Irish international Stephanie Roche is in a race against time to be fit for the big World Cup qualifiers against Slovakia and the Netherlands in April after suffering a setback in her recovery from a serious injury she sustained last September.

“It was in the Northern Ireland game (which the Republic won 2-0 away),” the Sunderland striker says of the original injury. “It was the last minute or close enough and I went up for a header and somebody hit into me and I landed awkwardly on my knee.

"It hyper-extended and straight away they thought it was my ACL, just from the way that I landed. So when I heard that it wasn’t my ACL I was over the moon. That’s obviously the worst thing that it could have been, but I did have a tibial plateau fracture.

"The bone had pushed away, which was nasty, but in the same injury I hurt the top of my knee and that’s where the second part of all this has come from.

“I was back training December/January, back running. I went to strike through a ball and got a sharp pain across the knee so I had to come back and get an MRI and there was a slight stress fracture across the top that they missed.

"Now they think it might be the meniscus. If it is, they might have to go in and have a look at it. I’m a little bit anxious but on the other hand I just want to know what it is and then crack on with it.

“When the injury happened first I wanted to be back for the Holland game in November which, when I look back, was a little too optimistic, but now I’m hoping to be back for April. We have some league games at Sunderland and we’re on a good run in the FA Cup but I have to be careful, I can’t rush it.

"In January, I assumed I was ready to come back but I wasn’t. So this time I just have to find out what’s definitely wrong with it before I start trying to do stuff again.”

So far, Roche has had to sit out the 2-0 victory over Slovakia and a celebrated scoreless draw in Holland which, together with the win against Northern Ireland in the
opening match, has raised early hopes that the senior Irish women’s team could make history this year by qualifying for the finals of a major tournament for the first time.

France in the summer of 2019 is the target.

“That was step one,” Roche says of the draw in November away to a star-studded Dutch team. “I remember after the game seeing the girls celebrating and I remember thinking, ‘Jesus, don’t get carried away!’

But I think now they were right to celebrate. It was a fantastic result against the European Champions. We really frustrated them but we have to play them again and I think we are going to have to beat either themselves or Norway.

I don’t think that all draws is going to be enough. But I do think that we can qualify if we work hard and do the right things in every game.

”Obviously we’ve never qualified. For the senior team to get there would definitely put us on the map.

“Women’s football is a lot more popular now in Ireland. A lot more people know a lot more about it but I think that getting to a World Cup would make it even better known.

“It would be a big step for us and, for me personally, it has always been a big aim, to make it to a major tournament. I think every member of the team knows what we have to do to get there.

“It’s actually one of our tougher groups but with the changes that have happened, with the manager who is charge (Colin Bell) and the players that are there being willing to work for that manager, I think it’s one of our best opportunities. Everybody will give their all.”

Stephanie Roche recently helped launch ‘Neymar Jr’s Five’, Red Bull’s five-a-side football tournament for men and women aged 16-25 which offers an opportunity to
represent Ireland at the World Final in Brazil this summer.


For more information see www.neymarjrsfive.com


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