'There's never been a bigger belief before that we can qualify for a major tournament'

Áine O’Gorman and the Republic of Ireland women’s national team are facing into a massive few months.

Áine O'Gorman at the launch of the Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Camps.
Áine O'Gorman at the launch of the Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Camps.
Image: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

ÁINE O’GORMAN SAYS that “something just feels a bit different” in terms of belief as the Republic of Ireland chase qualification for a first-ever major tournament.

Vera Pauw’s side resume their 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign against Group A heavyweights Sweden next month. 

Ireland sit second at the midway point after two wins, one draw and one defeat – to the Swedes – in 2021, and currently occupy the coveted play-off spot.

Following a positive Pinatar Cup campaign, in which they finished third among plenty of higher-ranked nations, the Girls In Green are gearing up for a huge few months.

The international friendly tournament in Spain was “invaluable” and missed alongside the likes of the Algarve Cup and Cyprus Cup amidst the pandemic, O’Gorman said, hailing “three really, really good performances” and an important period of time to grow and develop as a team.

Now, it’s all about the serious business.

“I think there’s probably never been a bigger belief before that we can qualify for a major tournament,” O’Gorman told The42 at yesterday’s launch of the Aviva Soccer Sisters Easter Festival. “Something just feels a bit different.

“Obviously the support of Aviva and Sky coming in behind us, all the games on telly and the crowds growing at games, there’s just this really good atmosphere around the matches.

“And obviously, it’s up to us as players to go out and do the job on the pitch. We’ve got such a talented pool of players. We’re looking forward to the challenge against Sweden to see where we’re really at and how much we’ve grown and developed as a team — and testing ourselves against one of the best teams in the world.”

“That’s when the hard work pays off, that we put up in Pinatar,” the Peamount United star added. “Look, we know we’re going to be against really good high quality opposition.

“We think Sweden have even gone from strength to strength since the last time we played them. Stina Blackstenius is over playing for Arsenal, banging in the goals every week. She scored two at the weekend.

“We’re under no illusions that it’s not gonna be a tough task, but it’s one we’re looking forward to and looking forward to getting back into action. And look, we’re in great position now and it’s really exciting times ahead.”

In the home meeting with the Swedes, Ireland were defeated 1-0 at Tallaght Stadium; an unfortunate Louise Quinn own goal the ultimate difference in September. 

That said, Sweden had come in off the back of their Olympic exploits and Pauw has warned that Sweden will be “fresh” and an even tougher opponent this time around.

But the squad can certainly take belief and confidence from their previous effort.

“Definitely, I think we were pushing to the end,” O’Gorman nodded. “I think we had them on the back foot at the end of the game as well. So you have to take the positives out of that game.

“But yeah, that was post Olympics, I think Sweden had probably plateaued a little bit. They’re on the up again, on the back of the friendly games during the last international break, as well. They’ll be firing off all cylinders, so we just have to be ready for that.”

While the entire focus is on the Gothenburg showdown on 12 April, there’s three more crucial qualifiers coming down the tracks.

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The September double-header against Finland and Slovakia is shaping up to be the decisive point, with the race for second place likely to come right down to the wire, while there’s a trip to group minnows Georgia pencilled in for June.

“Look, obviously we have to take one game at a time,” O’Gorman concluded.

“Sweden, then we have a big game against Georgia. We can’t take the foot off the pedal for that, that’s a must-win game away to them as well and I think they’ll probably up their game, compared to when we played them in Tallaght too. I think they were missing a few key players.

“And then we go into a big month in Septempber, but we just have to take it one step at a time.”

Ireland internationals Devin Toner and Lindsay Peat were our guests for The Front Row’s special live event, in partnership with Guinness, this week. The panel chats through Ireland’s championship chances ahead of the final round of Guinness Six Nations matches, and members of the Emerald Warriors – Ireland’s first LGBT+ inclusive rugby team – also join us to talk about breaking down barriers in rugby. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

Source: The42/SoundCloud

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