Stephanie Roche: ‘These are the type of games we have to win’

One day short of the first year anniversary of their last competitive game, Ireland’s women’s team open the World Cup qualification quest tonight against neighbours Northern Ireland at Mourneview Park in Lurgan (7.30pm).

Stephanie Roche: ‘These are the type of games we have to win’

Plenty has happened within the Irish camp since, with a new manager and captain appointed but, more significantly, parity of standards with the male equivalents achieved after a dispute with the FAI went public in April.

Stephanie Roche has been a constant presence throughout.

Her public profile garnered from finishing second in the FIFA Puskas Goal of the Year award in 2015 helped accelerate the campaign for basic equal rights such as a tracksuit for each player and she’s also given her backing to manager Colin Bell and skipper Katie McCabe.

If Ireland are to break new ground by reaching a major tournament, then conquering lower-ranked teams like tonight’s opponents is essential.

Slovakia away follows for Bell’s side next month before the superpowers or Norway and recently-crowned European champions Netherlands await.

Roche, now 28 and playing for English top-flight side Sunderland, admits the fuss created by their squabble with the FAI has increased the pressure, with chief executive John Delaney placing the onus on the players to deliver on the pitch.

“Being straightforward about it, these are the type of games we have to win,” emphasizes Roche.

“We have to be beat the teams around us to go challenge the likes of Norway and Netherlands.

“There is more pressure on us but we can’t expect to win any game.

“A lot of the girls always believed the ability and talent was in the squad for success but we just needed that backing, which we’ve now got. It is good that everybody is working together.”

Northern Ireland, sitting 27 places behind Ireland in the FIFA rankings, will also fancy their chances on home soil.

Their campaign began last week with a 4-1 defeat in Norway but their main striker, Rachel Furness, can pose a threat as Roche knows well from their time together at Sunderland. The Irish FA are offering free admission in a bid to boost the turnout.

“It’s a derby game but we just have to concentrate on ourselves,” concluded Roche.

Women’s World Cup Group 3 qualifier Northern Ireland v Republic of Ireland, Mourneview Park, Lurgan.

REP OF IRELAND (probable):

M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), M Campbell (Manchester City); N Fahey (Bordeaux), K Duggan (UCD Waves); A O’Gorman (UCD Waves), D O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), S Roche (Sunderland); K McCabe (Glasgow City).

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