This site uses cookies to improve your experience and to provide services and advertising. By continuing to browse, you agree to the use of cookies described in our Cookies Policy. You may change your settings at any time but this may impact on the functionality of the site. To learn more see our Cookies Policy.
Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 26 May, 2020

'I read an article a while ago that I had retired from international football - I nearly lost the plot!'

Stephanie Roche is back doing what she loves: playing football and enjoying it.

EVERYTHING IS BACK on track for Stephanie Roche.

Well, nearly.

After an over-extended injury nightmare, the Ireland striker is back playing football and doing what she loves every day. Happiness is the main thing, above all else.

Stephanie Roche Stephanie Roche was today announced as an Ambassador for Life Style Sports. Source: Craig Watson/INPHO

Her new life in Italy is serving her well since she sealed a move to Serie A side Florentia in October and while, like with anything in life, there have been teething problems here and there, she has settled in nicely and is enjoying every minute of the adventure.

“It’s been really good. I’m just really happy to be back playing, enjoying it and back in my happy place,” she tells The42. The 29-year-old is home for a few days and has plenty on her plate: media duties, training, catching up with family and friends and mid-term camps for her new coaching academy.

Kitted out in a Stephanie Roche FC tracksuit, the Dubliner takes some time out of her busy schedule to reflect on the past few months and look forward to what lies ahead, in flying form as she sits in the St Joey’s clubrooms on a mild Tuesday afternoon.

The camps have taken off and she’s delighted to report that all is going to plan on that front, with two underway in Ballyogan and Wicklow this week catering for both boys and girls. They also do private team sessions and had one with Malahide U13 girls last night.

“It’s been good, a lot of work has gone into it. Obviously with the time off being injured, I was able to do it so I’m glad that it’s taken off. Hopefully for the summer it will be even bigger. It’s all working out quite well,” she smiles.

“It’s nice to see all the kids and how they’re enjoying it. It can be a long day for coaches but it’s a good experience. You see the smiles on their faces and how they’re enjoying it, it just makes you feel good.”

Hands-on and enjoying coaching herself, it’s a route she’d really like to go down and something that certainly appeals to her in the future. Roche is on the badges trail, she has her Youth Cert and while the move to Italy put the brakes on sealing the Uefa B, she’s in touch with the FAI about getting that done as soon as possible.

“I really do enjoy coaching so I’d love to get into it obviously,” she continues as the punditry tie naturally comes up in conversation next.

steph Roche is currently playing with Serie A side Florentia. Source: Florentia FC.

“The punditry is really enjoyable, it’s something that I like doing. I think anybody who knows me as a footballer will know that whenever I’m watching a game I’m always analysing it and giving out, as most fans do.

“It’s something that you’re able to do as a profession as well as for fun so it’s nice.”

Her main focus at the minute though is her own football. Thankfully, she’s made her full return to action and has opened a new chapter in mainland Europe after a nightmare year of injuries and a contract termination at Sunderland.

So far, so good. It’s been different, of course, but brilliant. 

There has been one massive hurdle how and ever. The coach doesn’t speak English so that’s taken quite a bit of getting used to and working around. 

“That’s the most difficult part,” she continues, explaining that she’s relying heavily on others most of the time to help with communicating. She delves deeper into it when she’s questioned more, but she’d rather focus on the positives when left to her own devices.

“It’s enjoyable, the sessions have been really good and the team are doing well. I’ve been able to get some minutes here and there. At the minute it’s more about trying to get myself really fit and I feel like I’m really ready to go now.

“I feel fit, I feel sharp. It’s been really good and I’m just happy to be back playing.”

She’ll be even happier when she’s back scoring goals. Roche was rather unfortunate earlier this month when her effort was so close yet so far, as a muddy pitch in Florence prevented her from finding the back of the net.

“Stuck in the mud,” she laughs, bringing it up herself. “Either your luck is in or it’s not! Ah look, that happens. It was a bad day, the pitch was bad, the game probably shouldn’t have even went ahead.

“It’s funny, we only played there the other day and it was rock hard. It’s so warm again. We either get the really bad weather or the really dry weather so the pitches are hard to maintain.”

She’s loving life over there, living in Porta Romana which is just outside the beautiful city of Florence. With her own gym sessions to be done during the day and team training every evening, she doesn’t exactly have a whole lot of time to immerse herself in tourist activities.

