Dubliner has remained a driving force behind Peamount’s assault on a third successive crown
She hasn’t gone away, you know. Well, apart from Hell and back but that was a journey Stephanie Roche was already so eager to make.
When we told someone we were going to speak to the Peamount striker ahead of the gripping final weekend of Women’s National League action tomorrow night, their reaction was not entirely surprising.
“Is she still playing?”
Aside from announcing her engagement to fellow footballer Dean Zambra, Roche has become a ubiquitous presence on our screens as a pundit and also a participant in RTÉ’s compelling ‘Hell Week’ series, helping a diabetes charity close to her heart after her nephew was recently diagnosed and endured tough times.
But aside from holding a mic during World Cup games or travelling to Spike Island to plant explosive devices, Roche has remained a driving force behind Peamount United’s assault on a third successive league title, one they hope to consummate this weekend.
“It’s not the first time that’s been said to me but no I haven’t retired,” she smiles as TG4 cameras return to Greenogue as Peamount host Galway WFC, while second-placed Shelbourne take on third-placed Wexford Youths with Noel King’s side only a point behind Peamount (7.30).
“I am still playing and working hard to keep myself going. And also keeping the rest of my life going in terms of work and life balance because I don’t get paid for playing football, even though I train on a full-time basis.”
Last capped in a 2017 friendly, Roche has yet to add to her tally of 55 international caps under Vera Pauw but has been included in stand-by squads and remains part of the home-based sessions which are used to hone the preparation for the Dutch woman’s Women’s National League players.
“Unfortunately I haven’t been picked. I’ve had open and honest conversations with Vera and we’ve talked about different things I need to work on to get myself over the line and hopefully that will come if I keep going the way I’m going.
“They’re private conversations. From my own point of view, she hasn’t shut the door which is important for me.
“I’m 32, not a kid anymore. So it was knowing if I put the work in, get the balance in my life, just to know that she likes me and wants to use me was the boost I needed.
“There was a time I thought the door was closed and that was a sad time for me. But Vera wants the team to do well and she wants me to do well. That gives me the motivation to keep going. I’d try to keep playing for Ireland until I’m 50 I could!
“The World Cup is still in the back of my mind. I’m in the WhatsApp groups, on stand-by lists, home-based training sessions, but not being part of it is tough. I was on punditry for the Finland match, but I still want them to do well. The squad has improved as well but when I’m around them in the home-based sessions it doesn’t feel like I’m at a different level in terms of fitness.”
Timing is everything in football and Cristiano Ronaldo’s return to these shores prompts a reminder of her stunning Puskas Award nomination for FIFA’s goal of the year seven years ago; since then, she has struggled to surf the wave of women’s soccer’s resurgence.
When part of Colin Bell’s side, Ireland failed to make the popular inroads that Pauw’s current side are managing now, while her time at Sunderland was marked by a broken leg and the women’s team’s demotion to the Northern Premier League amidst Amazon-documented freefall for their twice relegated men’s side.
Bell encouraged her to go to Italy at the end of the last decade but it proved to be a horrendous experience for the peripatetic Roche.
“I went over there when I was literally just back running a couple of weeks. They promised me the sun, moon and stars but let’s just say it wasn’t what it was cracked up to be. I had issues on and off the field. It was a nightmare.
“When I returned home, it took me a while to organise my financial situation, and balancing work and life schedule around football but now I have that balance.
“I’m happy at home now, I’m enjoying it, I’m fit and hopefully get selected for Ireland so we’ll see what happens. My Stephanie Roche coaching course in the schools is going well.
“I thought coming home might damage my international chances but Vera supported me. There were chances in WSL 2 but I had to think about my life and my future. I can’t just jet all over the place and I’m getting married next year as well.”
For now, another title is in her sights; it has been a tougher campaign for the West Dubliners who continue to fend off a dogged Shels challenge.
“We’ve made it as tough as Hell Week!” she laughs. “We’ve made it hard for ourselves. It was in our hands last week but DLR Waves in fairness did well and Eve Badana was superb. We missed a penalty, created so many chances. But we’ve been excellent all season and hopefully we can push on this weekend.
“We’ve had a lot of people going, Clare Walsh and Niamh Farrelly went to Glasgow. We had midfielders playing in defence so it’s been difficult for the management. But good teams deal with whatever comes your way and use what you have at your disposal to keep pushing forward.
“The teams towards the top of the table are getting more competitive and it seems like all the challengers have improved. We need proper grit and determination to get over the line.”
She fell at the second-last day during Hell Week but she is determined to cross the line a winner this weekend.
Women’s National League, Peamount Utd v Galway, Live TG4, 7.30