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Heather O’Reilly scores for Shelbourne FC in Champions League win

The former UNC star shows that it’s never too late to chase a dream

Shelbourne v Peamount United - 2022 FAI Women’s Cup Quarter-Final Photo By Ben McShane/Sportsfile via Getty Images

If you weren’t paying attention to the UEFA Women’s Champions League first round draws, you may have missed that UNC legend Heather O’Reilly is no longer retired from professional football, and noticeably absent from the UNC women’s team sideline.

O’Reilly has decided to lace her boots up for one more run at glory and to scratch an achievement off her to-do list that she didn’t get to do while at Arsenal: play in the Champions League. Enter Shelbourne F.C. Heather O’Reilly signed for the Dublin, Ireland-based club in July for the last half of their season (the Women’s National League, Ireland’s top-tier football league, plays from March through October, out of sync with most European leagues that play from August through May) and their run in the Champions League qualifiers.

Shelbourne need to make it out of two qualifying rounds in order to be included in the group stages. Once in the group stages, they will get to play some of the best teams in Europe, both home and away, in order to make it to the knock-out rounds, which will determine the eventual champion.

Shelbourne are a loooong shot to win the Champions League, should they even make it to the group stages, but what Heather O’Reilly is attempting at 37 years of age—and having delivered her second child less than a year ago—is both commendable and remarkable.

And Tar Heel fans, she’s not just some tourist in Dublin. She’s making a big difference:

O’Reilly’s goal was the only score in a tense 1-0 win over ŽNK Pomurje, a team from Beltinci, Slovenia. It’s not a typical goal for O’Reilly, who was not known for her heading prowess, and it’s not even a typical header (they usually come from a cross-kick that generates most of the header’s power). O’Reilly had a lot to do here, generating enough force with her head pop, and essentially “chipping” the goal keeper, getting the ball high enough to avoid the tangle of defenders that were between her and the goal.

Here’s what she had to say about the win—and the goal—after the game:

This is an inspiration for anyone who has ever loved doing something, and wanted to give it one more go before age becomes a disqualification. My dad, who retired from the Air Force many years ago, decided he wanted to fly again at the age of 61. The FAA mandates that any passenger pilot retire at 65, so he couldn’t wait for tomorrow. He was the oldest first officer for Mesa Airlines flying United jets, and he loved it, as I’m sure Heather is loving her football.

It wasn’t too long ago that I heard Heather O’Reilly doing color commentary for an Arsenal preseason game in Baltimore against Everton, and I figured that she was doing some TV work during Carolina’s offseason. What a surprise it’s been to see her back in action, competing in the top club competition in the world. When she hangs up her boots again, she’ll have quite a story to tell our current Tar Heels.

Shelbourne F.C. play Valur from Reykjavík, Iceland today, with the winner moving on the second leg of qualifications to the Champions League group stages. Good luck to Heather and the Shels!