“I still haven’t seen the Statue of David and I’m there five, six months…. that’s bad,” she grins. But that’s fine. She is there to play football after all.

While the coach has no English, it’s slightly easier to chat away to her team-mates. There are a few others from overseas, including a London-born midfielder.

“There’s a girl from England. Well, she’s actually Irish as well, believe it or not. She’s got Irish parents — Lois Roche, same name,” she says, adding that there’s others from Sweden, Germany, Armerica and some of the Italian girls have played in England and the US so they can translate what’s being said, if needs be.

“It’s just different. In training, if the coach says something… In England or in Ireland, I’d have always been the first one to step up and go and do it but you have to watch what someone else does and then copy.

“Sometimes the Italian girls aren’t tuned in and do it wrong and then you’re like, ‘Shit what am I at? Am I doing it the right way?’ They’re the teething problems at the start but I’m there now four or five months so I’m settled more and learning words.

“The coach is using the same type of things every day in training so you get used to hearing them and knowing what he means.”

Stephanie Roche On the ball with Ireland in 2017. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It’s a learning curve across the board because he has never had to deal with this before himself but they’ve come up with different methods to drive on. He sits the non-Italian-speaking players down with another who can translate before tactical sessions so they’re in the loop, while Roche asks the analyst to send on any Power Point presentations and she’ll translate them herself.

She’s learning though, extending her vocabulary day by day and has been getting bits and pieces of help from her Aunt who lives in Rome. After a few weeks of delays, she had her first proper Italian lesson on Friday and tells me that it went well.

While she’s happy where she is, next season and what’s around the corner is obviously on her mind. It’ll be exciting to see what the next few months bring.

“Obviously around now is when I’d be thinking about next season,” she concedes, with two months left on her contract. “At the minute, I want to really just try and get a few starts in.

“In fairness to the guy [coach], it’s difficult for him to start me — I don’t know what’s happening and he can’t get it across to me. It’s difficult.

“But I spoke to him on Monday and he told me he’s really impressed with me in training and my attitude has been excellent. That’s what you want to hear obviously. I think I’m very close to getting a chance and getting a start.

“Over the next few weeks so I’m hoping I’ll get a start maybe and be able to impress and get a few games. My main focus is just to play as much as I can between now and the end of the season.

“Obviously I can put myself in the shop window by doing that. I want to try and impress over there and have the option to stay, give them enough to say, ‘Ah, maybe we’ll sign Steph back’ and have as many options as I can come the end of the season.”

Stephanie Roche At today's announcement. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

It may be cliché, but it really is all about taking each game as it comes.

Game by game, day by day.

“I’ve been out for so long and I think people don’t realise that at times, how long I have been out. Even for myself, you get impatient. I’m quite lucky I have [boyfriend] Dean [Zambra] who plays football and knows the game.

“I hurt my ankle when I got there first and I had to take a few weeks off, it was just a pain in the arse. He was like, ‘Look Steph, you have to be patient. You’ve been out, it takes a while to get everything back.’ I, of course, was like, ‘No, I’m ready, I’m ready’ when I really wasn’t.

“Now I really am at a stage where I feel like I’m fit, I’m sharp, I’m able to go for the 90 minutes. Throughout training we have GPS and heart monitors on and I know my fitness, my miles or whatever you want to call it, is one of the highest in the team.

“I know I’m hitting that target, it’s just about getting more game time and really being able to show what I can do.”

Enjoying her football is key. She doesn’t ever lose sight of that. 

“That’s what it’s about. To be fair, the sessions have been quite fun. We do a lot of fitness and that’s really helped me catch up quickly.

“I’m just happy to be training every day and doing what I love, as corny as it sounds. The main thing for me now is to start playing more, getting more minutes and I’m starting to get that now. We’ll see where we go from there.”

One place she knows she wants to be is back in Collin Bell’s Ireland squad. She’s eyeing a return sooner rather than later in a big year for the team, with the Uefa Women’s Euro 2021 qualifying campaign kicking off in September.

Colin Bell speaks to the players after the game Colin Bell speaks to his team. Source: Andrew Halseid Budd/INPHO

“Obviously since I’ve been injured I think I’ve made it quite clear that my eye has never been off the ball in terms of getting back into the Ireland team,” she assures. “Going away has probably been because I want to get back into the Ireland team, I know Colin wants the girls playing at a high level.

