Chloe Mustaki pictured at a media day on Tuesday. Laszlo Geczo/INPHO
hard to beat

‘We’re Irish… We’re so good at putting our bodies on the line’

Chloe Mustaki on the Irish team’s style of play and her hopes that it can evolve gradually.

THE MORNING after the Irish women’s team created history by beating Scotland, defender Chloe Mustaki sat down with a group of journalists to discuss the historic win.

The much-discussed Twitter clip of the player’s interview on Sky Sports News, which has been viewed by over four million people at the time of writing and in which Mustaki was repeatedly asked about the “ooh, ah, up the Ra” song that had featured in the post-match celebrations, had not yet blown up on social media and so there naturally were no questions about it.

Instead, the focus was firmly on football and the joyous occasion for the Irish team at Hampden Park.

“Lots of tears, lots of hugs with friends and family afterwards,” she said, reflecting on the post-match scenes. “So we were kind of sticking around the stadium for a while afterwards, a quick shower and then straight to the plane. We had a lovely reception back at Dublin Airport, which was amazing — the support, not only from our direct family and friends but from the nation as a whole has been amazing, and that goes a long way towards getting us here.”

And did any family travel over for the game?

“Just my boyfriend actually, my boyfriend plays for Dundalk. They have Wednesdays off so he was able to go over after training and I’ll see him later today.” 

The 27-year-old Bristol City player is optimistic the landmark win can be used to propel women’s football in Ireland onto another level.

“I think it can do an awful lot. If you see the progress that has been made since those talks back in 2017, having narrowly missed out through the Euros and then qualifying now, I think there will be a lot more resources but parents will probably be more willing to push young girls into women’s football because they can now realistically dream to be a major tournament every couple of years now that we have reached that milestone.

“Hopefully, now, that can be the norm — girls can dream of being professional football players and make a living from it, and not worry financially ‘will I be able to support a family’ and all the rest.

“I think it will be major. Hopefully, we’ve inspired enough young girls to keep at it because there are some dropout rates when you get to teenage years but hopefully, there are enough reasons to stay in the game.”

It’s no coincidence that during the World Cup qualifying campaign, all the Irish team’s most impressive performances — against Finland, Sweden and Scotland — came away from home.

These results were achieved primarily through smart tactics, dogged defending and a potent counter-attack.

The consistently resilient displays have led to some comparisons with the peak years of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid team, who have gained a reputation for being similarly hard to break down.

Mustaki acknowledges the virtues of this style in helping the side reach unprecedented heights while admitting the need to gradually evolve more.

“It’s so nerve-wracking when you’re looking onto the pitch when you know you can see the players sustaining so much pressure, but actually having played in Sweden when we sustained so much pressure towards the end of the game, somehow you still feel in control.

“I mean, we’re Irish, this is what we’re used to, we’re so good at putting our bodies on the line. Obviously look, going to a World Cup, that’s not going to be enough so we’ll look to build on that, on our creative side, play a bit nicer football. But we have the players to do that, we need the belief in ourselves, we have that now and we can work on it in the coming months and be as ready as we can be in different kinds of styles of football so that we can face any opponent and be confident.

“Just the way we grow up, girls playing GAA, girls playing different sports, it’s in our blood to be strong and put our bodies on the line. But, you know, most of our girls are full-time now, so we can expect a lot more in terms of how we play, our retention of the ball. We will need more if we want to progress in the World Cup than we currently have. But that has brought us so far in terms of our defensive play, so we won’t ever lose that.”

Both serious injury and cancer have held Mustaki back in the past, which partially explains why she only made her Irish senior debut earlier this year.

She has four caps under her belt now and has been a regular in squads of late, but the ex-Shelbourne player is taking nothing for granted and says she must remain diligent in order to secure her spot on the plane for this summer’s tournament in Australia and New Zealand.

“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something that I’ve thought about in the last 16 hours. It’s fantastic and whoever does end up going on that plane will give their absolute all. Stay fit, injury free, this is my first full season — touch wood — in the Championship now. Hopefully, I’ll see the benefit of that come May — it’s only been six weeks now.

“I’ve to keep working hard and the main thing is staying injury free. I don’t know how many players get to go but it’s going to be an absolute battle to be on that plane. But you know, as I’ve said previously, we’ve such great character and camaraderie within the squad, although it will be hard if you’re not on that plane, it is what it is, and we’ll back the girls who go all the best.”

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