Sunday 18 August 2019

Stephanie Roche: Thank God I haven't had to sing in front of the squad yet

Stephanie Roche will wear the number 10 shirt with Sunderland
Stephanie Roche will wear the number 10 shirt with Sunderland

Stephanie Roche

A recent Sunderland away trip brought memories flooding back from my days with Peamount United and the dreaded long journeys to Cork and Castlebar.

Nothing against both teams or their players, but the exhausting bus journeys took their toll. As someone who often suffers from travel sickness, they were the games I used have marked down on the calendar early for all the wrong reasons!

The seven-hour journey to Bristol was a reminder of those arduous which began at seven in the morning. We would return wearily back home close to 10pm, with a win helping shorten the day in our own minds somewhat. The budget was never there for an overnight stay, so I can appreciate how lucky I am with Sunderland.

I tried to sleep and listen to music on the close to 300-mile trip to Bristol the day before the game, anything for a distraction. A lot of the girls entertain themselves with messing around and singing songs, but thankfully I haven't been called on to sing in front of the squad. I just hope they don't read this and get any ideas!

The team is going from strength to strength and after a draw away to Liverpool last weekend, we are just a point off top spot with only four games remaining. Survival was the aim at the start of the season after securing promotion, but now we are pushing for Champions League qualification. We won't get carried away with ourselves, but each remaining game will be like a cup final.

The Liverpool game had extra significance as my family came over for the 2-2 draw with the reigning champions. A goal two minutes from time gave us a share of the spoils and my dad couldn't get over the level of support for us. The supporters in the North-East have a reputation for being passionate and they played their part in getting a result against one of the best sides in the league.

Republic of Ireland international Stephanie Roche has signed for Sunderland
Republic of Ireland international Stephanie Roche has signed for Sunderland

My family were over for the first game too and plan on attending every home game and away games where possible. My dad loves it, he always has and has supported me through all the ups and downs so I'm really happy that he doesn't have to travel as far to see me play.

From my own perspective things are going really well, though I have found myself in new surroundings on the pitch, playing on the left of a compact midfield. Our striker Beth Mead is the top scorer in the league and I knew when I joined the team need wingers, so I was prepared to play there. It is a role I have played for Ireland on occasions, so it isn't totally unfamiliar territory for me.

I have really enjoy getting into the specifics of my role. I have improved the defensive side of my game with every passing week, but thankfully the manager hasn't tried to curtail my natural attacking instincts. It is all about picking and choosing the right moments in a game.

Scoring goals will always be what I'm known for and what I do best. Which was why my first goal for the club against Everton was such a special moment. Not to mention a huge relief.

I feel I wasn't given the opportunity in America to show what I can do and that was the most difficult part of my time at the Houston Dash. I'm still getting some stick over the way things panned out over there, so it's nice to be able to score goals to remind people of what I can do.

The goal was a real weight off my shoulders. The ball came through the middle and my run into the box was spotted. I took one touch before the ball flew into the top corner. My celebration was controlled, just a fist-pump, but it was a fantastic moment.

I'm not happy unless I score goals and it was satisfying after my recent difficulties.

It is a shame the season is coming to a close as I am almost there with my match fitness. I came off in the second half against Liverpool, but I am close to getting 90 minutes under my belt. I have worked hard since I arrived at the club, but there is a huge difference between general fitness and match sharpness.

There is huge anticipation with so much to play for and I plan on making a big contribution for the title run-in.

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