“Look, I’m thankful enough to say that I’m training every day. I’m physically fit, I’m physically sharp, I’m mentally ready to play again.

“I’ve spoke to Colin. Colin knows my situation and he knows the minutes I’ve been getting. I’m texting him every week, I’m sure he’s sick of me texting him at this stage! He knows where I’m at and he’s been quite good with me.

“I know Colin, he’s a professional coach and it’s not a case of me just going and getting with a team and coming back in. He wants me to play, he wants me to get minutes and I respect that. I have to. If I was playing in the squad, I wouldn’t want players coming back in who aren’t playing. 

“For me it’s important that I try and continue to get into the team in Florence, continue to get more minutes under my belt and hopefully then, Colin will bring me back in. 

“I do feel like I still have something to offer. I’ve played in a lot of leagues and I’ve obviously been quite experienced with the Irish team. I miss it terribly, I really do.

“I remember I read an article there a while ago that I had retired from international football, I nearly lost the plot. I was like, ‘What’s this saying?’ It was somebody who should have known better as well. I was like, ‘I’m not after retiring, I’m just injured like!’ Obviously I don’t want to see that anymore, I want to get back into the Ireland squad. ”

She adds:  “I’ve got 53 caps I think so I want to get plenty more of them on the board. Aine [O'Gorman] got 100 so I’m hoping I might catch her… I might just miss out on that! 

“All I can do is make sure I’m doing the right things. Hopefully Colin can see that I’m doing well and then it’s up to him to decide when’s best to bring me back in.”

Stephanie Roche celebrates scoring a goal Celebrating a goal in 2016. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Concentrating on herself and plying her trade with Florentia is the priority at the moment and she’s growing in confidence every day. Despite the language barrier, that aforementioned recent conversation with the coach has given her a real boost.

The standard is pretty high, she says, and is well versed to form a solid opinion on that as she’s well-traveled at this stage after stints in Ireland, England, France and America.

“Obviously the last league I played in was England and it’s one of the best in the world, competing with the American league. I always said that I thought the American league was more physical and the English league was more technical.

“I don’t want to insult either league by saying they don’t have anything but I do think the English league was a little bit more of a test for me because I was able to use what I’m good at but also learn other stuff if that makes sense. I played longer in England so that helps.

“I do think the biggest difference is that the Italian league seems to be more a level playing field. You play against the likes of Juventus, Fiorentina, AC Milan, Roma and they’re the teams that are pumping so much money into it, but every team has a go.

“I haven’t seen any team go and play them and sit back. Whereas when I was in England and we played against the likes of Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, it was a case of we worked on it all week that we’d set up a block and not let them in.

“Obviously, we had a couple of good results against the big teams but most of the time, you played them and it was all about keeping the score down and trying to nick a goal. Now, in Italy, I’ve noticed that when we play against the big teams we’re not sitting in and trying to hold off. Everyone’s having a go and that’s been good for me.”

The decision itself to go to Italy was well-thought out, especially after a bad experience with French outfit ASPTT Albi.

Stephanie Roche Roche is happy with her move. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

Roche learned from that and made sure she knew her new club inside out, paying a few visits over before putting pen to paper.

That’s all been worthwhile, she smiles, happy out with how things are going thus far.

Long may it continue.

“There’s just some really, really good people involved with the club and I think that’s the biggest reason I signed there. The chairman, the vice-chairman, the president; they’re just really nice people and you can see that they genuinely just want the best for the girls.

“It’s not just about football and you’ve got a lot of politics involved in football but genuinely they just want the girls and the team to do well. If you’re looking after the girls, they’re going to do well for you. It’s been really good in terms of that.

“The hardest thing has been the language but we’re slowly getting there. The coach rates me as a player which is nice to see, it’s just a case of him being able to trust that I know what he’s saying.

“That’s the biggest issue so far but I think I’ve made the right decision. In terms of this stage in my career and coming back from injury, it’s been what I needed.”

Stephanie Roche was today announced as an Ambassador for Life Style Sports. To join the conversation and learn more about Life Style Sport’s partnership with Stephanie Roche, follow @lifestylesportsfootball. Life Style Sports football range is available in stores nationwide and online with next day delivery from  

Subscribe to our new podcast, The42 Rugby Weekly, here:

  • Share on Facebook
  • Email this article

About the author:

Emma Duffy

Read next:


This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
write a comment

    Leave a commentcancel