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Payne indicates that Irish team likely to back anti-racism campaign ahead of Germany tie

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Versatile: Heather Payne is equally at home in defence or attack and the Galway
woman sees herself as a winger. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Versatile: Heather Payne is equally at home in defence or attack and the Galway woman sees herself as a winger. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

SPORTSFILE

Versatile: Heather Payne is equally at home in defence or attack and the Galway woman sees herself as a winger. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

When Heather Payne was half-way across the Atlantic Ocean last week, thousands of miles in the air, it might have almost seemed the most normal anyone could possibly be in these strangest of times.

Reality collided with the bump of wheels on tarmac as she arrived in Germany, though.

Payne is on scholarship at Florida State University at the moment but she left her home in Tallahassee with the state experiencing as much flux as every other flummoxed region in that troubled land.

As she was in the air, her college was being loudly condemned in some quarters for its patrons not adhering to face-mask guidelines during their weekend American football game against Georgia Tech - over 18,000 were there, a supposed limited attendance.

However, they were also being praised for supporting the 'Black Lives Matter' campaign by symbolically raising their helmets in the air before the game.

The movement continues to maintain a momentum globally although, curiously, and despite public proclamations from two of their members earlier this month, Stephen Kenny's senior men's side chose not to take the knee before either of their recent international fixtures.

Vera Pauw's women will discuss their options this week but, with neither the FAI nor UEFA raising an official objection to the stance, it would seem odd were they to decide against it now.

Asked whether she would be supportive of her squad taking such a stance, Payne deferred to the leadership figures in the squad, Pauw and captain Katie McCabe, but her positive acceptance seemed to hint that the women will seek to do what the men did not.

"Honestly, we've only been in one day," she responded when The Irish Independent asked her on Monday morning.

"Not all the group are in together yet. Maybe that will come up later in the week but we haven't spoken about anything yet in fact. We'll see how the rest of the week goes.

"I would be interested in doing it. I'm sure there's many players in the team who are interested in it. I'm sure we might do something. I'll leave that to Katie and the captains."

Payne is just happy to be in a position to make any statement at all. Given the international travel restrictions, it is ironic that she found it easier to respond to Irish duty in the middle of a pandemic than she did ahead of the Euro 2022 qualifier against Greece last November.

Pauw bristled angrily at Payne's Florida bosses'  reluctance to pick up a phone and discuss their refusal to release their star freshman player. Clearly relationships have softened between Florida State and the FAI as both Payne and Megan Connolly have been released for this fixture.

What happens next, when the college scene intensifies into its familiar two-month, two games per week scramble, remains to be seen although Payne is confident she will also be made available for the crucial fixture against Ukraine next month.

"So my classes for this semester are all online," explains the 20-year-old who hails from Ballinasloe.

"Thankfully that's helped me out a lot. I've had no problems coming back for the game. My coach has been very helpful. He's let me make my own decision to come. It is a big deal playing against Germany at international level.

"Last November against Greece was just bad timing. I had college exams and its hard to balance both. Sometimes things go like that. I've never had any doubt about coming back for this game.

"I can go back to play my season and be back for the Ukraine game."

Notwithstanding Pauw's complaints about the restrictions some colleges place on their players regarding international duty, Payne's personal progress has been undeniable since being recruited by her team-mates, Megan Connolly and Megan Campbell.

Her versatility is such that she has featured in both defence and attack for her college side, ending last season on the All-ACC Freshman Team, thanks to two goals and two assists, as well as helping her side to nine clean sheets while in defence.

"For my freshman year in college, I played centre-back. The coach wanted to try me out there.

"That was okay but personally I've always played right or left wing. I've always been an attacker.

"My coach is looking to play me on the right wing again this year. That's a good thing for me. I always play on the wings for Ireland so I consider myself an attacking player."

An occasional German debater in school, Payne will hope her football can do the talking against the formidable home side this weekend. 

Irish Independent