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Breakout Ireland star 'focusing on Peamount and loving it' as top-of-the-table clash 'just another game'

Claire Walsh reflects on a busy few months ahead of this afternoon’s Shelbourne showdown.

CLAIRE WALSH HAS to stop and check herself as she reflects on a whirlwind few months.

She’s talking about her first Ireland start, earned having been on the fringes for so long, when the momentary confusion hit her.

claire-walsh Claire Walsh. Source: Ken Sutton/INPHO

“I was delighted to play the Belgium game back in April,” the Peamount United defender told The42, before pausing briefly. “I think it was April, it doesn’t seem like that long ago.

“It was great to finally get some game time. Twice previously I had come on as a sub but it was nice to play the full game, I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to more opportunities hopefully.”

It was indeed April, and Walsh well and truly caught the eye in her Brussels breakthrough.

Unquestionably one of the best, if not the best, defender in the Women’s National League [WNL] in recent years, the Wicklow woman has been impressing week on week on home soil as Peamount dominate, and is now enjoying a formative period as she takes the next steps in her career.

She won’t look too far ahead though; happy to learn, grow, and appreciate the journey.

Between club and country, the combined learning experience has been fantastic.

“At Peamount, we have top players with a lot of experience, the likes of Áine [O'Gorman], Karen [Duggan], Steph [Roche], Niamh Reid Burke. With Ireland, the home-based sessions have been great, you’re playing with all of the players around the league who are at that level. And then in camp is kind of another jump again.

“But it’s great to have the girls that you’re playing with who’ve been as successful as they have been, the likes of Katie McCabe, Louise [Quinn], Niamh Fahey, Diane [Caldwell] over in the States.

“For me, personally, in my position at centre-back, the three girls that are playing there at the moment, they’re so experienced and are so successful. It’s great to have them to look up to and learn from.”

The 26-year-old is doing just that, giving Vera Pauw plenty of food for thought as a new campaign rolls around in the 2023 World Cup qualifiers, which kick off in September.

Preparations have been in full flow over the past few months, that Belgium clash one of four friendlies against higher-ranked opposition. Ireland suffered narrow defeats in all, and are currently on a seven-game losing streak.

Though disappointing, Walsh, like all involved, says it’s important to look at the bigger picture.

“It’s easy to be negative about the good few losses in-a-row, but then when you look on paper at the teams we’ve played, they’re ranked so much higher than us. At the end of the day, they’re the teams that we need to learn how to beat. We’ll be able to take a lot from those tough games and hopefully push on from there.

claire-walsh-and-aine-oogorman Facing clubmate Áine O'Gorman in Ireland training. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“There’s a top squad there with top players playing all over the world. It’s a great environment. You’ve girls playing at the top, top level; girls in Germany, Italy, over in the USA as well, and then you have girls that are playing in Ireland being able to go in and play at that level as well.

“It’s a great team and it’s a really good atmosphere at the moment. Everyone’s just looking forward to the campaign kicking off. It feels like it’s been a long time coming.”

As Walsh speaks about international team-mates playing overseas, it’s interesting to hear her thoughts on that prospect for herself in future. There’s mounting speculation she’s on the verge of a move, though, as expected, she keeps her cards close to her chest.

“I wouldn’t rule it out. I suppose at the moment, I’m just focusing on Peamount and loving it. We’ve obviously had a really successful couple of years, the last two years we’ve won the league. I’m loving it at the moment but no, I wouldn’t rule it out.”

Walsh’s root are certainly there, having played for the Greenogue outfit growing up, before heading Stateside to study at Central Connecticut State University.

Just 17 at the time, playing top-level colleges football across the pond was “a big step up in terms of strength and fitness” and took some adjustment, though it was a challenge she relished and an experience she savours. “I absolutely loved it,” she beams. “To be honest I would do it again in heartbeat if I was given the opportunity”

Returning with a psychology degree under her belt and memories to last a lifetime, she continued her education at UCD, completing a Masters in computer science.

While there, she lined for UCD Waves – now DLR – in the WNL, while also dipping her toes back into inter-county Gaelic football.

Now firmly focused on her number one, Walsh is balancing her football with her data analytics job at Paddy Power, working from home her only saving grace in her hectic schedule.

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“Before Covid, I was just running around like mad yoke all day, commuting to work, commuting home and then trying to eat before going to training,” the Kilbride native laughs. “It’s been been a bit of a positive that I would take from the whole situation, being able to work from home and have a little bit more time.”

Of course, most of that time goes into Peamount at the moment, as the title race heats up. Level on points with Shelbourne, the sides meet in a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash this afternoon at Tolka Park [KO 2pm, live on LOI TV] a day after discovering their Champions League fate.

James O’Callaghan’s Peas won the last meeting between the teams, though it’s always tight at the top and anything could happen in a fiery derby like this.

“Everyone’s looking forward to it,” Walsh nods, “These are the games that everyone wants to be playing in throughout the whole season. But I suppose at the end of the day, it’s just another game as well so we need to just take it as it is.”

After the mid-season break and last weekend’s bye, there’s a buzz and a fire in the belly to come back fighting — particularly following the dramatic 2-2 draw with challengers Wexford Youths just before the halfway point.

claire-walsh-and-kylie-murphy Facing Wexford's Kylie Murphy. Source: Brian Reilly-Troy/INPHO

“We were disappointed from dropping points but I think as well, when you look at the game, we were lucky not to lose at the end. We were happy with the break, to go and regroup. I think it’s maybe kind of what we needed to give us confidence going into the next few games.

“It happened to us last year as well when we went down to Wexford. I think the first time we played them last year, they hammered us, they beat us 3-0. But I think from there, we kind of kicked on. 

“So in a way, it could be a good thing for us to have dropped points before the break, to go and regroup and figure out how to not let that happen again.”

And on the Shelbourne showdown, she concluded: “It will be important in terms of the title race, but again, I think we just need to take it as another game.

“Shels are obviously a top side, they have great players, between the experience and the younger ones coming through. And there’s rarely anything between us when we play, so I don’t expect that Saturday will be any different.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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