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Dublin: 6 °C Thursday 14 November, 2019

'It kept me mentally occupied... I wasn't just sitting around twiddling my thumbs'

Stephanie Roche talks injuries, Italy, punditry and her lifelong dream with Ireland.

“THAT’S UP ALREADY, is it? Jesus,” Stephanie Roche grins.

Stephanie Roche celebrates scoring a goal Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

News had just broken of her move to Italy and of course, it was bound to come up in conversation sooner rather than later.

She’s back on home soil for a flying visit and a series of media duties to launch the Heinz Sports Club. The Ireland striker mentioned her next career move in a one-on-one interview earlier in the day and it’s just started to hit the headlines.

There’s no secrets in this world.

And Roche, more than anyone, can vouch for that. After the whole wonder-goal going viral and leading to a Fifa Puskas Award nomination in 2014, she’s well aware of how quickly a story can blow up.

Thankfully, it’s more good news as the 29-year-old put a nightmare year of injuries behind her and sealed the move to the Italian top fight, Serie A. Tight-lipped on the name of the club itself, she won’t budge on that one. 

“I’m not allowed say the name of the team,” she insists, as she awaits international clearance and registration to process while her new employers want to make the announcement themselves in the coming days.

“Ah, you are……”

“Everyone says that! But no…”

Maybe there are some secrets in this world after all so.

In lieu, the former Sunderland player is refreshingly open and honest about her horror run of injuries and her road to recovery. First, there was a fractured tibia sustained in the Girls in Green’s opening European Championships qualifier against Northern Ireland last September.

A freak accident, as she puts it. An awkward landing. Not ideal, but when she got the original diagnosis she was actually pleased.

Stephanie Roche Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“I thought straight away that it was something more serious and we all feared for the worst,” she explains to The42. “When we were given that, I was like, ‘Alright, that’s not going to be too long, just a few months.’”

There were ups and downs but she got through her recovery well for the most part, and shortly after Christmas, she got back out on the pitch. Something wasn’t right though.

The soreness in and around her knee as she ran, the outrageous pain when she kicked the ball; she knew herself that this was something more serious after all. She returned to home soil from Sunderland, underwent an MRI and they soon discovered the misdiagnosis. 

A double leg-break so it transpired, a stress fracture to the medial condoyle showed up. 

“Nothing in my knee was actually really badly damaged but loads of it was little shitty bits of damage,” she continues, telling of the arthroscopy, heat therapy and injections carried out to get her back in full working order.

The lows likely outweighed the highs this time around. Well and truly out of action with no idea when she’d return. Watching on as her Ireland side navigated a roller coaster qualifying campaign, bidding to reach a first-ever major tournament.

“When the girls are going well — and when it isn’t going well — you want to be there and be involved. It’s very, very difficult on the sidelines not being able to do anything, that’s the hardest part of it all.

“Watching Ireland — and Sunderland through social media and Facebook Lives. I was like, ‘I should be playing, I should be there’. I’ve never had a long injury before so for me that was the hardest part, not being a part of the team.”

She’s happy to back in that environment on the Continent and while she’s still finding her feet, she’s getting there slowly but surely. She’s made sure that this is the right move for her, just like many of her Ireland teammates have done over the past few months.

steph kid

There’s several plying their trade in the English top flight, the Women’s Super League (WSL), and some of the younger girls are on collegiate scholarships in the States while another she mentions who recently made the move to mainland Europe is Claire O’Riordan.

“It’s great to see that some of the girls are going away,” Roche continues, when questioned on the importance of having players lining out abroad.

“They’re at an age now where they can afford to do it, to get away and play. Hopefully more girls will follow into the more professional leagues. We’ve got players playing all over the world now and playing in the highest leagues so it’s great.

“Over here I think the league’s definitely getting better but it’s hard for the girls to play for a team they’re not getting paid for. You have to work a full-time job and then go to football so it’s very hard to have your full focus on football.

