Republic of Ireland captain Emma Byrne will join the century Club this afternoon in the historic town of Sinj when she lines out against Croatia in a FIFA World Cup Group 1 qualifier.
It will be the Arsenal’s goalkeeper’s 100th appearance since she won her first cap in a European Championship match against Belgium as a 17-year-old on March 31, 1996, in Bray.
Now 34, Byrne admits that reaching today’s milestone will be more of a relief than anything because it has been looming for some time.
“It feels like I have been waiting a long time for it to come. All my family have been talking about it for quite a while so there will be a sense of relief that the day has finally arrived,” she revealed.
“I am delighted to have reached 100 caps because not many players have achieved that milestone. It will be a proud moment for me and my family.”
Byrne will become the seventh player, male or female, to win 100 caps at senior level for Ireland and joins a special club that also includes her Arsenal team-mate Ciara Grant (105 caps), Robbie Keane (129), Shay Given (125), Kevin Kilbane (110), Stephen Staunton (102) and Damien Duff (100).
She admits the details of her debut back in 1996 are sketchy but she vividly recalls the shock she felt when manager Mick Cooke told her she was playing.
“I remember thinking why he putting me into this game. I was only 17 and although I had been in the squad since I was 15, I was reserve goalkeeper to Sue Hayden who was a fantastic goalkeeper. I had sat on the bench for two years and watched outfield players like Ciara Grant come in and make their debut. With goalkeepers there is only one position up for grabs.
“But it was great to get in and I never looked back after that. Being an international player opened doors for me and certainly encouraged Arsenal to bring me over and have a look at me. I went there for a weekend, never went home and I’m still there.”
Among Byrne’s highlights are several matches against world number one USA which she enjoyed for many reasons.
“I always love playing against America. Those are my favourite games even though we have to work very hard in them and usually lose them. I just love the occasion of big games like those and the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world.”
Her biggest disappointment came in October 2008 when, after 1-1 draw in Dublin, Ireland lost the second leg of their European Championship play-off to Iceland in a match that Byrne still insists should never have been played.
“That was the one bad moment for me. We had a great chance to qualify but the conditions were awful. The pitch was frozen solid but because the match was on television they went ahead with it and we lost. We were so close to qualifying for a major tournament and I thought we were a better team than them.”
Looking forward to today’s game against Croatia, Byrne is hopeful that Ireland can follow last Sunday’s opening win against Slovakia by taking all three points.
“I really don’t want to lose on my 100th cap,” she said.