‘I’m going to enjoy the little moments’ - emotional Jess Ziu returns to the Ireland squad

The West ham player says she approaches games with a different mindset now following her return from a serious ACL injury

When Jamie Finn went down injured during training in Florence, Italy, last week, among her team-mates who would have feared the worst were Niamh Fahey, Megan Campbell, Aoife Mannion and Jess Ziu. Because they too have all suffered anterior cruciate ligament injuries during their careers, Ziu most recently. “I knew straight away,” she says. “You can just tell the way a player goes down. I was gutted for Jamie.”

While her fellow Dubliner now faces a lengthy journey back to fitness, it’s not long since Ziu completed hers, the midfielder returning for West Ham last November after 13 months of gruelling rehabilitation. Not only did she sustain an ACL injury while playing for her club, but she suffered lateral collateral ligament and meniscus damage too. She was only four games into her West Ham career having signed from Shelbourne that summer.

And in Florence on Friday the 21-year-old made her first appearance for Ireland since September 2022. “I’m not going to lie, it was quite overwhelming, a bit emotional,” she says of returning to the squad 17 months since her injury.

“There were a few nerves leading up to it because there are a lot of new staff and a lot of new faces in the team since I was last in. But luckily I had a few girls I’m quite close to – like Izzy [Atkinson] and Larko [Abbie Larkin] – and Eilo’s [Eileen Gleeson] been great with me too. It doesn’t feel like I’ve been out for 17 months. Same with West Ham. Hopefully I’ve looked like that too out on the pitch.”


After all she’s been through Ziu says she approaches the game with a very different mindset now. “I think it’s all made me more grateful. Every time I step on to the pitch I’m going to have a smile on my face. I’m going to enjoy the little moments because – and I don’t want to get a bit deep here – we don’t know if that is our last game for a couple of months. I’m going to take everything in my stride, just enjoy every minute that I get, whether I’m playing or not. I’m just so happy to be back.”

West Ham eased her back at first, but she’s featured in each of their last seven WSL games, starting five of them. While two of her Irish team-mates at the club left for the Championship in January, Atkinson joining Crystal Palace and Jessie Stapleton moving to Reading on loan, Ziu has pushed on, building on the potential that prompted Colin Bell to give her a senior international debut in 2018 when she was just 16.

It’s been all change, of course, since she won that 12th cap in 2022, Gleeson replacing Vera Pauw as manager, bringing in a whole new set of staff, while the likes of Mannion and Caitlin Hayes have joined the squad in that time. “The first day or two, it felt a bit different with the new faces, but I felt I settled back in. It feels the same, it didn’t feel like I was a new face coming in.

“I like the way Eileen is playing new systems, we’re all adapting to it, there is still more gelling to do, but we just played a team [Italy] that are 10 places ahead of us in the rankings and I thought we stuck it to them – away too – which is quite hard. So I think we can only keep improving from here.”

And she has no doubt that Finn can come back just as she has done. “She’s probably one of the most resilient players I’ve played with,” she says of her former Shelbourne team-mate. “She’s such a hard worker, so I don’t think she’ll struggle one bit with her rehab, she’ll fly through it, and she’ll be back as soon as possible. And we’re all going to be there for her.”

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times