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Dublin: 5 °C Thursday 24 January, 2019
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'I don't think I'll do a Seaman and play 'til 40' - Ireland's record caps holder Emma Byrne

The vastly-experienced Arsenal goalkeeper lined out for the 106th in Ireland’s World Cup qualifier last weekend… but it proved to be a day to forget.

Emma Byrne was in Dublin yesterday to promote the Doritos Penalty Shootout competition.
Emma Byrne was in Dublin yesterday to promote the Doritos Penalty Shootout competition.
Image: David Maher/SPORTSFILE

FIVE DAYS HAVE passed since Ireland suffered a heartbreaking 3-2 defeat to European champions Germany at Tallaght Stadium — but goalkeeper Emma Byrne is still trying to get her head around a crazy 90-plus minutes of football.

It was supposed to be a day to remember for the 34-year-old Leixlip native. Having equalled Ciara Grant’s 105 senior caps last month, Byrne was in line to break the international women’s record while captaining the Girls in Green.

Byrne was recognised by the FAI and those present at Shamrock Rovers’ home ground before kick-off and things got off to the perfect start as Louise Quinn put Ireland in front after just three minutes.

Simone Laudehr responded with a penalty on 65 minutes and Lena Lotzen then scored to hand the visitors the lead late in the second half. There was still time for a couple more twists, however, as Megan Campbell’s long throw-in was flicked home by substitute Stephanie Roche in the 89th-minute before disaster struck.

Melanie Leupolz’s speculative effort from distance caught Byrne off her line and looped into the back of the net in the first minute of additional time to resign Ireland to a valiant but painfully disappointing defeat.

“All I kept thinking whenever they got a corner or a set-piece was that I have to take the pressure off the girls,” says Byrne, reliving that third goal. “This is why I’m here as a goalkeeper — to come out and take high balls.

“So as soon as the ball left her foot I was suddenly aware that it was a great time for me to come out and collect. I took a step forward and that is what killed me.

“When I’m coaching the kids, I’m always telling them ‘don’t take the step forward and anticipate, just react to the ball’. But that’s exactly what I did.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m usually my biggest critic and I can analysis what I did wrong but the wind definitely caught a hold of it and my problem was that I had taken the step forward.”

Emma Byrne acknowledges the crowd after receiving her 100th cap Byrne is receives her 106th cap at Tallaght Stadium on Saturday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I was obviously delighted to break the record and I knew the FAI were going to put on a nice reception for me,” the Arsenal stopper adds.

“There were always thoughts in the back of my head that I hope we played well and didn’t concede too many as I wanted to enjoy the occasion.

“If you had told us beforehand that we were going to lose 3-2 we probably would have been happy. But just how the game went, it was heartbreaking.”

They may have been beaten for the first time in the current World Cup 2015 qualifying campaign (by a team who had scored 40 goals and conceded none in their previous five matches) but there is still everything to play for as Ireland sit second in Group 1.

Second seeds Russia are just a point back with a game in-hand and travel to Dublin for another crucial fixture on 7 May as both aim to be one of four best runners-up who will progress to the play-offs for the World Cup finals in Canada.

“The best second spot is something that we have always targeted,” explains Byrne. “We are realists and know that Germany are going to win the group but it would be unbelievable to get a point off them away.

We need to beat Russia in three weeks and we are really confident of doing it. Having said that, we are a bit Jeckyll and Hyde so we have to make sure that we are consistent and turn up for games in the right frame of mind.

“We can take a lot of confidence from the Germany game in knowing that we can compete and we will aim to beat the Russians.”

Soccer - UEFA Women's Champions League - Quarter Final - Birmingham City v Arsenal - St Andrew's Byrne in action for Arsenal. Source: EMPICS Sport

On a personal level, Byrne has just signed a new two-year deal with Arsenal so has no intention of hanging up the gloves but explains that he has had to reinvent herself in recent years.

“I’m a completely different keeper to the one I was five years ago. I used be a ‘sweeper keeper’ in that I would be always running out because I always had pace and was one of the quickest in my team.

“Now I tend to stay in the 18-yard area. It is always about adapting, maintaining fitness and injury prevention. That is one thing Arsenal have been really good at. They know when to push you and when to hold back.

I’ve just signed a new two-year deal so I don’t want to think what age I’ll be when I finish. Everyone keeps telling me that David Seaman played into his 40s but I don’t think I want to do that!”

While her playing days are her main concern right now, Byrne has also been planning for the future by doing her coaching badges and a university course in journalism and broadcasting.

And, in an ideal world, she will one day return home to pass on her experience to the next generation of goalkeeping talent.

“Ireland is where my heart is and I would love to start a goalkeeping academy to develop them here because there aren’t enough goalkeepers and when I was growing up there was very little coaching specifically for them.

“I’d love to have a central academy to develop them because I feel it is one area that Ireland should excel in with Gaelic games and the fact that we have always had good goalkeepers.

“We’re slightly dipping on that front so it is an area which needs development and it would be a shame to let it drift.”

Yesterday, Emma Byrne was in Dublin to announce details of the Doritos Penalty Shootout competition, where snack-loving teams of mates across Ireland and the UK are being given the extraordinary opportunity to compete for the chance to take a penalty against the Manchester City goalkeeper Joe Hart.

To enter, entrants need to be over 18 and register at Doritos.co.uk by 18th April, uploading a video of them and their mates showing off their top football skills and tricks on the pitch!

The competition will be supported by an on-pack promotion, where snack-lovers have the chance to try their luck against Hart in the comfort of their own home and win up-to £100 (or Euro equivalent) by scoring penalties in the Doritos Penalty Shootout online game at www.doritos.co.uk/shootout. Purchase necessary, 18+ only, T&Cs apply.

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Ben Blake

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