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Eat, Play, Love. Quinn hopes Italian lesson keeps her in Ireland jersey

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Louise Quinn in action for her club Fiorentina

Louise Quinn in action for her club Fiorentina

Louise Quinn in action for her club Fiorentina

Louise Quinn tries not to be the accidental tourist in Florence. She leaves her one-bedroom apartment on the popular Via Gioberti, gets on her bike and goes roaming.

She's the exception these days in Florence, a tourist in a tourist town with no crowds, no queues, no one getting in her way as she rides through the streets.

She cycles to the Piazza del Duomo. She watches sunsets from the Piazzale Michelangelo. She walks along the river Arno. It's not just a feast for the eyes. One of her favourite treats is a sfogliatelle, an Italian puff pastry that puts the comfort into comfort food. As a woman doing what she loves - playing professional football - Quinn could be living out her own version of Eat, Play, Love. But the reality ain't all Hollywood.

Florence served Quinn well with its distractions when she arrived back after the Republic of Ireland lost to Ukraine in their Euro qualifier last October. Another tournament, another chance to play in a major championship effectively over. Quinn allowed herself pizza and sfogliatelle to get over the hurt of history recycling itself and decided not to indulge in inhibitions about how she truly felt.

"I was a b*tch, excuse my language. I was a little s**t," Quinn says over Zoom from her living room in Florence. "I was just devastated.

Motivated

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Quinn sightseeing with her team-mates in Florence

Quinn sightseeing with her team-mates in Florence

Quinn sightseeing with her team-mates in Florence

"Thankfully, the Italians could really see it because they're just as emotional when we win or lose games. I found it really difficult to motivate myself again.

"The thing that you love, I felt like it was letting me down. The same at club level, we were actually having a really tough time. The coach (Antonio Cicotta) saw that and we had a chat. (He said) take your time and get your flow back."

Quinn hadn't originally planned on being a footballer in Florence. She arrived there on July 7 last year after agreeing a one-year contract (with a further one-season option) with ACF Fiorentina. She felt she'd done her stint abroad when she spent nearly three years playing with Eskilstuna in Sweden from 2013-16.

But when her Arsenal contract wasn't renewed last year, she was left scrambling for a future in fragile times. Then an offer came in from Fiorentina.

"It was really scary, I'm not even going to lie about it. Obviously, Italy had the reputation for being one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe, if not the world, for Covid. It was really going into the unknown. And I'm a home bird. It was the only way I could pursue my dream, I guess, to go abroad," says Quinn. "I set my mind to really embracing it and making the best out of a scary situation - going into the unknown, Covid and football and language and culture. It really tested me mentally. And it still does."

It was only before Christmas that Quinn finally felt herself settle a bit more in Florence. She lives on her own, which means she doesn't have to share a fridge, which she likes. She dips in and out of Italian lessons but it just isn't her natural register.

"I'm not the best student, I'm really not, especially in languages. Even in school, my form of dyslexia meant that I didn't have to do languages but I kept the Irish on and did it at pass level. I find it difficult but it's a great way for me to have a bit of a goal every couple of days to get something done."

An upside of being a footballer in Italy is the ancient sights, the downside is the out-of-date scaffolding supporting Serie A femminile.

The Italian Soccer Federation itself doesn't formally recognise the women's league as professional, it'll only be given full professional status from the 2022/'23 season.

In December 2019 a new law ended an old salary cap which dictated that female players only earn a €60 per diem per week and a match bonus of €77.47. That changed last year. The majority of the Italian national female players play in their own league (unlike Ireland, admittedly), but it's slow to take on long-established trends in training and use of technology like GPS units.

"It's still quite behind on sports science. I've had to adapt to that but also put my foot down on what I think is right for me," Quinn points out. "They're a little bit behind on their strength and conditioning. (There are) certain exercises that I know work for me, so I just try and put that across and even though the S&C coach isn't too happy, you've got to understand your body. The club's reason for signing me was because I act as the best professional that I can be and I'm hard working. I've tried to implement that here as well as give opinions here and there."

The new year didn't have to reach the half-way stage of January for 2021 to trademark its version of the unexpected for everyone including Quinn. She spent Christmas at home in Blessington, self-isolating in a separate apartment but grateful to be close to her family.

Leaving home on December 27 brought with it a few days of loneliness but then she found out that three of her team-mates and her coach tested positive for Covid in the week leading up to their Italian Super Cup semi-final. So players were back under the restriction of not being allowed outside their homes, only allowed when going to training.

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Despite that, Quinn felt they had nothing to lose in the semi-final against AC Milan last Wednesday week. She was right. Quinn scored the winning goal as Fiorentina won 2-1. They lost the final 2-0 to Juventus just four days later, but she'll always have that goal.

"I wouldn't even call it relief, just pure joy. It was the one opportunity that you get to hug everyone. I think you probably try not do it (hugging) too much. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a scary position that you put yourself in especially when someone has just produced a positive test."

Criticism

Quinn has seen the criticism her national captain Katie McCabe got after she travelled to Dubai with a few team-mates which resulted in Arsenal's game with Aston Villa last Saturday being postponed after one of the players tested positive for Covid.

There's little sympathy elsewhere for the situation McCabe got herself in. Quinn has some for her friend.

"I did feel for Katie because it was mainly her name that was floated around when there was - as far as I'm aware - a lot more people that have been able to keep their names out of it. Yeah, I was talking to her a little bit and she's OK, just ready to get along with football. It's a tough situation."

The uncertainty from last year extends into this year when it comes to the future of Quinn's national manager. She says she doesn't know if Vera Pauw will stay on. What she is certain about is that she has no intention of retiring.

Quinn turns 31 in June and has 82 caps. Everything she does in her club career is to help her Ireland career. So, she'll take not understanding Italian, missing home, living on her own, a different regime all for her country.

"It's the reason I am a professional footballer. If I can be part of something that's growing the national team. We do have the players to do it. But there's something that needs to come together. I think it's experience and consistency. So if I can bring a little bit of that to the team . . ."

The weather lifted in Florence this week with blue skies and winter sun. They're back in the yellow tier of restrictions so Quinn and a few of her team-mates were able to sit outside a café and cycle around the city. She doesn't know if she'll be with her team-mates beyond the end of May but she's not worrying about that just yet.

She's trying to take it all in. She sees how locals have had to change, gone are the double kisses and the elaborate hugs. But she says Italians have the same trait as Irish people - just when you think it's the end of the conversation with ciao, ciao, ciao they pull you back in with another story. They don't want to let go just yet. They're not done. Just like Quinn and her football story.

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