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The Limerick latecomer's 'step up' from representing county to country, and battling relegation in Germany

Claire O’Riordan was unaware of top-level women’s football until her first year of college. Now she’s an Irish international.

SHE’S AN IRISH international now and playing with a Bundesliga club, but it wasn’t until college that Claire O’Riordan became aware of top-level women’s football.

imago-20180612 Claire O'Riordan (file pic). Source: Imago/PA Images

Hailing from a strong Gaelic games background in Limerick, the 26-year-old went to Carlow IT to study Sports and Exercise Management with Soccer, and that’s where the ball really started rolling.

Having represented the Treaty in football and camogie, she realised there was another pathway she could follow.

“When I went to Carlow in my first year, I started to learn that players were playing with Ireland, that it was actually a thing. And also that there was this Women’s National League.

“I wasn’t the kid to have my head stuck in my phone. I was out kicking ball off the wall or with the hurley. I wasn’t — I still amn’t very big into technology.

Obviously, coming from a GAA background, it was representing your county and I was like, ‘Well, if there’s like another step up, I want to get there.’”

She rang up the then-Wexford Youths manager, John Flood, and asked if she could come on a trial. Off she went on the bus, and the rest is history. Three league titles and an FAI Cup success followed, along with memories to last a lifetime from the south-east.

“It was an unbelievable experience to come from Sunday league soccer into the Women’s National League,” O’Riordan smiles, looking back.

“I learned a lot and it was a time of my soccer career to be so successful with Wexford Youths, and I cherish it all the time. I look back on it all the time.”

With the remarkable increase in exposure of late, she tunes into the WNL every weekend now, and it’s not just her former side she watches from afar in Germany. She laughs that she’s “learned the basics” of technology over time, well capable to click a button and stay in contact with her family from her base in Duisburg, where she’s been since 2018.

A striker with Wexford, O’Riordan made the move to centre-half after her European switch, which has been a turbulent one full of relegation battles.

They’re in another struggle for survival at the minute, rock-bottom with just four points to their name from 17 games. She admits the table is certainly not screaming good news, and is realistic about the situation.

“It’s obviously something since I’ve come to the Bundesliga that was always talked about; fighting relegation. But obviously this year has been the most difficult for the team to try and survive. The situation is the situation and all we can do is get back to work after the international break. I think there’s five games left, and see what comes with that.

“This is the third season of it now, I have learned an awful lot about dealing with the relegation battle and suffering difficult results. I think this season, I was able to really refocus myself on what I was trying to do individually, in terms of trying to improve as a footballer, and improve my game all round.

“I take the results on the chin, but at the same time, I’m very realistic, and I know our capabilities and what is achievable within the team and how we are set up and in what we’re looking to accomplish. So I’m able to accept it.

eintracht-frankfurt-msv-duisburg-womens-bundesliga O'Riordan in action for Duisburg. Source: DPA/PA Images

“I don’t, in any way, let it get me down, because there’s always going to be tomorrow. We can play a game today. Tomorrow, we’ll be back doing the recovery and looking forward to the next game and the next train. It’s another curve in the journey.

“I take it and I learn from it, and hopefully then in some time, it will stand to me and I will be able to use all those experiences in a positive and effective way going forward.”

Her contract is up at the end of the season, so decision time is looming. And with a drop to the second-tier a realistic outcome, O’Riordan says she will likely have to “reevaluate” her status at MSV Duisburg when the time comes.

“I don’t tend to worry about things like that because what happens, happens, and we’ll take it from there,” she adds. “Right now, I’m just focused on the international camp and when I head back to Germany, then I can focus on things in Germany.”

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Appreciative to be back on home soil amidst the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic — she’s also grateful to be able to do her job without disruption in mainland Europe; regularly tested, training, living with a team-mate, and doing very little else but going for food shops, as the situation is similar to Ireland, though hairdressers are back open — O’Riordan is ready to take her chance this week.

Vera Pauw is eager to give fringe players plenty of minutes in friendlies against Denmark this evening [KO 6.30pm, live on RTÉ Player] and Belgium on Sunday, as preparations for the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign ramp up.

This is a huge opportunity to nail down a starting place in the XI, and one everyone in the mix is focused on.

“I believe in my ability as a player,” O’Riordan concludes. “I think I have developed and improved an awful lot since moving over to Germany.

“But I think the main thing is the balance within the team. Vera obviously has her decisions to make, and ultimately it will be to get the right result and the positive result that the team needs. In any way that I can help benefit that, is always going to be a plus.

“And it’s something that I will always work towards doing. In that sense, we have the opportunity of friendly fixtures coming up now so I’m just looking forward to hopefully showing what I’m capable of doing, and what I have learned and improved on over the last two to three years.”

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Emma Duffy

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