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Wednesday 8 February 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Ryan Byrne/INPHO Claire O'Riordan in Ireland training this week.
# Long road back
'Honestly I was thinking about the anniversary coming up… it was tough'
Claire O’Riordan made her first competitive Ireland start in three years against Slovakia – 364 days after sustaining an horrific ankle injury.

CLAIRE O’RIORDAN’S long-awaited return to the Republic of Ireland XI was significant in more ways than one.

It was the Celtic defender’s first competitive start since September 2019; the opening Euros qualifier win over Montenegro at Tallaght Stadium the night before Vera Pauw was appointed.

Three years on.

But perhaps, on an even more notable front, it came 364 days after an horrific injury.

“I broke my ankle tomorrow last year,” O’Riordan explained in the wake of Tuesday’s win away to Slovakia which secured a World Cup play-off bye.

“An anniversary… it was tough. Obviously I had to have surgery and different things like that. I had a stint in hospital because I had a setback.”

The Limerick star’s injury journey has been well documented, the hard yards she put in as she made her comeback after Christmas while at German outfit MSV Duisburg.

This week’s official Ireland one was particularly pleasing, O’Riordan lining out in the back three in Senec alongside dynamic duo Louise Quinn and Diane Caldwell, with Niamh Fahey and later, Megan Connolly, ruled out through injury.

Nights like that made it all worthwhile, the 18-cap international smiled. “It was unbelievable, I was so happy to be back out there with the team. It’s exactly what I’ve been working towards pretty much all my life, especially in the last year or so.

“Honestly I was thinking about it, that the anniversary of it was coming up. But I’m not going to dwell on that. I’m here now and this is exactly where I want to be. It’s what I’ve worked towards.

“And looking back at Megan Connolly from the last game, she played the entire game with fractured ribs, so a break a year ago is not much!”

Connolly’s were “big boots to fill,” O’Riordan stresses, but she did her utmost. The 27-year-old was solid throughout, and even went close to scoring late on, with Pauw reserving special praise for her afterwards — “She was good. She steps in in a very difficult moment, with a lot of pressure on her and I am so proud that she has done the job.”

With a short but impactful build-up under her belt, the player was happy too. “I think I did alright out there, I tried anyway,” she grinned.

O’Riordan started last year’s friendly games against Iceland and Belgium — two potential opponents in the play-offs next month — but has been afforded few chances otherwise.

With the Holy Trinity of Quinn, Caldwell and Fahey in situ for as long as most remember, central defence is undoubtedly the hardest area to break into.

ireland-celebrate-after-the-game Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ireland celebrating Tuesday's 1-0 win in Slovakia. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Yeah, for sure,” she nods. “But they have so much experience between them playing for so many clubs around the world. They have near 100 caps each. Obviously I just use that to my advantage and try to listen to them and try to pick up little tricks from them.

“Now I’m just trying to be knocking on the door. I’m just trying to put my stamp on things and ask questions as well. I want to be involved, that’s why we are here. But it is very important to have a squad and to have the bench as well.

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“You can see that from this camp especially, but also the campaign.”

“Healthy competition is needed,” she adds with a smile, happily building her rhythm and confidence once more.

A recent move to Celtic may help, as she joins a healthy Irish contingent in the Scottish Women’s Premier League and plays her club football closer to home.

“I think I’m still finding my feet there,” the former Wexford Youths star concedes. “It’s only been a few weeks since I got over there. Celtic is a massive club and they have a lot of resources, I’m just trying to tune into all of that and use it to my advantage to be ready for these type of games. All good so far.”

Just like with Ireland. What’s next?

“October,” O’Riordan deadpans. “That’s the vision, one step at a time.”

Redemption, resilience, a lesson in never giving up.

Onwards to the World Cup play-offs. 

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