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Finding the pride

Picture: Ed Payne.

Republic of Ireland striker Kyra Carusa told David Hennessy about what it means to pull on the green shirt, becoming a London City Lioness and that she believes the club will have no regrets come the end of their promotion chasing season.

London City Lionesses are chasing promotion and have just added a goal scorer with a track record of taking a club to new heights.

Born in San Diego, Kyra Carusa has arrived in London via France and Denmark.

She made her debut for Republic of Ireland in February 2020 and has now got 9 caps and two international goals for Vera Pauw’s side. She is named in the squad for the two upcoming games against the World champions and nation of her birth, USA.

A centre forward who has played in the Champions League, Kyra now brings her experience to Princes Park.

Currently second in the Women’s Championship, the Lionesses are fighting to catch Bristol City for that one spot to gain promotion to the Women’s Super League, which would be momentous for such a young club.

Kyra joined in February from Denmark’s HB Køge.

When she joined the Danish club in 2020, they were in the Kvinde 1 division, the Danish 1st Division.

In her first season, Kyra would help them to win promotion to the Elitedivisionen.

The very next year, they would win the top flight title for the first time in their history, breaking the dominance of Brøndby and Førtuna Hjørring, and qualify for the Champions League where they would take on Spanish giants Barcelona.

This makes Kyra one of only a few Irish players with Champions League experience.

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Carusa would captain the club as they retained their league title.

Along the way, she also won the Golden Boot for being top scorer, and was named the league’s Player of the Year.

Kyra scored her first goal for her new club against Lewes, also setting up the other goal in a 2-1 win. It was a return to form after the team’s 1-2 humbling to Sheffield United the week before.

“It was great,” Kyra told The Irish World.

“Obviously a goal and an assist for a striker, that’s a great day.

“But I think the thing that brings me the most pride is the show that the team brought out coming off a loss the week before.

“The culture can be great, people can be happy and things can be progressing with any team when they’re winning.

“But you really see a true test of a team, a culture and a mentality when you are faced with that adversity of having to come back from a loss.”

The Lionesses would follow this with another win, beating top of the table Bristol City.

They would have a setback away to Durham but when they defeated Charlton and Bristol City dropped points at the weekend, it reduced the gap to just three points with three games remaining.

“In this league I’ve learned very quickly that every game is a cup final, regardless of your opponent.

“It’s that competitive and it’s that gritty.

“Every Sunday is going to be a cup final for us.”

Picture: Ed Payne.

No sooner had Kyra arrived then Mel Phillips, who brought Kyra to the club, would leave to take up a post in the US and be replaced by Nikita Runnacles as caretaker manager.

Phillips left the club top of the league.

“When I was looking to come to London City, coming to play for Mel was a massive pro for me.

“And of course, life happens. Things happen.

“I’ve learned you can’t make your own professional or your own career decisions on just one factor because you’re putting a lot of eggs in one basket and it’s never smart.

“There has to be this feeling of, ‘This is where you need to be’.

“And if variables aren’t there, do you still want to be here and be a part of this programme and feel like you can make an impact?

“That was always my mentality.

“Regardless of Mel being a huge pro, it wasn’t the foundation on which I was making this decision on.

“I do wish that I could have played under her but I still know that even with that happening, this is where I should be.”

You can bet having the ‘familiar faces’ of Lily Agg or Hayley Nolan, Republic of Ireland team mates, was also a big factor in Kyra’s decision to join the Lionesses.

“It helps so much acclimating to the team, building that trust and respect.

“Having leaders and impactful personalities be able to vouch for you as a person, as a player before you even step into a room is massive.

“I cannot thank them enough.

“What I do will always shine through regardless but having that just makes it that much easier and that much quicker to acclimate to a team.”

Kyra’s Lionesses and Republic of Ireland team mate Lily Agg.

The three Irish Lionesses have already had the chance to go away together on international duty with all three being named in Vera Pauw’s most recent squad.

“Hayley, Lily and I went out to Spain a few weeks ago for our camp for China.

“I have to say it’s much more fun and less lonely to travel out there with some teammates.

“Before when I was flying from Denmark, I was the only Scandinavian.

“You’re going with your teammates, but also your friends.”

