Stephanie Roche hopes goal will be judged on its technical quality

Fifa Puskás Award nominee has received plenty of plaudits but so far little else

 

“I’d love people just to vote for the goal itself.”

Sweeping everything else aside; her gender, her nationality, her then-amateur status, all Stephanie Roche cares about is the long game – and the short game. Actually, all she cares about is the game.

That’s why she’s training hard and playing hard for her Division One Féminine team ASPTT Albi. That’s why she’s spending her free time washing her own kit, watching Netflix and trying to learn French.

That’s why she is relishing this time as she waits to find out whether the magnificent three-touch-and-in goal she scored for Peamount United against Wexford Youths in October 2013, will win the Puskás Award at Fifa’s live televised Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich on January 12th, 2015.

One might assume that Robin van Persie and James Rodriguez, who are going head-to-foot with Roche for the goal-of-the-year award, won’t be washing their own smalls.

A bit surreal

Roche was with a French television crew and some of her team-mates in the ASPTT clubhouse an hour north of Toulouse when she found out the news, the cameras making it all a bit surreal for the down-to-earth Republic of Ireland international.

Since then she hasn’t been off the telephone. Stephanie Roche is big news.

“It’s been good, so I’m not complaining,” she told The Irish Times. “A lot of people have been praising the goal. I went on Ian Wright’s radio show and he said it is the best goal he has ever seen.”

Wright is not alone. John Hartson, Laurent Blanc, Paul McGrath, Toni Duggan and Norman Whiteside have all praised her wonder strike. The list was endless . . . until PSG’s Brazilian centre-back David Luiz waded in and added yet another name.

“You made all the world happy with your marvellous goal and I am cheering for you because you deserve it a lot,” he gushed. That’s some team Roche is assembling.

Supporters aside, interviews aside and name checks on the BBC Sports Personality of the Year extravaganza aside, commercial spin-offs have been slower to arrive. Roche’s contract with her French club lasts until May.

“A couple of companies have given me free stuff, like Tan Organics, but that’s it,” said Roche.

For a moment, I think that Roche has said that someone has given her a car. She corrects me. No one has handed over the keys to a car. She still gets the train from Albi for the one-hour journey to Toulouse airport to fly back to Ireland to see her boyfriend and her family.

At least she will look good on her journey.

Brendan Higgins was Stephanie Roche’s first football coach when she joined the under-11s at Valeview Football Club in the Dublin District Schoolboys League (DDSL).

“We were starting to play 11-a-side football and I was managing a team of lads. Two of them, Ian Walsh and Johnny Kelly, told me that when they were playing on the street, there was ‘this girl who’s skinning us’.”

No prizes for guessing who that was.

“Steph was the only girl on the team,” said Higgins.

“She was the only girl who played in the DDSL. It’s a very tough league, so playing in that league was an impressive achievement.”

Always mucked in

Roche always mucked in, on the field and with the fundraising, packing bags and washing cars to buy a new kit and help with the side’s trip to a tournament in Blackpool.

Higgins said the side was gutted when Roche had to leave at the age of 12, when league rules said that girls and boys couldn’t play together.

“She has a beautiful left foot. What I always expect is for people to do a job well and she did. She never missed a training session.”

Roche went on to play for Cabinteely girls, Stella Maris and several other teams before Peamount United. It looks like the rest is on the verge of becoming history.

Higgins, who used to play up front for Dalkey United with Paul McGrath, said Stephanie Roche always stood out. “Steph has got a touch of pace.”

Everybody in his team was treated equally, but “Steph was one of about four stand-out players,” he said.

So Stephanie Roche had more than paid her footballing dues before getting a seat at Fifa’s top table.

Higgins has no doubts about the outcome. “I think the goal itself will win it for Steph. I want that, of course, and I think it will win, but I don’t want it to be a sympathy vote because she’s a woman.

“Unfortunately I don’t think it will make a massive difference for women’s football. I get a bee in my bonnet about this,” Higgins said. “More money needs to go into the women’s game”.

“If she wins it will put more pressure on people. It’s only now that Katie Taylor has got sponsorship and a proper gym. And she’s on her fifth world title.”

For now, Stephanie Roche just hopes that people will vote.

“I hope they will look at the goal and think that it’s worth the vote. That the quality, that the technique justifies the vote.”

Higgins has no doubts.

“She was very equal to the boys. She had dedication. She had speed. She had an eye for goal (as everyone now knows). And she had a great left foot.”

The Irish Times/Irish Sports Council Sportswoman of the Year award will be announced on Friday, December 19th. Stephanie Roche is joint nominee for November with triathlete Aileen Reid.

You can vote for Stephanie Roche's goal here

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