'99 Women's WC
1999 WORLD CUP
All-time team records
All-time leading scorers
ALSO ON SLAM!
Saturday, June 19, 1999
Veteran Donnelly looks forward to better times
Donnelly has been a member of Canada's national women's soccer team since its inception in 1986. She has played 69 international games, more than any other Canadian woman, and her nine goals ranks fourth on the all-time scoring list.
She's battled through the lean years, been humiliated by lopsided loses and watched the team struggle financially.
"It was pretty bleak to tell you the truth," said the 34-year-old school teacher from Port Moody, B.C.
Now Donnelly sees the glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. The women have advanced to the World Cup for the second time, opening the 16-team tournament Saturday night against Japan.
Like many others, Donnelly believes Canada has a legitimate chance at finishing in the top eight and gaining a berth in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
"We're getting more international matches each year which we didn't get a lot of in the early days," the midfielder said.
"Making the World Cup the last two times, that has helped our program a lot."
Only five-foot-four, Donnelly has the tenacity of a terrier. On the field she's fearless, challenging anyone in her way, but she has been resilient enough to adjust her game.
"She as an undying passion for the game," said coach Neil Turnbull. "She's constantly refining her game. In the last four weeks she's added an element she hasn't focused on in the past and that's ball winning."
Born in London, England, Donnelly began playing soccer soon after learning to walk. She played in a nearby park with neighbourhood kids, often being the only girl.
Of all the games she's played, the one Donnelly remembers most is her first with the national team. It was the team's second ever and they beat the U.S. 2-1, with Donnelly scoring twice.
"It's the only time we've ever beat them," she laughed.
Through the years Donnelly became frustrated and demoralized as the women's team played floundered on the field, losing games 6-0 and 9-1. But she never thought about quitting.
"I grew up playing soccer," she said.
"As an athlete you always want to play at the highest level possible. It's such a challenge to play at this level. Even though in the program we didn't get a lot of games, or none some years, it never dawned on me to quit."
Donnelly's perseverance gave Turnbull a foundation to build a program around.
"She's one of the players that came from nothing with regards to the program," Turnbull said.
"Now she sees some dividends."
Donnelly knows this tournament could be her last dance on the big stage. She's the oldest member of the national team and won't play in another World Cup, although she would stay for the Olympics should the team qualify.
But that doesn't mean she'll quit the sport.
"I will always play at some level, whether its an over-30 league," Donnelly said.
"I love the game."