Hayley Nolan.

All three will hope to make the final squad when the Republic of Ireland travel to Australia/ New Zealand for this summer’s World Cup, a historic first for the Republic of Ireland’s female team.

“I would be lying to say that wasn’t something in the back of my head constantly.

“It’s something that’s always on the forefront of the mind but the steps in between now and then is what we can do at a club level and that will grow us into what we need to be for the World Cup.

“It’s what we do now: The way you sleep, the way you’re eating, the way you’re with your teammates, the way you play on a Sunday, the way in which your team does in your league.

“That focus now on those things will bring the success come the summer.

“It’s like fuel to the fire of what we’re doing here in London.”

Kyra made her international debut away to Montenegro in March 2020. She scored her first goal for her country in the 11-0 mauling of Georgia in 2021. Injuries have prevented her being involved in every squad she would have liked to have been but she added her second international goal against Morocco last year.

“I am so thankful to be a part of multiple campaigns with this team.

“It means so much.

“I’m humbled that of all the women and the competitors that Ireland could choose from and Vera could look at, they see promise and they see impact in me as a person and as a player.

“So I think that’s always been my feeling every time that call comes in regardless, you never take it for granted.

“You take it as a humbling, humbling opportunity.”

Picture: Ed Payne

It was in 2017 that the Republic of Ireland’s female squad demanded better treatment from the FAI tired of being an afterthought behind the men’s team.

Now they receive the same match fee as the men’s team.

“And I think what makes me the most proud is that I’ve seen the women before me and the fight that they put in to get us to where we are now.

“It makes me so proud that they look at me as a person and as a player to say, ‘Hey, we’ve done some historic stuff but we believe that you should be a part of this and will continue that’.

“That says more than anything to me and I feel so much pride knowing that they look at me and see that in me, because I look at them and I’m like, ‘That’s who I want to be’.

“It makes me incredibly happy that they look at me and they see promise in me for that as well.”

Kyra qualifies to play for Ireland through her grandparents.

Picture: Wing Chong.

Beryl MacCluskey from Laois and her Cork-born husband Tony Lucey moved to the United States for a year in the 1950s and never left.

Tony died in 2004, but Beryl is alive and well and living in San Francisco where she loves to follow her granddaughter’s career.

Knowing how much it meant to her, Kyra presented her grandmother with her first Republic of Ireland shirt as a birthday present.

“My granny would always come to my games but she wouldn’t know anything else besides what my number was and that I was the girl with the brown ponytail.

“She texts me after every game I play.

“It’s like this little reminder that she and my papa who’s passed and all of my Irish family watch and are so proud of how I represent them.

“I think that gives me so much purpose.

“It gives me so much pride and it really drives me as a professional.

“I need purpose in what I do.”

Kyra with the league trophy in her Danish days.

A former USA Under- 23 international, Kyra would join Le Havre AC in 2019 playing three games before making the move to Denmark.

“I feel like Denmark and I found each other at times in our lives that we needed each other most, but we had no idea.

“I was in a really difficult place with my career and I felt very lost.

“I’ve always trusted my gut and I just couldn’t understand what I wanted or where I needed to be.

“I don’t think at the time something that I would have said, ‘This is exactly where I needed to be’.

“But it was exactly where I needed to be.”

Was it hard to leave? “I even remind myself, ‘Remember it’s not sad’.

“But growth has to happen, and change is not easy.

“Change and growth is not easy.

“It’s not gentle and that’s why people struggle to do it. I struggled to do it. But it’s necessary.”

London City Lionesses finished second last year missing out on promotion to Liverpool. Is there a determination to do everything to not be second again? “Yeah, absolutely.

“You can hear it in the way the women talk, you can see it in the way we train: This grit to not allow that to happen again.

“Like I said, every weekend it’s a cup final for every team in this league.

“All we can do is control what we can control and know that we play for one another and there should be no regret come the end of April. There should be no regret on that last weekend.

“And if we play like we did on Sunday (in the 2-1 win over Lewes) with that ruthless mentality, I have no doubt in my mind that come the end of April, we will have no regrets.

“I know what it’s like to be an underdog and everyone loves an underdog story. So let’s go, let’s do it.”

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