Roche: Football is my one true love in life

The new year could hardly have started any better for Stephanie Roche. The Republic of Ireland international was nominated for the FIFA Puskás Award alongside Robin van Persie and James Rodriguez and rubbed shoulders with football’s biggest stars at the FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala in Zurich. Even if her goal, which she scored for former club Peamount United in the Irish Women’s National League, did not win the prize - Rodriguez taking the trophy - she nevertheless has the honour of being the first woman to finish among the top three.

“It’s been a fantastic experience for me being named alongside such really good players,” Roche said in an exclusive interview with “The support I’ve had since being included in the top three has been brilliant as well. There have been some current professional footballers and ex-professionals talking about the goal, how technically good it is, and that it’s there on merit. That’s what I like to hear because I like to think that it’s there to compete with the other two goals. There are maybe a few other footballers here , not just me, who might not make it here again. This is an experience I want to soak up and something I want to remember.”

Her goal, which she scored on 20 October, quickly went viral online and was deservedly among the final three contenders. The tall blonde forward controlled the ball in the air before quickly flicking it over her bewildered marker’s head and lashing a volley into the net. Roche touched the ball three times without letting it fall to the floor.

Scoring past Nadine Angerer In doing so the 25-year-old, a self-proclaimed Manchester United fan, demonstrated the ability her compatriots have known about for a long time. Roche made her debut in the national team in 2008 after also featuring at U-17 and U-19 level. The 1.83m striker made eight appearances in FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™ qualifying, and even scored past Nadine Angerer when Ireland faced reigning European champions Germany. Nevertheless, she has never reached a World Cup or continental championship with the national team.

“Women’s football has been one of the fastest growing sports in Ireland over the last few years,” Roche said. “There have been a lot of changes and a lot more effort put into the game. We have a long way to go but I think progress has been made in the last few years, with the U-17s getting to the World Cup a few years ago and the U-19s being in the European Championships last year. In the senior women’s team we want to try and emulate the younger girls and try to get to a tournament if we can.”

And Roche is confident that the women’s game is on the right track to achieve that: “With teams doing so well in the past, people will have to stand up and take notice. If that continues to happen they can’t help but give us the support we need.”

More publicity for women’s football The amicable Irishwoman is also aware of what needs to be done to help further develop women’s football in her homeland: “We need to bring more professional elements to the league as it’s still amateur. There are some fantastic players in Ireland who want to stay playing in Ireland. In order to keep them, we need to bring more professional elements to the game. That means more funding and more media attention to the game in Ireland itself. Hopefully that’ll happen soon enough, in the next few years, because we don’t want to see our best players going abroad if they have the option to stay home in Ireland and make the league a better league.”**

**Roche’s nomination for the FIFA Puskás Award is a step in the right direction given the attention it generated for women’s football. And if she continues to score such breathtaking goals, she might just be able to achieve one of her ambitions: “I’ve played football for a long, long time and it’s my one true love in life. I want to play at a high level for as long as possible and to try to qualify for a tournament with my country. That’s my main goal: to get to the Euro 2017 finals.”