Whatever the location when the Republic of Ireland travel to take on Germany next April in their Euro 2021 qualifier, Diane Caldwell won’t have far to travel.
The Balbriggan native has made the German city of Wittstat, situated less than ten miles from the French border, her home for the past three years.
The defender, following stints in the US, Iceland and Norway, signed for SC Sand, then having just completed their first season in the Bundesliga, under the management of Colin Bell, in 2016.
Caldwell isn’t the only Irish team member in Germany – Claire O’Riordan plays for Duisburg and Amber Barrett recently joined Koln from Peamount United.
While Bell departed in 2017 to take up the Irish national team job, Caldwell has found her place at a club where, despite having the league’s lowest budget, they punch above their weight.
Sand reached the final of the German Cup in Caldwell’s first season and have been consistently mid-table since.
Unlike the majority of teams in the league, Sand have no association with a major men’s club and, thus, no access to the financial weight that Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg do.
That’s one of the reasons Sand have had to recruit virtually a new squad this season but, despite their difficulties, they’ve hit the ground running.
“We had a lot of players who left for various reasons last season and a whole new team came in, 13 new players,” Caldwell tells the Dublin Gazette.
“It’s always a worry because you’re thinking how are the team going to gel when so many players change.
“But we started off really well – we narrowly lost to Wolfsburg 1-0 away from home, which is the toughest game to start with.
“Then we beat Essen 3-0, convincingly, and they finished fourth in the league last year. We’re a small club financially, and we punch above our weight.
“You can’t compare our resources against Bayern Munich’s, or Wolfsburg’s or Frankfurt’s, who have a massive investment from the men’s side.
“We’ve established ourselves in the league now and, hopefully, to get another cup final would be amazing for us as a small club.”
Her country of residency have also hit top form early on in qualifying for the finals in England, with a 10-0 win over Montenegro, followed up by an 8-0 trouncing of second seeds Ukraine.
Despite Ireland labouring to a 2-0 win at home to Montenegro in their opening match, Caldwell believes Ireland, under the newly-appointed Vera Pouw, can aim for first position.
“We have to go into every game thinking we can get a result and beat the best. We definitely had that attitude last campaign with Norway and Holland.
“I know the German players very well, and it’s a new crop of players coming up into that team.
“They still have a few experienced heads, but we definitely feel we can get something from them.”