Vera Pauw insists that the future of Irish women’s football is promising despite missing out on a place at the European Championships in 2022. Ireland were pipped to a play-off place by Ukraine after losing 3-1 to Germany in Tallaght last Tuesday.
It was a campaign that promised much particularly in the early stages where a win over Ukraine on the opening night set the tone for a possible assault on a first ever major championship appearance. The game which drew a record crowd of over 5,000 for a women’s international in Ireland combined with wins over Montenegro and Greece saw Ireland top the group after three games.
This is as good as it got for the girls in green however with a last-minute equaliser for the Greeks in the away fixture dealing a blow to their qualification hopes. These are the types of games the team needs to be able to grind out if they want to qualify for major tournaments. From here, Ireland made life more difficult for themselves despite defeating Montenegro. Ireland were outclassed in their first match against Germany while away and were defeated 3-0 thus setting up a do or die clash against Ukraine on the road.
Unfortunately, it would be a night of regrets and what if’s for Vera Pauw’s side who conceded a goal through a mistaken mix up between goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan and Aine O’Gorman. To rub salt into the wounds, captain Katie McCabe, missed a penalty after her effort hit the crossbar. The game pretty much summed up the entire campaign, a case of so near yet so far and huge missed opportunity.
It is important to point out that the results against Germany when the teams met for the second time had little bearing on this group. Like their male counterparts, they are a footballing powerhouse in the women’s game and are currently ranked at number 2 in the world. The penalty scored by Katie McCabe was the only goal conceded by the Germans throughout the whole campaign and finished with a 100% record and a +45 goal difference. The reality is the campaign was lost in Kyiv and Athens.
Although there are green shoots visible, this team needs to start performing when the stakes are high if they want to reach the next level. Moral victories are simply not good enough anymore for a squad full of players playing in the WSL, America and in top European leagues. There are mixed views on the domestic league, but it is in a relatively healthy place with the likes of Peamount United performing well in Europe including reaching the knockout stages of the Champions League in 2012 and have been competitive since. A number of internationals have come through the league such as current players like Saoirse Noonan and captain Aine O’Gorman who play for Cork City and Peamount United respectively. Denise O’Sullivan also a Cork native is highly regarded in world football and is seen as one of the best midfielders in the world and was voted MVP for club North Carolina Courage (currently on loan at Brighton) in 2018 and 2019 to add to two consecutive league titles.
The manager who is over a year into the job is defiant that Ireland will appear at a major tournament sooner rather than later. “This team has a huge future and this team will be there in 2023.” Pauw’s own future is uncertain but says that her “heart is here” and was clearly emotional in the post-match interview with RTÉ. The general consensus is that the side have made some progress under the Dutch coach particularly going forward while ball retention has also improved.
From a continuity point of view, Pauw looks best set to take the team forward into the World Cup qualifiers and build on this campaign instead of having to bring in a new manager who will take time to get their philosophy across. After a turbulent couple of years in Irish football, this is not an ideal scenario for the side.
There is great potential in the squad but as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. Hopefully, this will not be the case with Ireland and that at least a play-off place will be attained in the World Cup Qualifying campaign for New Zealand and Australia 2023.