Van Persie rival Stephanie Roche wants Euros success with Republic of Ireland

Stephanie Roche.
Stephanie Roche.
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Sunderland might not be able to get a player in the England Women’s squad – but three of their stars will take to the international field.

The Emerald derby in Dublin between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland a week today will feature Stephanie Roche, Rachel Furness and Sarah McFadden.

But there are about five of us in the squad who play in England and that should help us.

Roche, one of Ireland’s most revered female sporting names, will come up against fellow Sunderland midfielders, Furness and McFadden, who line up for the away side.

It will be a big day for all three Lady Black Cats.

For Roche, it’s the final warm-up for the Republic, who start their Euro qualifying campaign against Finland on Monday, September 21.

And for the 27-year-old with the famous left foot, it is a chance to finish 2016 on a high.

Roche has had a mixed year. A first-choice for her country, she found her American dream end prematurely when she was released by Houston Dash after just one appearance.

Sunderland swooped for the former world goal of the year runner-up and she has played in all but one of the Lady Black Cats matches since her mid-season arrival.

And while Roche has yet to hit top gear, she believes her move to Sunderland and playing in the top flight of the women’s game will help her achieve her goal of playing at the finals of a major tournament.

She has been used predominantly in a wide midfield role, with head coach Carlton Fairweather operating with just the one out-and-out striker, Beth Mead.

“One of the main reasons I came away to play professional football was to make myself better at international level,” said the Dubliner who was runner-up for the 2014 FIFA Puskás Award for goal of year in a battle with World Cup scorers Robin van Persie and James Rodriguez

“I have been working on the defensive side of the game and I hope the attacking side will come naturally.

“Playing in the games here will prepare me for those internationals.

“The first few games I played were all against the higher teams and you are always going to be defending more in those matches so it was difficult for me to get forward.

“I’ve just tried to keep working hard and I think good form will come the harder I work.

“I’m used to doing defensive work but being an attacking player you always want to try to get forward and show your flair.”

The Republic of Ireland are hopeful of reaching Euro 2017 in two summers time in the Netherlands.

“We came as close as we’ve ever come last year,” said Roche, whose side will come up against Spain, Portugal, Finland and Montenegro.

“We didn’t qualify in the end for the World Cup, we had a tough group, which included Germany and Russia.

“But I think this time we can give it a really good push.

“I think we can do it – we have a lot of good players, young ones and those with experience.”

For Furness and McFadden, they are simply pleased to be back in the international picture.

Injury problems have restricted the appearances of midfielders.

McFadden is back two years after her last cap, a 0-0 draw with Bosnia, while Furness – Washington born and bred but with an Irish grandparent – has not played in over a year, after turning out against the Faroes.

Northern Ireland have a difficult task against Italy, Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Georgia, but McFadden says there is optimism ahead of their trip to Tblisi on October 20.

“The last Euro campaign we did very well, beating some top teams,” said the 28-year-old.

“We have Italy and Switzerland, who are both very good, the Czech Republic who are probably one of the best teams, and Georgia.

“But there are about five of us in the squad who play in England and that should help us.

“If we start well then I think we have a chance.”