Stephanie Roche couldn’t be more proud of Ireland.
While the Women’s International Team didn’t make it out of the first stage of the World Cup they still made a massive impact on the sport.
“The dream became a reality after the play-off game with Scotland,” she tells VIP Magazine as we chat just before she heads home from Down Under.
“It’s going to mark such a big change, the women’s team on the world stage. It opens up so many opportunities for young girls. As someone who has played with [the team] for years, it’s a major breakthrough.
“For years we talked about this being a defining moment and now it’s happened. It’s important that we build off that.”
Stephanie didn’t tog out with the rest of the team this time around, instead, she acted as a pundit for the games. She tells us of the “pure pride” buzzing around the stadium each night.
“Even walking around Brisbane and Sydney, everywhere you turn you’d see an Irish person, it was really refreshing to see. We were on Bondi Beach and we ran into these three Irish guys and I was like ‘oh are you living here?’ and there were like ‘no we’re here for the games.’
“That was unbelievable, you never would’ve seen that before – three young lads who probably never ever watched women’s football a few years ago travelling to see it. It’s been great having so many fans there, the girls really appreciated it.”
Of course she admits that there is “disappointment that it didn’t go the way they wanted it to go”, the pride is still there.
“They’ve set the tone now, we need to keep building and get to more tournaments. It’s one of the best feelings to be here and to support them.”
As someone who has been both on and off the pitch, Stephanie was the perfect person to commentate on the matches. But that didn’t mean the job was easy, she had to find the perfect balance between supporting the team and her friends while also being able to critique the sport.
“I’d never slate anyone, I’ve always tried to be as positive as possible, it’s so important to give women’s football that. But it’s also important for me to call it like I see it. If someone makes a howler, and I pat them on the head, that’s patronising.
“The girls are so understanding of the position I’m in now, to be critical when I need to be. I don’t think there’s enough criticism and that might seem like a strange thing to say. But if we’re always saying ‘the girls are great, the girls are brilliant,’ that can be borderline patronising, they’re not being seen as equal athletes.
“I think we’re still getting over that hurdle, we want honest opinions as athletes, not just as women. I have a responsibility to ensure I’m giving equality across the board on what I see on the pitch.”
It wasn’t all work and no play. She celebrated her husband, Dean Zambra’s birthday while they were Down Under! And, of course, they had to do some very touristy things to mark the day.
“Being in Australia I obviously wanted to go and see the koalas and the kangaroos, so we got to go to the koala sanctuary. That was something away from work that I was able to do with him,” she adds.
Stephanie was speaking to VIP Magazine as an ambassador for Circle K’s new ‘Bricks for Care’ fundraising initiative in aid of the Jack and Jill Children’s Foundation