Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Ben Brady/INPHO Jess Ziu at today's Republic of Ireland WNT media day at the Castleknock Hotel.
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'It's all I wanted to do, be a pro' - Ireland star Ziu living the dream
From electric scooters to a Stamford Bridge showdown, the 20-year-old is enjoying life at West Ham alongside close friend Izzy Atkinson.

BEFORE COMING INTO camp, Jess Ziu hardly got the chance think about the Republic of Ireland’s decisive World Cup qualification double-header.

“I haven’t actually had a lot of time to look at the games because everything has been coming so quick with West Ham,” she explains at the Castleknock Hotel, where Vera Pauw’s side convened last night ahead of Thursday’s showdown against Finland.

Ziu signed her first professional contract with the Women’s Super League outfit earlier this year, and made the move to full-time football from Shelbourne in recent weeks.

“It’s been brilliant,” the 20-year-old right-sided star reports. “It’s been my dream since I started playing. I finally got it and I don’t think I could be at a better club than West Ham. It felt like home from the first day there.

“A lot of my friends moved over when they were 18, 19 but I was under no pressure to go. I knew the time would be right when I was ready. I was patient with my move, personally I wanted to grow on the pitch and off the pitch and become a bit more independent before I made the move.”

Ziu is an impressive character, a live-wire on and off the pitch. She’s assured and wise beyond her years, speaking with maturity and an appreciation for where she finds herself.

Pre-season has been tough under former Liverpool and Hammers defender Paul Konchesky, but she has been pleased with her showing overall despite a few niggles.

She’s fully-fit though, having adapted to the change of pace.

“The load is way more. Everything is much harder over there. For me personally, it was just physically. Mentally, I felt like I was pretty well [equipped]. I could keep up with everything, I loved it, it’s all I wanted to do, be a pro.

“Physically, sometimes, my body is taking too much of the load. I’m a big home bird, but I wasn’t even thinking about home when I was there. I just felt like I was at home with all the girls. Physically, my body had taken a big toll, but I’m getting there slowly. I feel like I’m adapting now.”

The arrival of close friend and Ireland and Shels team-mate Izzy Atkinson has certainly helped.

jess-ziu-and-isibeal-atkinson Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ziu (left) and Atkinson in Ireland training earlier this year. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Her coming to West Ham was a shock. I knew nothing about it. She kept it a secret and so did the staff,” Ziu laughs, a text message from Atkinson landing while she was on a family holiday just before the announcement.

“I had no words, because she is my roomie in camp when she is here, so it was unbelievable. When I found out about it I was really happy and I’m sharing a house with her too, that helped me settle in.

“I just remember the first day when me and Izzy got to West Ham together, we just looked at each other and we were like, ‘We’re here now, let’s stick together and we’ll get through everything together and we’ll help each other as much as we can.’”

The duo live in Romford, 10 minutes away from the West Ham training ground. It’s not exactly London city, but it’s still been a massive personal change for the youngster.

“It is quite tough to adapt,” she concedes. “I think what makes it tougher too is I don’t drive. So it is kind of tough to get around. I didn’t know how to cook, I didn’t know how to do anything, because I had my parents at home to do all that for me.

“But now I am actually, I see myself as quite an independent person. I can do everything myself. I have been cooking for myself, I can do my washing, I even have an electric scooter to get around now! It’s so different compared to at home, but I’ve been loving it.”

It’s moved to the back of Ziu’s mind amidst a landmark international week, but West Ham’s season opener is against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Ziu herself supports Manchester City — despite her Mam buying her any jersey that looked nice through her youth — but her Dad is a Blues fan, only adding to the occasion of it all.

“It’s huge for him,” she beams. “It’s a win-win for him to see his daughter at Stamford Bridge.

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“It’s a dream from playing at Tolka, where Peamount play and Cork to Stamford Bridge is unbelievable and is something that I never thought was going to happen. Hopefully the pressure doesn’t get to me but it will be unreal and I’m looking forward to it.”

jessica-ziu Ryan Byrne / INPHO On the ball against Georgia. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Tallaght Stadium on Thursday takes centre-stage first, the potential there for a sell-out and a smashing record attendance. Ziu witnessed that first-hand at the Euro 2022 final at, herself and Atkinson amongst the 87,192 fans at Wembley Stadium.

“Just to see the good mixture in the crowd of men, women, kids… it’s not just women going to support, it’s good to have both genders on board. The publicity that women’s football is finally getting, hopefully we can work on it and keep growing.

“All my family and friends are trying to get tickets [for Thursday], but the site crashed with all the people on, and all the tickets were gone. It is unbelievable. I think they sold out in a couple of minutes. We’ve never had a sell out at Tallaght before so hopefully everyone who has a ticket can come.”

Ziu kept a close eye on the Finns at the Euros, their manager Anna Signeul sacked after they failed to win a game. Their struggles, she admits, may be seen as an advantage for Ireland, but could go either way now as the battle for a play-off spot comes to the boil.

“At the time, yes, but at the same time they were in the Euros and we didn’t even get there so that was an achievement in itself. I know that they sacked their old manager and brought in a new one. Sometimes bringing a new one in can have positives on a team so we’ll just take it step by step and see their strengths and weaknesses. 

“We are one point ahead of them, it’s in our hands, I think it’s important that we don’t feel a lot of pressure going into the game and we just stick to what we’ve been doing in every camp. Don’t change anything up. I think we can get a result out of it if we just stick to our guns.”

“All of our focus is on Finland,” she concludes. “Slovakia is not in our focus whatsoever. We’re one point ahead of Finland so the pressure is on us. But we’re not going to change anything, we will stick to ourselves and keep it going.”

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