Tuesday 22 August 2017

Stephanie Roche: Job done for Ireland with six points – now it’s time for women to emulate winning ways

Jonathan Walters scored the winner for Ireland against Georgia.
Jonathan Walters scored the winner for Ireland against Georgia.
Stephanie Roche

Stephanie Roche

At times it wasn’t pretty, but as far as Martin O’Neill, Roy Keane and the players are concerned, it was a case of job complete. I hope we will be saying the same after our upcoming opening Euro qualifier against Finland.

While there has been a considerable analysis on the style of the Boys in Green, the main thing is that the team remains in the national conscience. Be it good, bad or indifferent performances and results, there is still a huge connection with the Irish football team. Awareness and recognition of the women’s game is growing steadily – certainly it is a world away from when I made my international debut in 2008 – and hopefully that will continue to be the case.

With regards to the double header, it was a matter of getting six points against Gibraltar and Georgia. Anything else was simply a bonus. The first halves in both matches won’t live long in the memory, but it is ultimately a results business, and coupled with Scotland’s setbacks, puts qualification back within reach.

Although the games may not have been the most entertaining, Ireland got what they needed and the fans can now look forward to the welcoming world champions Germany to Dublin next month.

Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill need to show their managerial talents
Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill need to show their managerial talents

We will all be hoping for a similar performance to the draw last October when John O'Shea's late equaliser sneaked a point for the Irish team rather than what happened the last time Joachim Loew’s side came to Dublin.

A 6-1 loss in what was the final nail in the coffin for Giovanni Trapattoni and his team after a poor Euro 2012 showing, but Ireland are a different side since then. A couple of Germany’s performances in the group would suggest that perhaps they are not quite the force they once were, though will obviously pose a formidable challenge.

Suspensions to players such as James McClean and Glenn Whelan will be another obstacle to overcome, but O’Neill’s substitutes have made a positive impact from the bench. Now some will have to step up to the plate from the start against world-class opposition.

We must take confidence from Scotland's performance against the Germans, and indeed our finish to the corresponding fixture last year. We might not possess an abundance of creative players but Ireland have always been a team that are hard to beat and we have the best defensive record in the group with only five goals conceded.

The Aviva will be packed in October and we hope the women’s team will also gather growing support as September is a big month for us too. Our Euro 2017 qualifying campaign gets underway at home to Finland on Monday the 21st at Tallaght stadium.

The transformation in our game since my debut against Iceland seven years ago is nothing short of staggering. Our underage teams have qualified for World Cups and European Championships and represented the country with pride and distinction on the world's biggest stages.

Stephanie Roche buried a stoppage-time winner to earn a 1-0 victory over Slovakia
Stephanie Roche buried a stoppage-time winner to earn a 1-0 victory over Slovakia

After coming so close to qualifying for our first major tournament last time out, there is an incredible hunger to create our own history this time around.

One thing we will be counting on is the incredible home support we received in the last campaign. It helped us go close to emerging from a difficult group and we are confident we can go better this time around with the backing of the crowd at the Tallaght Stadium, our home for the group.

It promises to be a great evening for all the family, with a continental fan zone inside the stadium before the game and post-match fans will get the opportunity to meet to the players.

We are under no illusions that Finland will be a difficult task for the group opener. Ranked 24th in the latest Fifa rankings, they are nine places ahead of us and along with Spain promise to be our most difficult assignments.

With a passionate crowd behind us we are confident we can give any team a game and like the men’s side last week, we are focused on getting a positive result.

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