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'Arsenal expected us to give up!' - Jamaica's Blackwood talks Slavia Prague shocks & World Cup dreams

12:00 AM WAT 31/10/2019
Deneisha Blackwood Jamaica Slavia split 2019
No one is prouder of the wide player than her mother, whose tough time raising her children inspired the 22-year-old to where she is today

Since her 22nd birthday in March, Deneisha Blackwood has made a real habit of celebrating.

Graduation from university in May was followed by a place in Jamaica’s squad for their first Women’s World Cup, her nation’s first goal at the tournament and her first professional contract, which meant moving some 5,000 miles from her home of Kingston.

“Oh, you know, apart from being cold and the language, I think it has been a great experience so far,” she laughs, reflecting on her first few months in the Czech Republic with Slavia Prague.

But it will take more than a sudden weather change – it’s far colder in Prague right now than Kingston – to faze a player who has already had more experiences at the age of 22 than most players have in their entire careers.

After leaving Jamaica to go to junior college in Texas, Blackwood, who can play as a winger or a full-back, attended university in Florida before flying to France for this summer’s World Cup.

But the biggest inspiration for her success comes from the hard work of her mother, Bridgette Smith, many years earlier.

“Growing up it was kind of hard for me because my mum was a single mum of five and she didn’t really have anybody to help her grow us,” Blackwood tells Goal.

“She started working when she had me, I was the last one, but I think everything happens for a reason.

“Even though it was hard, I decided I wasn’t going to let it define who I am.”

In an interview before the World Cup, her mother sat proudly in her home, surrounded by Blackwood’s trophies from her journey through school.

“I’ll be so proud when I see her play in France. It’ll be the proudest day of my life,” she said.

The Slavia Prague player recalls: “She always used to tell me you can’t go outside and play with the boys and I would hide and still go.

“Now she’s like, ‘I’m glad she didn’t listen to me! Now she’s doing something that she loves’."

It’s not just her family that Blackwood is making proud. World Cup 2019 meant a tournament debut for Jamaica’s Reggae Girlz, and just the second qualification for the country overall after the men qualified in 1998.

“I’ve heard it was crazy,” Blackwood said of the Reggae Boyz appearance, which came when she was just a one-year-old.

“I’ve heard they actually got a public holiday for qualifying. This is not something we experience every time when the World Cup comes around.

“I feel like it’s very important for us as a country to see us girls going there. I think it made the country go wild.”

A place in the so-called group of death alongside Brazil, Australia and Italy meant for a tough first tournament for Jamaica, but they gave more than a good account of themselves – netting an historic first goal against the Aussies too.

“Not all the teams who went for the first time scored and I think even though our games didn’t go as we planned, that moment was just so incredible for us,” Blackwood says.

“Knowing that we went there and got the group of death, but we still managed to get at least one goal… I think that will always be my most memorable moment there.

“That was unbelievable.”

Her memorable year is still going, too, with London the next destination for the second leg of Slavia’s Women’s Champions League last 16 tie with Arsenal.

With less than an hour of the first game in Prague played, this leg looked like it would be almost a formality, with the scoreline reading 5-0 to the Gunners.

But Slavia pulled two goals back late on to keep themselves in contention of causing an unlikely upset.

“It was a tough loss, but the experience was just so great. For us to stand up to a team like that, was really great,” says Blackwood.

“I think that’s the good thing about being a part of this team.

“We’re very determined, and so even though we were down by five, we didn’t stop.

“I feel like Arsenal, they expected us to just give up. But we didn’t, we hold our heads high and try to come out proud.”

It’s a team value that resonates perfectly with Blackwood.

And with time on her side, a supportive family behind her and a mentality of constantly wanting to learn, the future is bright for a young girl whose defiance of her mother’s words has paid off more than she could have dreamed.