How should we judge the Irish women’s team?

When the Irish women’s team recent partnership deal with Sky was announced it felt like a full circle moment that echoed back to the tracksuit saga under John Delaney’s tenure. It was especially pertinent seeing as the men’s team are currently without a flagship sponsor, another legacy of the old CEO.

The Sky deal also brings that extra spotlight as the team have got that extra zing of promotion, but it works both ways. Sky will expect this team to go to a World Cup off the back of their sponsorship, and they won’t be the only ones.

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Manager Vera Pauw recently suggested it might be a way to actually improve the team by aggravating the expectancy thrust upon them as well as seeking greater introspection into performance levels. The general public are also starting to take note with greater interest which is well beyond due. With that though comes the double edged sword of the media spotlight.


This will bring us to a World Cup

– Vera Pauw

The game against Sweden provided a barometer for this Ireland team. While it has become pastiche to describe the Irish national team as physical, passionate and disciplined, they were, and it annoyed the hell out of the Swedes who left with bruises and burst lips. That’s not to say Ireland lacked guile or creativity, Katie McCabe, Denise O’Sullivan and Heather Payne all had their moments in what was a suffocating game for the attackers.

The team ethos though is not to be underestimated and against the other group teams will look to press and set up more aggressively in attack like they did against Australia, Sweden however had to be respected, as we saw on a few occasions when Courtney Brosnan was tested in goal.

Towards the end of the second half it was Ireland who became dominant. Sweden looked menacing on the counter but Ireland were imposing and pushed up on the team ranked 2nd in the world. Ireland inflicted their game upon them, as big Jack used to say. It did work and the Swedes were clearly uncomfortable as their defensive substitutions showed. “Sweden was adjusting to Ireland”, Pauw said post game. The trouble for the manager will now be to maintain that level of performance for the rest of the group stage.

It’s not all sweetness and honey, however. Against every other team in the group we will need to dominate and more clinical with the ball. Too many times against the Swedes we aimlessly kicked the ball towards Heather Payne and hoped for a miracle. It only invited more pressure back on the defence and was what cost Ireland the game in the end as we got caught with a sloppy pass.

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If you don’t push yourself above your limits, then you will not grow to higher heights.

– Vera Pauw

Pauw has obviously demanded that the FAI give her more competitive friendlies in recent years. Her belief is that only by going toe to toe with the stronger nations on a regular basis can you improve your quality. So far she has been proven right as Ireland have adapted and seem to be more than capable of keeping up with the tempo of the elite teams they have recently faced. The FAI seem to have provided adequate support so far for her and it’s doubtful the manager would have stuck around had her demands not been met.

What of the teams tactical identity though. It has been a much discussed topic for their male counterparts. Rather than totally overhaul Pauw has opted for a tactical hybrid, she is Dutch after all, where the position of the wing backs decide how aggressive the team will play. Considering how many talented centre backs are available it makes sense play a three-at-the-back that can evolve depending on our opponents. We should expect to see Jaime Finn and Aine O’Gorman pushing up against teams like Georgia allowing McCabe in turn at the top end of the pitch affecting play where she is so valuable.

What will actually get us qualification will be the the ability to comfortably put away the other teams in the group like Slovakia and Georgia. The Finland games will be the big momentum shifts though and the team should be aggressive in its approach against them. Anything less than a win will be a disappointment for this team after the performance against Sweden. To rely on a draw and a result at home would be conservative, why not push on and dictate the rest of the fixtures upon our main rivals for the second qualifying spot. This team is capable of more than a draw against the Finns based on what we saw against Sweden.

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Criticism stems from failure to meet expectations.

Former Ireland great Emma Byrne suggested on the Second Captains podcast that the team were disorganised going forward and questioned the attacking structure, particularly McCabe’s position. Byrne though has an ultra-elite mind-set, you can hear it in the steeliness of her tone, but should the general public be as expectant regarding the national team. Criticism stems from failure to meet expectations.

This is where the Emma Byrne mentality comes in, we know there are top players in this squad. That expectancy is a privelege and a recognition of the quality the team has. Katie McCabe is world class, Denise O’Sullivan and Louise Quinn are seasoned pros who can still decide games in their own right. Up and coming players like Jamie Finn and Heather Payne who have shown they are comfortable against elite teams.

Courtney Brosnan had a stanch performance in goals and hopefully that will give a confidence to herself and the rest of the defence as goalkeeping errors have cost Pauw badly over the course of her tenure in charge.

This is a team to believe in based on known quality and potential ability. They are good enough to go to the World Cup. Pauw will have to foot the blame if they don’t make it, but she wouldn’t have it any other way. The days of head patting and “well done girls” in Irish women’s football are over. This is a group comprised mostly of full time professionals and they should be treated as such.

Ultimately they only need to be judged on one thing, the cold hard lifeless spectre of results. The equality of win, lose or draw, the triumvirate of powers from which you shall be perceived. If this squad fails to qualify for the World Cup then criticism of them will be valid, not because it means they will be on a par with the men, but because this team are more than capable of getting there.

The Author

John McMahon

Sportswriter and self-proclaimed football boot aficionado. John McMahon hails from Co. Laois and covers domestic and European football.

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