'She's just turned 16, but needs to be in this environment'

Ireland manager Colin Bell has high hopes for teenage starlet Jessica Ziu.

Jessica Ziu (file pic).
Jessica Ziu (file pic).
Image: Sam Barnes/SPORTSFILE

MANAGER COLIN BELL has offered plenty of encouragement to Jessica Ziu, after she recently earned her first senior Ireland call-up recently.

The 16-year-old Shelbourne Ladies striker has enjoyed an impressive debut season in the Continental Tyres Women’s National League, in addition to also standing out for the Irish U16 and U17 sides.

Bell has not been shy to call up youngsters since his appointment in February 2017, with the likes of Tyler Toland (17), Heather Payne (18), Leanne Kiernan (19) and Isibeal Atkinson (17) all featuring in the current squad.

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Dubliner Jessie Stapleton, while not part of the 18-player panel for this week’s fixture, was recently called into an Ireland senior training camp.

And Ziu could make her debut when the Republic of Ireland take on the North in their final World Cup qualifier at Tallaght Stadium on Friday (kick-off: 5.30pm).

“I’ve been working with Jess now for 12 months with the U17s and obviously the home-based sessions,” Bell tells The42. “She’s held her own against older players in some of the home-based sessions. She’s a very dynamic player, technically very gifted, she’s quick, sees things very quickly, has a high game intelligence and that’s for me probably the most outstanding thing.

“She’s still very young. She’s just turned 16, but needs to be in this environment. We’re taking care of her, she also has that emotional stability that you need at this level.

I’m sure she can use this camp to gain experience and I’m sure if she stays healthy, fit and injury free, Jess will be around now for a long time.”

Meanwhile, two of Ireland’s more experienced players — Megan Campbell and Stephanie Roche — won’t feature in Friday’s game.

Roche has been out of action since Ireland’s very first qualifier, the 2-0 victory over the North in Lurgan, in which she picked up a tibia fracture.

Following the 29-year-old striker’s injury, suffered in September 2017, she was released by Sunderland, and is currently training with former club Peamount as she continues her rehabilitation.

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“She’s also trained a couple of times with the home-based squad, which is positive,” Bell adds. “She still has a long way to go to get back to match fitness and international fitness is obviously an even longer way to go. But she’s working hard and giving her all to get back to this level.”

Another key player, Campbell, is also progressing reasonably well, after the Man City star ruptured ligaments in her knee last November during a Champions League match against LSK Kvinner of Norway.

“Megan is giving her all to get back at Man City, I think the knee just flared up a little bit,” Bell explains. “We had to be a bit careful, slow down the process. But it’s not even a year at the moment for Megan. She has to be careful. It’s a very serious injury that she’s had, but she’s in great hands at Man City. We’re just waiting for the day she can come back to full fitness.”

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Paul Fennessy

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