Had things gone the other way in her sliding doors moment five years ago, Claire O’Riordan might’ve been part of Limerick’s GAA set-up rather than marshalling Ireland’s defence in tonight’s concluding World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland (Tallaght, 5.30pm, live on RTÉ2).
The 23-year-old is Ireland’s sole representative in the German Bundesliga with MSV Duisburg, all the more remarkable given she was a late convert to the game having not featured at underage level for her country.
“I represented Limerick at county level in GAA and camogie, so wanted to go down the sport route after school,” Newcastle West native O’Riordan explained ahead of her third cap.
School wasn’t for me but rather than sitting at home, I wanted to do my family proud by going to college. All my cousins are doctors, solicitors and teachers so I had to keep up appearances.
“I applied for both the football and GAA college courses, but got offered the FAI one in Carlow first. Paul O’Reilly, the course coordinator, encouraged me to play in the national league for Wexford and it took off from there.”
She won three leagues and an FAI Cup before the Germans came calling. The link was created by Ireland boss Colin Bell, who managed Duisburg manager Thomas Gerstner at Dynamo Dresden. “I’ve loved every minute,” says O’Riordan.
I’m one of several new players to join MSV Duisburg this summer and it is a major challenge to play in one of the best leagues in the world.
Defeat to Norway two months ago ended the possibility of O’Riordan and her Ireland international colleagues qualifying for the World Cup showpiece in France, rendering tonight’s game at Tallaght Stadium instead a mission to end their campaign with a first win in four matches.
O’Riordan had spent most of her time with Wexford as a striker but Bell recognises her defensive strengths, deploying O’Riordan at the back in the two games against Norway.
“I’ll still try to score from set-pieces,” she quips.
“We beat Northern Ireland in our first game of the campaign but they’ve got plenty of reason for wanting to win this local derby too.”
A Budden (Cork City); H Scott (Birmingham City), L Quinn (Arsenal), C O’Riordan (MSV Duisburg), H Payne (Bristol City); D Caldwell (SC Sand), K Duggan (Peamount Utd), N Fahey (Liverpool); K McCabe (Arsenal), L Kiernan (West Ham), D O’Sullivan (NC Courage).