There are few countries more passionate about soccer (or the “beautiful game” as it's known) than the Republic of Ireland. There's no better illustration of the Irish people's love of football than their reaction to advancing to the World Cup quarter final in 1990 in Italy.
As match day approached, it was announced that Dublin buses would stop running at 7pm, businesses would shut down, cinemas would close before the 8pm kick-off, and 30 extra flights had to be scheduled between Dublin and Rome to take some 20,000 supporters to the match. That's a fair percentage of the Irish population, which in 1994 was just 3.6 million.
Much like Italy spoiled Australia's World Cup dreams in 2006 (Grosso took a dive!), the Azzurri ended Ireland's tournament on that June evening at Stadio Olimpico. Just as Dublin's O'Connell St was full of cheering fans before the match, it became the centre of national grieving at the end.
I was in Ireland's capital city last week, to meet disability leaders, advocates and government, and there was a real buzz about the place as the team from Eire prepares to take on our Matildas tomorrow on the opening day of the Women's World Cup in Sydney.
At times like this, you can't help but think about how far women's soccer has come.
The first official publicised women's football match in Australia was held on September 24, 1921, in front of 10,000 spectators at the Brisbane Cricket Ground.
In that same year, the English Football Association banned women from playing on official grounds, citing “medical and aesthetic reasons”. That had a knock-on effect here at home.
But the love of football was strong and women across the country were not going to be deterred. Eventually the W-League (now A-League Women) and the Matildas were born.
There's no denying it's been a hard slog to get recognition. Even when the Australian women's team made the World Cup in 1995, media coverage was little more than a paragraph buried deep in the sports pages. Now, it's front page news.
These are exciting times for Australian football, for players of all abilities.
It is a reminder that sport is not just about fitness and skill, it is an avenue to forge equality and foster inclusion.
The members of the ParaMatildas and the men's team, the Pararoos, are footballers with cerebral palsy, acquired brain injury or symptoms of stroke.
Players from the ParaMatildas and the Pararoos have visited me at my office in Canberra and have given me insights into what it means to be an elite athlete.
We talked about the time, the effort, and the sacrifice and all team members said the return on that investment was worth it because of what sport had given back to them.
For some it was the sense of community, the friendships formed, and realising they could dream of playing football because they had role models.
One of the players said it was about more than football, it was a place for them to embrace their disability.
Another said they no longer felt the isolation of having to learn about their disability alone.
They had others with similar lived experience to learn from and share with.
Sport changed their lives. Such is its power.
I've heard many times the saying “you can't be what you can't see”. For the 4.4 million Australians with disability who play a sport or aspire to play one, they have para athletes — some whom make it to Olympics — to see.
ParaMatildas and Pararoos players such as Georgia Beikoff, Eloise Northam and David Barber are inspiring children and young people with disability to wonder if one day it might be them who pulls on the green and gold uniform.
But even for those who don't want to get to that level, having parasports in the spotlight brings more opportunity to be part of an activity that brings people together and fosters inclusion. It provides an opportunity for people from all backgrounds, including people with disability, to come together, to connect, to have fun, and to share a common interest.
It takes the whole of society to open doors for people with disability and the ParaMatildas and Pararoos are playing an important part of that.
In 25 years of operation, the Pararoos have been to the Paralympics and nine world championships, and are in the top 10 of the International Federation of Cerebral Palsy Football rankings.
And while the ParaMatildas were only founded last year, they took silver at the Women's World Cup in Spain.
It's a great year for soccer. A great year for Australian sportspeople with disability. And a great year for Aussies to come together and support our national teams.