring role despite still only being 17-years-old.
In fact her display had been so impressive that Reims manager Pierre Geoffroy asked Dublin All-Stars whether she could play for Reims during the remainder of their tour. They duly accepted and Anne continued to star with the French club.
Come December 1973, Geoffroy was convinced that he had to bring Anne to France and get her to sign on the dotted line. Anne however was still just a teenager and before Pierre could get that signature he had to convince Anne’s Mother.
The Frenchman’s charm duly shone through and Anne O’Brien was on her way to France. She would spend three years with the French club winning the title in every season. In 1976 however, her time in France came to an end as she was signed by Roman outfit Lazio.
This was a massive move for Anne. At the time, women’s football in Italy was at the peak of its power and highly respected by many. Sadly the game has since declined from those heady days, to the point where a leading member of the Lega Nazionale Dilettani can allegedly call all women footballers a bunch of lesbians and suffer no repercussions.
Anne was duly handed the number 10 jersey at the Biancocelesti and played in behind the two starting forwards as a Trequartista. Anne settled quickly in the capital and would come to love its people, who she described as very similar to Dubliners during an interview with the “OFF the Ball” show on Irish radio station Newstalk.
By 1977 she had won the Coppa Italia, the first of what would turn out to be many trophies on Italian soil. Two years later and still with Lazio, she would win her first Scudetto. O’Brien would remain with the capital club for four more years before moving to Trani 80, a club based at the heel of the Italian boot.
Anne would only remain at the club for a single season, but in that time she helped guide the club to its first ever Italian league title. After leaving Trani she returned to familiar surroundings in the shape of Lazio, spending another three years with the club whilst also adding another Coppa Italia to her handsome looking trophy cabinet.
Her next port of call was Modena, however her time at the Gialloblu was interrupted by the birth of her son Andrea. Ever the professional, Anne would return for the last few weeks of the season doing her bit on the field.
The next couple of seasons were spent pottering around, one with Napoli and the other with Prato. In 1989 she landed in Reggio Emilia and into the books of Reggiana. Anne would spend two years with the Granata winning back to back league titles.
In 1991, now into her third decade in the game, Anne signed for Milano 82. She would win her third successive title with the club that year. She would continue playing with Milano up until 1994 when after the death of her mother, she decided to hang up her boots at the age of 38.
However Anne was not ready to abandon Calcio. A couple of years before her retirement she had gone about getting her coaching badges at the famous Coverciano facility in Florence, which has produced a plethora of famous names that have graced Italy’s touchlines.
Her first role in management would be with the Milano youth team, before eventually returning to her first love Lazio, taking charge of their senior female side. Along with coaching Lazio, Anne would also help out with various Italian underage sides from under 14 to 20. In 2008, she finished her final managerial stint to date with Civitavecchia. But while O’Brien may no longer coach at the highest level, she still helps out with youth football whenever she can.
Despite being one of the most decorated Irish footballers ever to play the game, Anne has received next to no accolades back in Ireland. Even her number of International caps fails to reach a handful due to the fact that she was never brought home for national duty or called to return.
Over the years, Ireland has produced some supremely talented female sports stars, none more so than the likes of Sonia O’Sullivan (Athletics) and Katie Taylor (Boxing). Arguably though, Ireland’s greatest ever female athlete is someone barely known on the Emerald Isle.
But a glimpse at her decorated career which includes three Ligue 1 titles, five Scudetti and two Coppa Italia’s, makes it hard to argue against the record of Anne O’Brien, one of Calcio’s unknown legends.