Symth Eyes Victory In Slovenia

2012 Algarve Cup - Algarve Women's Football Cup: Team Portraits and InterviewsVersatile midfielder Shannon Smyth wants the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team to finish 2013 with a win when they face Slovenia in their FIFA Women’s World Cup Group 1 qualifier in Velenje tomorrow at 4pm (Irish time).

Sue Ronan’s side have lost just once in seven games this year after wins over Northern Ireland, South Africa and Slovakia and draws against South Korea, Austria and Croatia. The only defeat was a 0-1 loss to Finland in the play-off for seventh and eighth place at the 12-team Cyprus Cup in March.

The Women’s National Team are currently in transition with Ronan introducing a combination of promising youngsters like Dora Gorman and Denise O’Sullivan as well as late developers like Seana Cooke and Rachel Graham alongside a core group of players like Smyth who has now won 23 caps since her debut in 2010. Smyth feels a lot of things are beginning to click into place.

“I think it is a combination of things. We have more and more players securing a better training environment. We are striving to raise the standards of the International environment, personal training initiatives and club environments. The National League in Ireland is growing roots and we have players competing in top leagues in England, Scotland, Sweden, Norway and Germany. Our ability as a nation to take points from nearly match this year is a testament to both our squad chemistry and to individual players raising personal standards.”

An indication of the new found confidence within the squad was the disappointment they felt at not beating Croatia in last month’s qualifier in Sinj but Smyth felt that the fact they came away with a point was a positive.

“Our goal was to take six points from our opening two qualifying games so while I feel we did not maximize our potential, it is always critical to take points from every match. Each team steps on the field with one point and it is my mentality to always maintain one point and go for three whenever possible.”

Smyth is with the squad this week in Slovenia preparing for a game tomorrow against a side that beat Slovakia 3-1 away last month before being blown away by Germany in last Saturday’s 13-0 defeat at the hands of the European champions and World No.2 side.

“It was important for Slovenia to take three points on the road, but my focus is purely on our outcomes, especially this early in the campaign. No doubt Slovenia will be eager to add to their three points and it is always a different test to take points on the road. But our team is very motivated to cap off the year with a win.

“Germany have already in this group clearly showed their power and in general why they are a top nation for women’s football. The truth is now goal differential might be a major key to our success in this campaign. But again, our focus lies on our own matches first.”

Smyth’s versatility has seen her used by Ireland as a midfielder and an attacker and even though she played in midfield against Slovakia and Croatia she found herself in completely different roles in both games. However, it was a challenge that she relished and it showed in her committed performances in both games.

“I really enjoy being part of the central midfield. It’s in the middle of all the action and demands just as much defending as attacking. Every match requires some sort of adaption for a variety of reasons and I think that is one of the challenges of competing at the top level.

One of Smyth’s challenges at the start of the year was get her first international goal and she managed it in the first game of 2013 against Northern Ireland at the Cyprus Cup, cleverly lobbing the keeper after pouncing on some hesitation in the North’s defence.

“It had been on my list to do for a while and I’m planning to have a few more in my future! The Cyprus Cup was a fantastic tournament for us as a team so it is a special moment among many on that trip.”

Smyth, who was born and raised in America, qualifies for Ireland through her Dun Laoghaire born father Brendan and her maternal grandfather was also Irish. Her father was an international athlete and she still has plenty of relatives following her fortunes on this side of the Atlantic.

“I do have a lot of family that we keep in touch with in Ireland and I visit whenever possible. My father competed for Ireland in track and field as a pole vaulter so, after I received my first cap, I framed both our International jerseys together. That was very special to our family.”

Smyth is currently playing in Norway for Amazon Grimstad where she is also the club’s Academy Director. It is testament to the type of character Smyth is that once she discovered the club didn’t have an academy she pushed them to set one up.

“This is my fourth season in Norway and my third season at Amazon so I have really adapted to the Norwegian way of life–although my language skills are still a bit suspect! Norway is absolutely beautiful and there is always something new to try or explore, but most of my time is with the Toppserien team or coaching.

“I started our club’s first academy for girls so it is pretty exciting to find myself in a central role to improve the women’s and youth culture in the South of Norway. To be able to compete at a top level and pursue my coaching passion means I am enjoying my dream job!

“There have been many ups and downs this season. I broke my foot in March and missed the entire spring season so I was very eager to be back training after the summer! As a team we have overcome injuries, coaching changes and now have succeeded in a battle for points in the final matches to secure our place in the top league next year. I truly believe the best is yet to come and I am very proud to call Amazon Grimstad my home.”

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