Kyra Carusa: ‘I know I’m a big-time player, that’s my mentality’

US-born Ireland striker is determined to help her side qualify for the World Cup

It was October of last year when Kyra Carusa found herself on the same pitch as some of the greatest players in the world, among them Caroline Graham Hansen, Lieke Martens and Jennifer Hermoso. Denmark’s HB Køge, debutantes in the competition, were playing Barcelona, the previous season’s winners, in the group stages of the Champions League. Carusa? Living the dream.

“I remember the younger players in the team were looking at me wide-eyed, caught in the headlights, ‘tell us what to do!’. I’m sitting there saying, ‘you think I played Barcelona before?! I haven’t!’”

The memory is up there with her most cherished, but top of the list is the moment she presented her grandmother with her first Republic of Ireland shirt as a birthday present.

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


Tony died in 2004, but Beryl is alive and well and living in San Francisco where she devotes no small amount of her time to following her granddaughter’s career.

“Growing up, they were such important people in my life, and now, every time I get to put on that jersey, I think of my grandfather, and I know my grandmother does too. I feel like it’s a thank you to them both for how they worked so hard to try and set me and my siblings up, to give us the best chance in life we could get. I’m just eternally grateful to them.”

She’s doing them proud. She had a stellar academic career at Stanford and Georgetown where she studied human biology — with an eye, initially, on becoming a doctor — before doing a master’s degree in marketing.

When she first arrived in Køge, she may as well have been setting foot on another planet. Everything about the quaint, historic Danish seaport, 45km south of Copenhagen and with a population of just 38,000, felt so different for the San Diego native.

All the while she was a prolific goalscorer in college football, her coach at Georgetown, Irish man Dave Nolan, nudging her in the direction of declaring for Ireland once he learned of her roots.

By then, though, she was an under-23 international with the United States and looked bound for the National Women’s Soccer League, New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC having drafted her. But an opportunity arose at French side Le Havre, where she played briefly, before HB Køge came calling.

The club was owned at that point by New York-based sportswear company Capelli Sport who added HB Køge to a portfolio that included clubs in over 20 countries, all part of the push to become a global brand.

She laughs now at her bewilderment. “Could I even pick Denmark out on a map? It was a crazy gamble, they were in the second division at the time, but I loved their ambition and passion,” she says.

When she first arrived in Køge, she may as well have been setting foot on another planet. Everything about the quaint, historic Danish seaport, 45km south of Copenhagen and with a population of just 38,000, felt so different for the San Diego native.

“It was a whole new world of things. The way of life, the culture, the language, the scenery, the colours. It rains quite a bit,” she says, “but when the sun is out the colours shine like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. Except Ireland.”

Now, when she flies in to Copenhagen airport, “it feels like home,” she says.

Carusa, who now captains the club, has played no small part in their extraordinary rise. In her first season they won promotion to the Elitedivisionen (the top flight), in their second they won the title for the first time — becoming the first club to break the stranglehold of the big two, Brøndby and Førtuna Hjørring, in 20 years — and in her third they retained it. Along the way, she has won the Golden Boot for being top scorer, and was named the league’s Player of the Year last season.

Now, there’s nothing she wants more than to experience a similar level of success in her international career, one that has had a stop-start feel to it since she got hold of her Irish passport and made her debut away to Montenegro in March 2020.

As the only striker in the current squad with a Champions League pedigree, Carusa would have been expected to pick up a lot more caps than her total of seven, just one of them a start in a competitive game, when she was among the scorers in that 11-0 mauling of Georgia in Tallaght.

But injuries have blighted her efforts to establish herself in the side. The latest, a stress fracture in her femur, forced her to miss the last three games in the group phase of Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign, but she is now back in the squad for the upcoming play-off against Scotland or Austria, having returned to action for HB Køge last month.

She’s aware too that Vera Pauw has tried out a slew of people up front in her three years in charge, Heather Payne, Rianna Jarrett, Amber Barrett, Leanne Kiernan, Stephanie Roche, Saoirse Noonan and Aoife Colvill, as well as Carusa, among those given a go.

“It’s all about timing, luck, it can be so frustrating, but I still feel I’m prepared for whatever role I’m given with Ireland,” she says. “When I go to camp, I don’t know if I’m going to start, I don’t know if I’ll be on the bench. I’m lucky enough to play every game for Køge, but I understand the importance of the role everyone in the squad plays, and how you just have to be ready if given the chance.”

“It’s humbling, for sure, because you want to play every minute you can for Ireland, but I know that at any moment I could be called on. And a big-time player has to show big time moments — and I know I’m that kind of player, that’s my mentality. So, while success might not be now, it will absolutely be in the future.”

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times