On Saturday last Emma Griffin of the Waterford club Benfica was a member of the Republic of Ireland squad that played Italy in Sardinia in their Euro qualification game. Three wins from the first four games in the campaign has sprung Ireland into contention for a place in the European Championship finals for the first time ever.
The finals will be played in Finland next year. Sweden are the hot favourites to top the group with Italy and Ireland battling it out for second and third place. The runners-up in the group will seal a play-off place, as will the third team depending on the amount of points accumulated at the end of the campaign.
Emma, along with Arsenal’s Ciara Grant, are the two Waterford-born players currently being selected by the Irish manager Noel King. Another young player from Waterford, Lyn Marie Grant, who plays for Lifford (she attends Limerick University) played for the senior team in recent friendly games and did superbly well but the Under 19 player will have to wait just a little bit longer for a call up to the senior team for competitive games. Lyn Marie is a sister of former Waterford United player Stephen Grant.
Emma Griffin is rated one of the hottest properties in women’s football right now and she is living the dream of playing for her country.
“I have been a member of the squad for about three years and I believe the present group is the strongest we have ever had,” she says. “Some of the players are based with English clubs, more play in America, like Alisha Moran who plays with New York. Since Noel King was appointed as a full time manager by the FAI we train together on a regular basis and we are now the best prepared Irish squad of all time.
“During the past few weeks we have played Holland and Portugal and Arsenal and those games will stand to us for the group games that lie ahead. Heretofore those games would not have taken place, so it just goes to show the new approach there is to women’s football in Ireland.
“A game against Italy (the only team to take points off Ireland to date) especially away is a tough task to say the very least but we are quietly confident of getting a result. It is not essential that we win the game to reach the play-off spots but it would help greatly.
“I play my club football with Benfica despite the fact that I graduated in Dublin and now work in the capital. It is funny really because home games for me are really away games and away games are home games.
“The Summer League in Ireland runs from April to October and a home game for me means travelling to Waterford to play for the club. I have no problem with that because I get the chance to visit my family. An away game is also pretty OK because with so many Dublin clubs in the league I don’t have to travel at all.
“I love playing for Ireland and I am aware that I am following in the footsteps of former Benfica players such as Siobhan Furlong and Yvonne Lyons. It is a pity there are not more clubs and players from the Waterford area because women’s soccer is really beginning to take off big time.
“I was delighted to hear that the Waterford Schoolboy League are holding a meeting to try and form a Schoolgirls League and I really hope it will come to pass. International football can be very rewarding. We have yet to play Sweden in our group so we have a lot to look forward to during the coming months, and young players coming through can also enjoy a future in the game if they start young and work at their game.
“I really hope the Waterford Schoolboy League will be successful with their effort to get a league up and running,” Emma added.
Emma played basketball for a number of years with the Waterford club, the Wildcats and their manager John Hayes rated her very highly and he was a little upset when she decided to dedicate her spare time to football instead.
Emma explains: “When I was studying for my degree and playing basketball and soccer I had to make a decision. It was time to prioritise. I did not want to be a jack of all trades and master of none so I decided to devote my sporting time to soccer.
“Wildcats were a wonderful club and I loved every minute of my time with them. I was thrilled when they reached the cup final this year and I think they will make the play-offs again this time around. Right now however all of my thoughts are with Ireland and trying to qualify for the European Championships.
“As I said earlier I firmly believe that we have the squad to get through. I owe a lot to the wonderful people who have continued to keep the Benfica club going down through the years. It has been tough going at times but they have never got downhearted and hopefully in the future more honours will come to the club and players from the club will go on to play for Ireland”.
The club are doing great work at underage level with people like Batty O’Callaghan, Emma acknowledged. [Photo: Sportsfile]
FOGRA: Ireland lost 4-1 to Italy in that game on Saturday after Katie Taylor had given them the lead. Four late goals won the game for the Italians, all of them coming in the last 10 minutes. Taylor was actually sent off early in the second half. Another Benfica player, Maria Delehunty, who plays for the Benfica Under 16 team, was called into the Republic of Ireland squad for the upcoming Under 17 game against Poland last weekend. Great times indeed for the Waterford club.