“A lot of the girls juggle it quite well though. You’ve seen Aine O’Gorman and Karen Duggan who’ve had to retire — that’s probably their main reason, because they’ve been juggling their jobs their whole lives.”

O’Gorman, of course, is a lifelong friend of Roches’, climbing through the ranks together as their respective careers blossomed through club and country.

After 12 years and 100 international caps, the Peamount attacking ace hung up her Ireland jersey last month. And surely, it was emotional for Roche too.

“It was,” she smiles. “I spoke to her obviously before she announced it, she was telling me she was thinking about it. I of course was like, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do anything. Think about it, make sure you know what you’re doing before you do it.’

Stephanie Roche celebrates with Aine O'Gorman Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

“Obviously she made (the decision) for her own personal reasons and you have to respect that. I’m devastated that she’s not going to be there if I get back into the team. She’s always been there.

“I’ve played with her since we were 14 at Stella Maris and since then we’ve been roommates pretty much always with the U19s and the senior team. It’s going to be a strange feeling not having her around. Obviously I have to get back into the team first!

“But if I do, it’s going to be weird not having her there.”

She feels that she’s made her intentions more than clear for an international return as soon as possible, through her newly-signed deal.

Anything she’s done in her career has always been for her country, she beams. She’s in touch with Colin Bell and hoping to break back into the squad by the New Year.

With the fine balance of youth and experience in the set-up, the quest continues to reach a first major tournament. It’s up to the host of younger talent coming through to step up to the mark now and to drive on the bid. The experience works wonders too.

“We have obviously the few experienced players that are there but these young players are going to be the core of the squad for the next few years. It’s up to them to step up to the mark now.

“Colin’s doing everything he can to get them into the right shape and the right frame of mind, tactically aware of what’s expected of them.

“I hope so anyway — I want to stick around for a few more years,” she smiles. “My plan is to try and get to a finals tournament so hopefully we can do that in the next few years.”

While she unfortunately has no sense of playing at a major tournament, the Shankhill native got plenty of experience working on one in her punditry role with RTÉ for this summer’s World Cup.


And it’s fair to say that she thoroughly enjoyed analysing all of the action that took place across the globe in Russia.

“It was brilliant,” she enthuses. “Getting the opportunity to do that was great.

“I’ve been asked to do things by RTÉ over the last few years but I couldn’t do it through football, I couldn’t get the time off. They’ve been quite patient with me and given me the work through the summer when I was injured and able to do it. It was nice.

“It kept me mentally occupied as well, I wasn’t just sitting around twiddling my thumbs. I was able to do that and put a bit of focus onto that. I really enjoyed it, I enjoy that side of the game. It’s something that I’ve always enjoyed.

“Whenever I’m watching a match I always analyse it. I’m getting a lot of help from people within RTÉ as well. Obviously I’m new to it, I’m not used to being on TV and talking about football… you get everybody on Twitter who thinks they’re an expert and that but at the end of the day, there’s people in there who have been doing it for a long time.

“It’s a learning curve for me as well, hopefully I can learn more and more, get better at it and continue to do it through the years.”

As our conversation comes to an end, it naturally evolves into Manchester United talk and the current state of affairs at Old Trafford.

She’s a big United fan and makes that well known through her social media channels, so it’s rather interesting to hear her opinion on the matter. 

“It’s been disappointing hasn’t it?”

To say the least. She tells of how her boyfriend, Longford Town footballer Dean Zambra, was at the Newcastle game last week and how Roche herself missed most of it because she was flying home for the few days.

She came off her first flight disgusted to see her beloved team 2-0 down, but was slightly happier to see the final result as she landed in Dublin. 

“I do think it’s papering over cracks,”she concludes. “It’s not good at the minute is it?

“I think it’s going to be a few more years before we’re up where we think we belong anyway. We’ll see what happens. Whether Mourinho is the man for it, I don’t know.

“You don’t want them to keep on sacking managers all the time either, that’s just a bad thing to get into. If they sack him, who are they going to get? Who else is out there at the minute that’s going to do a better job?”

Who knows, sure.

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Emma Duffy

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