A feature on Wales star Jess Fishlock ahead of her 100th international appearance.
The Wales women’s team will play two friendlies against Northern Ireland next month as manager Jayne Ludlow prepares her side for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup qualifiers. Earlier this month the side finished fifth in the Cyprus Cup tournament, but what was notable was the improved defensive performance from a squad of players that have been on a solid trajectory of improvement since Ludlow replaced Jarmo Matikainen in 2014. Although the two friendlies will be relatively low-key affairs, the first will be significant for a player who has defined women’s football in Wales since making her international debut as a teenager in 2006. Now 30, Jess Fishlock will make her 100th international appearance, and in the process become the first player to ever play a century of games for Wales.
And the recognition is well-deserved. Fishlock has not only consistently been the best player for the side for over a decade, but has juggled her international commitments with a playing career that has taken her around the world. Currently balancing player and management responsibilities with Melbourne City, Fishlock has admitted to having been considering her international future, but has decided to remain committed to the cause, much to the delight of Ludlow. Fishlock has a key role to play in helping develop the next generation of players coming through the recently introduced pathway system, and she remains a talismanic figure for the entire squad. Things could have been different, as early in Ludlow’s tenure the decision was made to remove Fishlock as team captain and appoint the armband to defender Sophie Ingle, but the reaction was nothing but professional and positive from the talented midfielder.
“It’s huge for me personally to have the chance to win 100 caps for Wales,” explained Fishlock following the Cyprus Cup tournament. “Getting to that many caps and be the first Welsh player ever to do that will be something of a dream. It’s a place in history. Even now the highest player, for the men’s or women’s team, has not reached 100 caps and I am now on 99. I love playing for my country, it means the absolute world to me but with this group of players, they’re some of the closest friends I have. Where we’re at right now, it will be a pleasure to do it with this group. It won’t just be me winning 100 caps when it happens, it’ll be many people, and I think they will all be extremely happy and emotional. It never really crossed my mind to get to 100, or be the first one to ever do it, to be honest. Every time I put the jersey on, it feels like it could be my last. There have been moments when I have thought that it would be my last and that was a horrible feeling, but now I appreciate every time I get the chance to put it on. I give everything I can because I truly do love representing my country.”
In a club career that has taken her to Australia, America, the Netherlands, Germany, England, Scotland and Wales, Fishlock has enjoyed success at the highest-level of the women’s game, and played a key role in FFC Frankfurt lifting the UEFA Women’s Champions League in 2015 during her loan spell at the club. However, taking Wales to the finals of a major tournament would be a defining moment in her career, and there is no better or relevant motivation than to see the men’s team qualify and impress at UEFA EURO 2016. Former manager Jarmo Matikainen came close to reaching the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015, but the team fell short at the final hurdle, and it would prove to the popular Finn’s final act of a tenure that had changed the culture and professionalism surrounding women’s football in Wales. Fishlock played a key part in Matikainen’s success as his captain and leader, and qualifying for the finals would have been a deserved reward.
The draw for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 qualifying takes place next month. “We’re still not quite where we want to be or need to be,” added Fishlock. “But we’re in a very good place. We’ve still got loads of games to go to get us to where we want to be and I believe under Jayne it’s something that we will get to and achieve. For us, getting to a major tournament is our number one priority and it’s all we want to do and anything less than that moving forward is probably not good enough for where we want to get to.” In the meantime, Wales will have the opportunity to congratulate Fishlock for the contribution that she has made to the women’s game next month when she makes her 100th appearance, but her personal focus will be on achieving the ultimate goal with her team when the next qualification campaign begins.