The women's game, she reckons, is well on the way to being in a better place, but Stephanie Roche could do with a spot of relocation herself just now. Almost six months on from an awkward fall in a World Cup qualifying win over Northern Ireland, the 28-year-old has been spending too much of her time in hospitals, having scans and physio. With critical home qualifiers against Slovakia and then the Netherlands barely six weeks away, she wants to be on the pitch...and fast.
Roche, who shot to international fame four years ago as a result of her Puskas award nomination, initially thought she might have ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament, and was, she says, “over the moon” when told that that was not the problem.
She was sidelined for weeks when she had feared it might have been months or a year, and, having been given the all clear, the Dubliner got back running over the new year. That’s when things started to get complicated.
“I had a tibial plateau fracture,” she reveals at an event to mark the launch of a Red Bull-sponsored five-a-side event (see neymarjrsfive.com). “The bone had pushed away, which was nasty, but in the same injury I hurt the top of my knee, and that’s where the second part of all this has come from.
“I’ve got back after six or eight weeks off, got the brace off, went back to England, was running on it the whole of January with the stress fracture, which obviously might have made things worse.”
Have a look
She is waiting now on another MRI to clarify the nature and extent of the problem. If the secondary issue is related to her meniscus then “they may need to go in and have a look”, but she is clinging to the dwindling hope that, having missed this week’s training camp down in Cork, she might still make it back for the qualifiers.
“When it happened first I wanted to be back for the Holland game, which, when I look back, was a little too optimistic, but now I’m hoping to be back for April.
“We have some league games at Sunderland too, and we’re on a good run in the FA Cup, but I have to be careful, I can’t rush it. In January I assumed I was ready to come back but I wasn’t, so I just have to be careful and find out what’s definitely wrong with it before I start trying to do stuff again.”
It is, she admits, “cutting it tight”, but given the importance of the games after Ireland’s strong start to the World Cup qualifying campaign she is determined to do what she can to feature against the Slovaks and Dutch.
“Look, I think all of the players just want to play for Ireland at the moment. It’s an exciting time for us, and so everyone is gunning to play. Personally, getting injured in the first game is a nightmare because I was really looking forward to the whole campaign and the season with Sunderland, of course.”
The appointment of Colin Bell as Ireland manager has, she says, been a factor, with the former Frankfurt boss having brought organisation and confidence to a group that had previously looked to be lacking a bit of both.
Breath of fresh air
“I genuinely think that he’s been brilliant,” says the striker. “It’s been a breath of fresh air. Diane Caldwell had played under him in Germany, so before he came in a few of us had talked to her, and she had nothing but good things to say about him, so we were all really excited about him coming in.
“He’s bringing something different to the team. He’s bringing the experience of winning the Champions League. He’s an experienced coach, and even just the sessions, they are just different, they are fun, you have to think in every one. It’s not just about going out and kicking the ball around, and everything we do is targeted towards the next game. He’s just a top coach.”
Bell’s arrival on the scene is not the only change for the better, she suggests, with the improvements in the way the players are treated that were secured after a threatened strike almost a year ago having allowed squad members to raise their game.
“Obviously all of that stuff was needed. We needed to put things in place if we were going to get anywhere. The appointment of Colin helped as well, but I think we were all quite certain that there was no point in having a great coach but not being able to do our own stuff away from football, because you’re snookered then when you come in; you might be doing great training but you are not actually doing anything away from it.
“So that was the biggest issue for us, not having the access to be able to do stuff, especially the players in Ireland, when they are not in with the team. I think that the stuff that’s going on at the clubs here now will make the national league better, and I think that and all the other stuff that has happened will make the national team better; it can all only be good for the senior team.”
She says there are outstanding issues, with the association steadfastly refusing to concede the players' demand that they be represented by their union, the PFAI.
“That’s ongoing at the moment,” says Roche. “We don’t want to have to worry about what’s being said between everybody – we just want somebody to represent us. We just want to play football. I mean Katie [McCabe] is captain now, and we don’t want Katie to have to worry about asking for things...that’s should be coming from representatives.”
It seems not all of the battles to be won during the coming months will take place on the pitch.