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Match that, Messi - why goal hero Stephanie Roche is in a league of her own

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Republic of Ireland Womens National Team striker and 2014 FIFA Puskas Award nominee, Stephanie Roche

Republic of Ireland Womens National Team striker and 2014 FIFA Puskas Award nominee, Stephanie Roche

SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland Womens National Team striker and 2014 FIFA Puskas Award nominee, Stephanie Roche

Republic of Ireland Womens National Team striker and 2014 FIFA Puskas Award nominee, Stephanie Roche

SPORTSFILE

Republic of Ireland Womens National Team striker and 2014 FIFA Puskas Award nominee, Stephanie Roche

Stephanie Roche is up there with the best footballers in the world and has even managed to surpass the likes of Messi and Ronaldo.

Over the coming days, she is hoping for a surge in support in her bid for the FIFA award to receive the world's best goal of the year.

The 25-year-old Irish international footballer told the Herald she is enjoying the growing public interest in her 'David and Goliath' bid to outshine some of the biggest and most expensive names in world soccer.

"I'm told my goal is in the top three in the number of viewings. But the numbers of supporters of Van Persie and Ibrahimovic in the competition will be huge around the world," the Dublin sportswoman said.

Irish fans must vote before next Monday if they want to support her bid for world football glory and capture the Puskas Award.

The widely-read football magazine and website FourFourTwo has reportedly placed her in second place in the running for the FIFA Puskas Award.

"My friends told me that I'm second in the survey so I'm still hopeful," she admitted.

It seems like the ultimate fairytale. Stephanie scored a miraculous goal for Peamount United against Wexford Youths in a women's national league away game last year.

With her back to goal, she controlled the ball with her first touch, dinked it over the head of her marker with her second touch and then volleyed it into the net. The goal became a worldwide viral sensation with more than three million hits on YouTube.

The world football governing body declared the goal to be one of the 10 best goals of the year across the globe. Her star-studded list of rivals for the prestigious award include Robin van Persie, who scored a spectacular diving header for the Netherlands against Spain in the World Cup.

She is also up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic who hopes his back-heel volley scored for Paris St Germain against SC Bastia in the French league last year will win him the title.

Stephanie now plays for French side ASPTT Albi. This week, she has just arrived back in France after a visit to her parents, Fergus and Ann Roche, at home in Shankill, Co Dublin.

She admitted that at home and back in France all the talk is about that goal.

"I know there are a lot of people supporting me and it's great being included. Here at my club in France the interest is really growing. French television came to our training session last week and more media are coming to the club in the days ahead.

"I'm taking French language lessons but the television guy interviewed me in English and translated," she said.

Since she arrived in France in June, competition has been tough for places on the first team as the side has just been promoted to the top division.

"I've had to be patient and the football is at a really high standard here. But I've been starting. I'm playing left wing and up front," she said.

She has already scored a goal for the first team and is relishing the challenge abroad.

"I came here because I wanted to test myself and get better. There are games coming up for the Irish team and I want to be on it.

"Here, I'm training full time and, even on my two days off, I'll be found in the gym. I'm fitter and stronger," she said.

The move from Ireland was a challenge, she admits.

"I'm a homebird at heart. But I wanted to come to improve," she said. Her boyfriend, Bray Wanderers player Dean Zambra (26), also encouraged her to make the move.

"We've been seven and a half years together and last weekend was the first time Dean came over because he was so busy.

"I've only managed to get home twice since I arrived. But coming here was a good opportunity," she said.

Her parents remain her biggest fans.

"Dad is really delighted that my goal has been recognised. He knows all the hard work I've put into the game along with the other girls," she said.

One of her earliest supporters was Brendan Yates, secretary of Shankill FC in County Dublin.

He said Stephanie's talent stood out when she played with several underage Valeview Shankill Schoolboys teams.

Mr Yates said she was always one of the most skillful players.

"When she became 13, the rules no longer allowed her to play against boys and she transferred to Cabinteely Girls and then to Stella Maris.

"She hasn't forgotten her roots. She has come back to help teach skills to our under-17 boys team.

"She shows them her techniques and they learn from her how to volley the ball. That amazing goal she scored was no flash in the pan. I've seen her score similar goals before. She's brilliant," he said.

Stephanie said she hopes as many people as possible log onto the FIFA.com website and vote for her goal before the December 1 deadline. The top three goals will be named on December 1 and the overall winner will be announced on January 12.

aokeeffe@herald.ie


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