Ruesha Littlejohn gets away from Dzsenifer Marozsan during Ireland's defeat to Germany last month. Tim Groothuis/INPHO
Back In The Game

From 'fan girl' to first choice: Littlejohn making the most of her second coming

The Leicester City midfielder has thrived since being brought back in from the international wilderness.

WHEN THE REPUBLIC of Ireland’s bid to reach the European Championships began, Ruesha Littlejohn watched on from the international wilderness.

After being omitted for the first three qualifiers, her prospects of featuring in the campaign appeared slim.

However, a call she received from Vera Pauw earlier this year paved the way for a second coming. The message from the Ireland manager was clear: let me put you in the picture and your star will shine.

Littlejohn duly obliged, marking her return to the side by delivering a player-of-the-match performance in the 1-0 win over Greece at Tallaght Stadium back in March.

On Friday (5pm, RTÉ 2), when Ireland aim to move a step closer to qualification, the Scottish-born midfielder will be in line to make her fourth consecutive start.

The Girls in Green are bound for Kiev to take on a Ukraine side against whom they recorded a 3-2 victory in Pauw’s first game in charge in October of last year.

“I was actually in Tallaght watching the game in the stands. I was being a fan girl,” Littlejohn recalls of Ireland’s previous meeting with Friday’s opponents.

Another good result will ensure that Ireland are guaranteed a minimum of a play-off in their quest to reach the Euros, which have been pushed back to the summer of 2022 due to the impact of Covid-19.

While the play-off will be secured with a draw, a victory could also be crucial as Ireland remain in contention for automatic qualification as one of the three best second-placed teams.

“It takes a bit of time to get used to new staff coming in, but everyone has bought into what they’re doing,” Littlejohn adds of the current coaching regime, which is overseen by Pauw and a stalwart of Irish women’s football in Eileen Gleeson, who’s serving as assistant manager.

ruesha-littlejohn Littlejohn in possession against Greece. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“It’s going well. We’re in such a good position right now, which is brilliant, and we’re focused on this game. We trust Vera and the staff, so it’s great.”

Littlejohn hadn’t played a competitive game for Ireland in nearly two years by the time she returned to the fold with a stellar display in the win against Greece.

Pauw, who guided her native Netherlands to the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2009, has been rewarded for putting her faith in the 30-year-old.

Littlejohn says: “I’m really delighted Vera and Eileen brought me back in. It was hard being out for such a long time, so I’m really happy she brought me in.

“It’s great working under someone who worked at teams at such a high level and it’s great to work under someone with all that knowledge and experience, and have the chance to learn from that.”

With Germany set to advance as Group I winners, Ireland will be determined to stay on track to qualify for a first-ever major tournament by ending the race for second place on Friday.

If not, they may find themselves in need of a result when the formidable Germans come to Dublin for a game that’s currently scheduled for 1 December.

“This is a massive chance,” Littlejohn said. “For some of us, this could be the only opportunity we get to qualify, so we know how big it is. At the same time we wouldn’t have it any other way. The pressure is on. We’re very lucky to be in this position.”

Littlejohn, who completed a summer transfer from West Ham United to Leicester City, added: “There’s always pressure on you when you’re playing football. Like they say, pressure is a privilege.

“We have to see it as just a game. We can’t let the surroundings and the occasion get the better of us. We just need to be focused and calm, and we’re ready.”

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