Stephanie Roche keeping her fingers crossed

Republic of Ireland international’s superb goal a worthy contender for Ferenc Puskas trophy

With the winner of the FIFA Puskás Award due to be announced, today is your last chance to #VoteForSteph.

 
She has a rather better case for success than 1999’s Time Person of the Century nominee Ronnie O’Brien, but Stephanie Roche may need every last vote generated by the energetic campaign mounted in her support if her goal is to win the Ferenc Puskas trophy in Zurich this evening.
 
It may already have paved the way to victory with over 2.5 million votes already cast, far ahead of the one million total for last year.

But it is difficult to know with Fifa declining over the weekend to provide any indication of the current standings amid some suggestions that James Rodriguez’ effort against Uruguay is also the subject of a loosely organised online campaign of support amongst Colombians.

If so, Roche could well be in trouble as there’s almost 50 million of them.

Ireland manager Sue Ronan restated her belief that Roche’s goal is the best of the three (Robin van Persie’s diving header against Spain complete the list) as she departed for a training camp in La Manga with her international squad.

Dubliner Roche has also received endorsements from a number of high-profile male players, both past and present, with Brazil defender David Luiz and World Cup winner Christian Karembeu amongst those to express particular admiration for her finish.

It is the nature of these polls, though, that the outcome will not come remotely close to settling the debate.

Bray’s O’Brien, another footballer, was eventually excluded by Time but the Wolfe Tones’ surprise success in a 2002 BBC World Service poll intended to find listeners’ most popular song or the more recent vote to add North Korea to the list of destinations Justin Bieber would play a concert in while on tour are just two of many examples of how flawed these things are.

Stephanie Roche's goal

No Joke

Roche’s goal, however, is no joke candidate and clearly merits being a contender for the title of the year’s “most beautiful goal”. When the Guardian ran a poll of its own back in November on the 10-strong long list for the award, hers came second, with 21 per cent of the vote, very narrowly behind van Persie and five per cent ahead of Rodriquez’s.

She might take some persuading around tea-time this evening if she misses out but even a repeat of that result would be a remarkable achievement for the 25 year-old who is already the first woman ever to make the shortlist after Heather O’Reilly, Olivia Jimenez and Lisa De Vanna had got as far as the final 10 in previous years.

O’Reilly’s goal for the USA against Colombia in a 2011 World Cup Group stage game in Sinsheim, Germany was scored in front of 25,000 and despite the fact that the rules state it does not make any difference, there are some that believe Roche’s achievement is diminished by the setting, a Women’s National League game played in front of less than 100 people.

The support she has received both from professional players and the general public is clear evidence that there are many, perhaps enough, who believe, as the regulations suggest, that the setting is far less important than the actual quality of the strike.

Dedicated graft

There is bound to be some support too from those who simply wish to see the women’s game boosted by a victory for Roche.

Then again, the numbers can scarcely be said to stack up in her favour when one of her rivals plays for Manchester United and the Netherlands, the other for Real Madrid and Colombia.

Women’s football will already have benefited, though, thanks to the remarkable amount of publicity Roche has generated in recent months, much of it through dedicated graft.

The question now is whether she benefits. Four years ago a Matty Burrows goal scored for Glentoran against Portadown made the final three for the award and he, as Roche will now, got a night out with the stars.

These days, he plays for Harland & Wolff Welders. It would be nice to think that, whether she wins or not, Roche, having recently left the French club where she earned roughly €200 per week, might fare a little bit better than that. Voting for the award continues until just after the awards ceremony has started.

To cast your vote, visit: www.fifa.com/ballon-dor/puskas-award

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