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'It’s been hard to stay positive but I have good people around me'

Ireland striker Stephanie Roche is dealing with a new injury worry as she attempts to return from a fracture to her tibia.

THESE ARE EXCITING times for the Ireland senior women’s team, but Stephanie Roche has been forced to watch on from afar in recent months.

Stephanie Roche Roche has cut a frustrated figure as she looks to regain her fitness. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Along with fellow regulars Aine O’Gorman and Megan Campbell, the striker missed out on the backs-against-the-wall 0-0 draw with the Netherlands at De Goffert Stadion in November.

That hugely-encouraging result against the European champions leaves the two nations level at the top of their World Cup qualification group with seven points from three games.

Unfortunately, 28-year-old Roche was unavailable to manager Colin Bell after suffering a fracture to her tibia during the September’s 2-0 win over Northern Ireland.

“It was a nasty one,” the Dubliner recalls. “I just jumped up for a header and someone hit into me as I headed it. I landed and my knee hyperextended. Basically, I broke my leg on the tibial plateau.”

The forward has been working hard to regain full fitness at Sunderland with the aim of returning to the Ireland set-up for next week’s training camp as they gear up for qualifiers against Slovakia and the Dutch in April.

However, her participation in those matches has now been thrown into serious doubt.

“I’ve had a bit of a setback,” Roche said, speaking in Dublin yesterday. “I was back training all January and I was running, so it felt good. I joined in one of the days and tried to kick the ball. I felt a sharp pain across my knee.

It was around then that I realised there was something else not right. I went back to try and get it fixed and I’m here [in Ireland] now for a while to see if we can get it sorted.

“I’ve had another MRI and there was slight stress fracture to a different part of the leg. I’m waiting to hear back and it could be my meniscus as well. It’s all a bit up the air at the minute so I’m not sure. I thought I was back and then that happened so I’m disappointed.”

Roche and James McClean with participants of Neymar Jr’s Five yesterday. Roche and James McClean with participants of Neymar Jr’s Five yesterday. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

She adds: “When the first injury happened I was told it would be six to eight weeks and I would be out of the brace, but that was September. Every time I think I’m nearly back, something else happens.

So it’s been hard to stay positive but I have good people around me who are involved in football, like my boyfriend [Longford Town captain Dean Zambra], so they know the right things to say and the right things to do… Although they have to put up with my mood swings.”

The latest setback is a real cause for concern, but she will be hoping Ireland team doctor Alan Byrne can work his magic as there is still an awful lot of football to play in the current campaign.

At club level, Roche signed a contract extension with Sunderland to bring her up to the
end of the current Women’s Super League (WSL) season, and she envisages playing a few more years in professional football overseas.

“I’m there now three years so I’m really settled and the passion around the club is really, really good,” she says. “I’ve even been to a few on the men’s games and I know they haven’t been doing very well but the fans are so passionate and they just love it.

“In the near future I want to play abroad a little bit more. I think I’ve done well in England, it’s definitely improved me as a player and it’s made me want to do better.

“I still have another bit to give, I haven’t hit quite as high as I can and I want to keep improving. I was getting there before I got injured and that set me back but I do believe I have another two seasons away.”

Stephanie Roche launched Neymar Jr’s Five, Red Bull’s unique five-a-side football tournament for men and women, in Dublin today. The tournament is a fun, fast-paced and technical game that gives young Irish male and female footballers (16-25 yrs.) the opportunity to represent Ireland at the World Final in Brazil this summer. To participate in the regional qualifiers this February, teams of five to seven players must register at www.neymarjrsfive.com and select their preferred qualifier in either Dublin, Limerick, Belfast, Galway, Cork or Carlow with more qualifiers to be added in the coming weeks

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Ben Blake

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