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Stephanie Roche: 'I remember scoring one for Stella Maris when I was under-16'

Nominated for FIFA’s best goal of the year, the Irish international chats about great strikes, going viral & Matt Le Tissier.

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

A FEW MINUTES into our chat, Steph Roche’s eyes light up.

We’re talking about the players she admired when she was younger.

“I follow Man United so there was Eric Cantona and Mark Hughes – I’m a bit young for them but my brothers have DVDs at home from all those years ago and I’d watch them. I have a DVD called ‘Fergie’s 2000 Goals’ and I watch that all the time!”

I’d always try flair things. I try to be skilful and practice my technique a lot. I’d be a big fan of Dimitar Berbatov who maybe wouldn’t do anything in games and then all of a sudden he’d whip a piece of magic out of nowhere.”

Life has changed dramatically for Roche since she conjured some magic of her own last year while playing for Peamount United against Wexford Youths. When that goal went viral, messages of appreciation came flooding in. The strike was a throwback. Many compared it to Matt le Tissier in his mid-1990s pomp – the way Roche carefully caresses the cross, the nonchalant flick over a defender and the thunderbolt finish. Arrogant, impudent, brilliant. Fittingly, the Southampton icon was one of the first to acknowledge the excellence of the goal and tweeted his appreciation soon after the video began to circulate online. Roche was floored.

“He was one of the first to tweet me and re-tweeted it to say ‘Goal of the Year’ which was fantastic. Gary Lineker retweeted it and talked about it. I mean, he does Match of the Day and watches world-class players every week. For those two to say something so nice about my goal was fantastic and obviously it was something that made me proud and happy as a footballer to be getting such recognition from such big people.”

Stephanie Roche Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Elite athletes are notoriously self-critical. Even when the end result is satisfying, they may feel the technique was questionable or that the execution could and should have been better. But for Roche, there was nothing sloppy about her goal, nothing she would do differently given the chance.

“I’ve been getting stick from a few people – I won’t mention names – who said my first touch was bad but it wasn’t! It was what I intended to do because I’m naturally left-footed. I’ve been working on my right foot for the last few years so I thought it was a nice first touch and it worked out. It was instinct and it happened so fast that I didn’t have much time to think about it.”

Usually when a footballer conjures a special goal, it’s not the first time it’s happened. David Beckham consistently attempted long-range lobs, hoping to embarrass the opposition’s goalkeeper, long before he struck that famous one against Wimbledon in 1996. Roberto Carlos has said that two goals from his career stand out – the incredible free-kick against France at Le Tournoi in 1997 and an inexplicable effort for Real Madrid against Tenerife the following year.

For Roche, there have been other, less high-profile goals that will also live long in the memory.

This goal was pretty special to me. Everything that’s come with it has been great. But I have scored some good goals in my career. I remember scoring one for Stella Maris when I was Under-16, I think. My manager at the time, Sean Ryder, said ‘If that was a guy, it’d be all over Sky Sports’ and it’s crazy because all of this is happening now with this goal! But I think maybe this one is the best I’ve got and it sticks in my mind because I’ve seen it thousands of times now!”

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But the goal could easily have entered local folklore instead, to be whispered about and recalled only by the very few present at Ferrycarrig Park on that fateful autumnal day. Few teams in the Women’s National League record games for analysis purposes but last October, Wexford Youths did. They positioned a camera at a height on the half-way line and asked one of their players, who wasn’t involved in the game, to operate it. The rest is history.

“I don’t know whether she was injured or she just wasn’t involved but the Wexford manager had her video the game. She actually sent me a message saying ‘You owe me a drink next time I see you’! But it was just by chance they were videoing it. A couple of teams would do it in the league but it wouldn’t be that popular so it was lucky enough that it was caught on tape or I wouldn’t be here today doing all this stuff!”

Stephanie Roche Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It was only afterwards when Roche began to fully appreciate the quality of the goal but the response to it being uploaded to YouTube wasn’t something she was prepared for.

“I didn’t even think anything of it. I didn’t think ‘That was a great goal’ because it was my first of the season so I was just happy to get off the mark. It wasn’t until after the game that Wexford Youths’ manager called me over and they had it on video and I went back on it and watched it and was like ‘Oh! That’s a bit special’. One of the girls jokingly said, ‘That’s definitely going to go viral, you’ll be a superstar’ and I was just saying ‘Oh, yeah – I know”!’ And then when it was put online two or three days later, it was phenomenal how many views it got”.

Voting for Fifa’s Goal of the Year closes on 1st December and the current ten-goal shortlist will then be cut to three. The players in question will attend the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Switzerland next January where the winner will be announced. The competition is intense: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, James Rodriguez, Robin van Persie, Tim Cahill and others.

Source: FIFATV/YouTube

But Roche’s goal is romantic. There’s something endearing and heartwarming watching the official Fifa compilation of the nominated goals. Somewhere in between the HD, the multiple camera angles and the super slow-mos is the grainy footage that captures Roche’s moment.

There’s a message, maybe. That great sport can happen at any level. And in an age of cynicism and coldness, the underdog becomes even more relevant and important.

YOU CAN VOTE FOR STEPHANIE’S GOAL HERE

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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