Ireland’s Ruesha Littlejohn (Image: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne)
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Ruesha Littlejohn knows from experience that it pays to appreciate what you have now, before it's gone.
In Germany today, the Leicester City midfielder will board an FAI charter flight to Kiev for Ireland ’s big Euro 2022 qualifier with Ukraine tomorrow.
Avoid defeat and Ireland will secure at least a playoff as they chase a first senior appearance at a major tournament.
It’s the biggest game in Littlejohn’s career and the 30-year-old is desperate to make the most of her second coming on the international stage.
The Glasgow native was dropped by former Ireland boss Colin Bell and missed eight games between October 2018 and March of this year.
But she was brought back into the fold under Vera Pauw and is dreaming big as she looks to maximise her return this time around.
Littlejohn, who has been capped 57 times, said: “Look, it was tough not being in the squad.
“It was hard to not be part of it when squads were being announced and you were on standby, or not even on standby.
“But it made me realise that I had to get back into the squad and I couldn't throw the toys out of the pram and take the huff.
“I had to keep working and make sure that I got the opportunity again. I'm just grateful to Vera for bringing me back in.
“You have to keep working and believing that you’ll get into the squad and it has made me appreciate football even more, having that taken from me.
Ireland’s Ruesha Littlejohn tackles Germany’s Giulia Gwinn
(Image: ©INPHO/Tim Groothuis)
“Vera asked if I wanted to come back into the squad and I obviously bit her hand off.
“You can never take it for granted. You always have to be your best and never get complacent. It was probably a good thing for me.”
Everything is on the line in Kiev – for both teams.
Ukraine – beaten 3-2 in Tallaght earlier in the campaign – can pip Ireland to a playoff if they win and beat bottom sides Greece and Montenegro in their remaining games.
Avoiding defeat is enough for Ireland, but a playoff is more realistic than automatic qualification as they still have to face leaders and heavyweights Germany next month.
Littlejohn said: “Since I've been in squads we've never really been in this position. As for hard luck stories, we’ve always messed it up a few games into the tournament.
“This has been the best one yet. It's the last chance for quite a few of us so we have the motivation and hunger to try and qualify. The pressure is on but we’re ready for it.”