Monday 19 February 2018

Bike accident won't stop Emma Byrne joining '100 club'

'keeper still dreams of World Cup spot

Centurion: Emma Byrne
Centurion: Emma Byrne

John Fallon

NOT even the trauma caused by a serious bicycle accident three weeks ago was going to interrupt Ireland goalkeeper Emma Byrne's aim of joining a select club of centurions today.

The Arsenal stalwart will lead the Irish team out in today's World Cup qualifier against Croatia in Sinj (2.30 Irish time) a full 18 years after she first assumed the mantle of Ireland's No 1.

However, when she lay sprawled out on a north London street wincing from the effects of a road traffic collision, trying to visualise her 100th cap anytime soon was somewhat difficult for the 34-year-old.

A combination of medical attention and mental strength, however, combined to have her back, almost fully fit, for Sunday's 2-0 win over Sloavkia in Ireland's campaign opener.

And today she'll become only the seventh player, male or female, to reach the 100 senior cap mark for Ireland.

"Sunday was my first game in three weeks," explained Byrne. "I was cycling to training and got struck by a car. The driver stopped – she had to because I dented her car, but she just hadn't seen me. Thankfully, my niece and nephews bought me a helmet for Christmas, so my head was fully protected.

"But, as a goalkeeper, getting knocked off my bike – I suffered bruised ribs and hip – was the worst possible thing as I'm always landing on them.

"Still, I was determined to recover and hit the 100 caps mark this week.

"I took plenty of painkillers to get me through Sunday and I'm looking forward to this occasion."

Byrne shares the distinction with Arsenal team-mate and fellow centurion Ciara Grant for being Ireland's most decorated female footballers.

The list of trophies accumulated by the pair leave their male counterparts within the Irish squad in the halfpenny place. Eleven successive league titles, eight FA Cups and the pièce de résistance – a Champions League medal – have been racked up during their 13-year spell with the Gunners.

One mission not yet accomplished by either of the duo, though, is to represent Ireland at a major tournament. With Grant now off the international scene, having retired at the end of the last campaign, it falls to Byrne to continue that crusade.

As European champions, Germany are certain to top Ireland's group. Thus, Byrne knows a play-off route into the 2015 World Cup finals remains her last chance to figure at the showpiece.

"We came close in 2009 under the management of Noel King when Iceland beat us in a play-off," she said. "The heartbreak from that is still there because we were made play the second leg on a pitch covered by ice.

"We want to get back into that stage, so we should be beating teams like Croatia today very easily.

"Back at Arsenal, I'm sick of hearing from my team-mates about England and Scotland progressing on the international stage. Wales and Scotland beat us in the last campaign, so it's a sore subject for us Irish at the club."

Byrne admits her long association with the Gunners hangs in the balance. Significant investment by emerging forces such as Liverpool has resulted in the all-conquering side being knocked off their perch.

"I've had a few offers from other clubs and I want to stay in England," she said. "I'm at an age now that I'll probably finish up in the next year. So I'd like to finish on a high – wherever that is.

"Though my husband Marcus (Bignot) is manager of Birmingham Ladies, I definitely won't be joining them. We'd end up having domestics on the pitch. Anyway, he knows I'd have to be the boss!"

Meanwhile, Ireland's U-19 Women are also in action today. They face Denmark at Tolka Park (5.0) in the concluding match of their European Championship first phase qualifiying campaign. Both nations have already progressed from the mini-group having beaten Kazakhstan and Greece, making this the shootout for group supremacy and a better seeding in the elite phase.

IRELAND (probable) – Byrne (Arsenal); Perry (Brighton), Tracy (Arsenal), Caldwell (Avaldsness), Duggan (Peamount); Smyth (Amazon Grimstad), D O'Sullivan (Glasgow City), Littlejohn (Glasgow City); O'Gorman (Peamount), F O'Sullivan (SC Frieburg), Russell (Peamount United).

Irish Independent

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