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'I've learned how to play with no fear. I've been through a lot football-wise'

Louise Quinn is one of Ireland’s most established and experienced players.

Louise Quinn at last week's Republic of Ireland WNT Media Event at the Castleknock Hotel, Dublin.
Louise Quinn at last week's Republic of Ireland WNT Media Event at the Castleknock Hotel, Dublin.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

LOUISE QUINN ISN’T sure if she ever saw herself at the level she is now.

One of the most important players and recognisable faces on the Republic of Ireland women’s national team, Quinn is the proud owner of 93 senior international caps.

The Birmingham City captain is undoubtedly one of the first names on Vera Pauw’s team-sheets every time, and barring anything drastic, should make her 94th appearance against Sweden in tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier [KO 5.30pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2 and RTÉ Player worldwide].

It will be a big occasion for the 31-year-old Wicklow woman; the challenge of facing the second-ranked team in the world one she’s relishing as she calls on the art of defending she is ever-honing.

A teak-tough centre-half, exuding leadership and fond of getting forward to threaten with her head, these are all things Quinn really prides herself on rather than the number of caps she holds.

But she’s closing in on the exclusive WNT Centurion Club — Emma Byrne (134), Áine O’Gorman (111 and counting), Ciara Grant (105) and Niamh Fahey (101 and counting) — despite the fact she’s unsure she ever saw herself at that level.

“I have no idea. I have no idea,” Quinn grins. “I think I do what I do, to want to play for the Irish team for as long as possible and to be around it and in amongst it, but I take absolutely none of it for granted. Ever.

“I don’t come into a camp just assuming that you’re going to get your cap and this, that and the other. I’ve worked really hard and I’ve had to make sure at club level that I’m staying fit and healthy and playing as well as I can and then it’s up to the coach if they deem me good enough to put me in the starting XI or to come on.

“I’m just enjoying it – carrying on. It’s a nice number to be around but I’m obviously still even just very proud of the 93 that I have already.”

Does it get easier as it goes along?

Do you feel like a different player with more caps? More experience?

“Oh, yeah,” Quinn nods. “Different in a… I don’t like to say it, but in a mature way.

“I’ve learned how to play with no fear, I think. I think that’s something that’s come around a bit more recently, because I’ve been through a lot football-wise in terms of results, both at club level and international, and I think I learned a lot [about] playing with no fear, which is easier said than done. It’s definitely just down to experience.

“Playing with no fear has just taken a lot of pressure off myself and it’s made me perform better, it’s made me maybe not take different results as hard or as difficult because at the end of the day, I’m doing one of the best jobs in the world.

“Football is football and sport is sport, and you learn a lot about wanting to be closer to family and what’s important. A pandemic has helped with that as well in good and bad ways, but just that switch of mind that as long as I’m fit and healthy and going on, I’m loving what I’m doing.

“There was definitely nerves in the first 60 caps or 70 caps, who knows how many? But I also really like those nerves as well. They give you the adrenaline and it’s definitely something I still get, but I just know how to control it a bit more.”

birmingham-city-v-brighton-and-hove-albion-fa-womens-super-league-st-andrews-trillion-trophy-stadium Source: PA

Controlling emotions is something she’s had to do quite a lot with Birmingham this season. The Irish-heavy Blues sit rock-bottom of the Women’s Super League with five points from 18 matches — from an unlikely win over high-flying Arsenal, and two draws.

In January, Quinn spoke about “weirdly enjoying my football and the challenge”.

While things have gone downhill since and life has gotten much, much tougher in the basement basement battle, those feelings remain.

“I still enjoy being able to go into training every day with the girls,” the former Arsenal, Fiorentina and Eskilstuna United star explains. “The attitude that everyone has had… I’ve been in teams where you’ve lost games and the heads really drop, the atmosphere starts to change, but I’ve been so pleased to see that everyone is pushing on.

“We’re not going to stop until it’s mathematically impossible [to stay up]. That’s what I love to see. I try to assure the girls that yeah this is a tough battle, but this is where you’re going to learn the most about yourself as a footballer.

“That’s something I’ve based my career off: working incredibly hard, giving 100% every session, maybe not being the best technical player, but am I going to work harder than you? Yeah probably. Is that going to get me on the pitch and do me good? I think it has.

“We’re not going to give up. It is still possible. There’s games we can win… it’s something we work on every week. You can see everyone is learning and growing constantly. It’s a battle but we won’t stop.”

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Likewise with Ireland. Their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament kickstarts in Gothenburg tomorrow; the Girls In Green facing the might of Sweden as their quest for a coveted play-off spot hits new heights. 

magdalena-eriksson-and-louise-quinn Quinn facing Sweden's Magdalena Eriksson. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Pauw’s side are in a good position: second in Group A, with closest rivals Finland stumbling last Friday. September’s double-header against the Finns and Slovakia has long shaped up to be the decisive window, but Ireland are firmly focused on the job at hand this week. And then June’s trip to Tbilisi to face group minnows Georgia.

They’ve been here before — in a good position, with qualification on the cards — but haven’t seen it through.

The time is now, Quinn says.

“The difference, and something we’ve learned a bit is not to think too far ahead,” she concludes. “It is that natural thing, but it did get to that stage [in the last campaign] where with the pandemic and everything, people were really eyeing up the games later on in the group.

“It was just like, ‘Do you know what, let’s just do our job here and now.’ It really was one of those where you just get too ahead of yourself and it gets to that stage where there’s pressure behind a game. Whereas now, I think we’ve been able to play games against better-ranked opposition and actually learn how to take the pressure of playing against some of the best players in the world. It just gives you that experience. The only way you can do it is experience it.

“And unfortunately, we learned the very, very hard way. But you do genuinely learn from it. I don’t play with as much fear, but I think that’s something that the other girls have taken on as well. We’ve faced the heartbreak of what it’s about, and now you can only just try work on it and try not make it happen again.

“Give it your best, because if you think back to that, I think we kind of let some of it get too much on top of us and we didn’t give our best. Whereas now, look, whatever happens happens, but as long as you’ve laid it all out there and not let the fear get over you, then everything is possible.”

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Emma Duffy

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