Jess Ziu: ‘I’m just happy to be able to step on to the pitch’

After a series of injuries, the versatile Republic of Ireland player says she’s grateful to have a chance to appear in the upcoming matches against Sweden


Jess Ziu is no stranger to the Aviva Stadium, having been a regular visitor there with her parents down the years as a supporter. Her most vivid memory is when Wales came to town back in 2017. Not because of the quality of the game – it finished 0-0 – more because of her mother’s experience that evening.

She knows she shouldn’t laugh, but she does anyway. “We were up in the sky. My Mam’s afraid of heights. She was actually crying. So she and my brother were moved to the back of the goal. But me and my Dad stayed up there, we loved the view. I think the view from anywhere in the stadium is unbelievable.”

So your Mam wouldn’t be one for rollercoasters and the like? “No. We go to Florida every year and she minds the bags when we go up. Thankfully I love it all, it gets my adrenaline going.” How is she now? “Well, she was saying yesterday, ‘make sure you get me tickets that are down next to you’.”

And Ziu, who will turn 22 on Thursday week, is hoping that her Mam will get a ground-floor view of her daughter on Friday evening, but out on the pitch against Sweden and winning her 15th cap. Because so far Ziu’s had no luck at all when it comes to playing for her country in the stadium.

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She was still on the road back from an anterior cruciate ligament injury when the team played there for the first time last September, and then a hamstring “niggle” ruled her out of the game against England last month.

It wasn’t until last November that she made her first competitive appearance for West Ham since she suffered that ACL injury 13 months before, the cruellest of blows for the Finglas native who was in her debut season with the WSL club after joining from Shelbourne.

“I think that’s something that’s kind of put under the radar with injuries, the mental aspect of it. It’s quite challenging, but you come out the other side a lot stronger. At West Ham I’ve got phenomenal people around me, and with the national team, too, everyone reaches out making sure you’re okay. It is really hard, but look at the rewards at the end of it. Luckily I’ve had no setbacks, my knee’s feeling perfectly normal. I had a good surgeon, thankfully.”

“But I’ve been on the go for 17 months now because of my knee, so I haven’t had a proper break in quite a while. But this is football, isn’t it? This is what happens. This is what I signed up for – and I absolutely love it.”

Once she returned to fitness, Ziu saw plenty of game-time with West Ham in the season just ended, appearing in of their 22 WSL games. She played her part, then, in helping the team stave off relegation, finishing second from bottom but nine points clear of Bristol City, who dropped down to the Championship.

She’s hoping for better next season, but for now, her sole focus is on international matters, starting with Sweden on Friday before meeting them again in Stockholm next Tuesday.

It’s closing in on six years since Colin Bell gave the then 16-year-old her senior debut. Vera Pauw liked the cut of her jib too, awarding her nine more caps. Her versatility is no small asset. Ziu’s more familiar position is in midfield but she can slot in at full-back or wing back too. Eileen Gleeson started her in February’s friendlies against Italy and Wales before that hamstring problem ruled her out of the most recent fixtures.

She was on a youthful bench for Ireland’s 1-1 draw against the Swedes in Gothenburg two years ago. “There was me, Ellen Molloy, Izzy Atkinson, Abbie Larkin, I just remember the atmosphere being unbelievable. It was a really special night. I remember the plane journey home, all the celebrations. At the time, playing such a big team, a draw felt like a win, but like at West Ham, we’re not settling for draws or losses any more. We’re the underdogs, but we think we can compete with these big teams.”

The prospects of finally playing at the Aviva? “Ah yeah, as much as we love Tallaght, we want to be playing in the Aviva now. But I’m trying to not get too ahead of myself, since my knee injury I’ve just gone into games never over-thinking or over-worrying, just taking it in my stride. I’m just happy to be able to step on to the pitch.”