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Dublin: 7°C Sunday 7 March 2021

'This time last year, I can guarantee you that nobody knew who these three girls were'

Colin Bell says the recent transfers of Leanne Kiernan, Claire O’Riordan and Heather Payne are a positive sign for Irish football.

Claire O'Riordan recently made the move to Bundesliga side Duisburg.
Claire O'Riordan recently made the move to Bundesliga side Duisburg.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

WORLD CUP HOPES may have been extinguished in Norway last June, nonetheless the Irish camp are remaining optimistic as they prepare for their final qualifier against Northern Ireland at Tallaght Stadium on Friday.

Despite not qualifying, there have been plenty of positives to take from the campaign such as the creditable 0-0 draw away to reigning European champions Holland. Regardless of what happens on Friday, they will finish third in their group, having picked up 10 points thus far, leaving them ahead of the North and Slovakia, but behind the Dutch and the Norwegians.

Manager Colin Bell is satisfied that significant progress has been made since his appointment in February 2017, while there have been more positive signs for Irish football of late.

During the summer, three of the Irish team’s players completed moves from the Women’s National League to full-time football.

Teenage striker Leanne Kiernan joined West Ham United from Shelbourne, while defender Heather Payne also moved to England, going from Peamount United to Bristol City.

Meanwhile, defender Claire O’Riordan left Wexford Youths to link up with Bundesliga side MSV Duisberg.

“It’s an achievement for the clubs that they’re coming from and also the training that we’ve been doing with them that these three young players are now being recognised,” Bell tells The42.

“This time last year, I can guarantee you that nobody [outside of Ireland] knew who these three girls were.

“We’ve worked very hard with them, the clubs have worked hard with them, the girls have worked hard themselves and have that ambition to move on and go forward.

A player can’t go to England or Germany unless she really wants to. The player is always the driving force when these things happen, but obviously I’m encouraged and it’ll be interesting to see how the girls develop. In full-time, they will develop. They’ll increase their football knowledge and ability, which will then increase the quality of our national team.”

Both Kiernan and Payne are still only teenagers, with the latter missing the recent Norway qualifiers as she had to sit her Leaving Cert. And O’Riordan, at 23, is not much older than the pair. Bell says players would ideally wait until they are 18 at least to play in England, with education equally important to their footballing commitments.

“I think that’s very decisive in women’s football that the education is really going alongside the development of the player, which we’re looking into. We will increase these kind of things and it’s something all the clubs will be looking into in future.

“They could have co-operations with colleges and universities going forward. So they have that dual system of education and football. But if we want to compete, the girls need more quality training during the week whether they are in England, Germany or Ireland.”

Leanne KiernanSource: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The recent changes mean more than half the recently announced 18-woman squad ply their trade in England, with just seven Irish-based players. However, Bell says it is by no means essential in the long run for his players to be playing professional football.

"If a player wants to carry on playing in Wexford or wherever [in Ireland], that's fine, but they just have to make sure that they're getting up to the training intensity and training load that professional players are actually getting, which is possible of course. We are engaged with the clubs and the players on these terms. It's not for me that I have to send players out, I don't send players anywhere. It's a free choice that the players make."

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While their hopes of qualifying have ended, Bell still plans on playing his strongest team available on Friday night. 31-year-old Brighton and Hove Albion stopper Marie Hourihan has been forced to withdraw from the squad, after picking up an injury recently while training with her club. Reading WFC goalkeeper Grace Moloney has been called up as a replacement, and she is set to compete with Cork City's Amanda Budden for the number one spot, as Shels stopper Amanda McQuillan is also unavailable, after suffering a concussion while in action for her club recently.

Man City's Megan Campbell and Stephanie Roche, meanwhile, are long-term injury absentees.

As the campaign draws to its conclusion, Bell is confident his team are "getting closer" to world-class sides such as Norway and the Netherlands.

We can compete, but we're not able to get the game or the ball over the line. We had opportunities in Holland. We had poor decisions against Holland in Tallaght, where we conceded. And one or two half chances or situations where we didn't play through down the other end.

"The same with Norway, the home match in Tallaght against Norway was the poorest performance so far unfortunately. We made two poor mistakes that we conceded from. That was the difference. If we make a mistake, that quality Norway have, they will punish you.

"The Norwegians also made a few mistakes against us in Tallaght, definitely more than in Stavanger. But we didn't punish them for it. That's the difference. We have to raise the bar, our own quality, cut out the mistakes, make sure that we are concentrated in every situation, especially against the top teams, but also when the opportunity does arise that you can finish them off. It is a learning process in the next campaign for us.

"My first-ever interview that I gave in the press conference, [I said] the most important thing for us is that we can compete. We've proven that, but we want to finish it off now with a win."

Republic of Ireland WNT squad v Northern Ireland (Tallaght Stadium, kick-off: 5.30pm)

Goalkeepers: Grace Moloney (Reading), Amanda Budden (Cork City).

Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Diane Caldwell (SC Sand), Louise Quinn (Arsenal), Heather Payne (Bristol City), Claire O'Riordan (MSV Duisberg).

Midfielders: Tyler Toland (Maiden City), Karen Duggan (Peamount United), Denise O'Sullivan (NC Courage), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Isibeal Atkinson (Shelbourne Ladies).

Forwards: Rianna Jarrett (Wexford Youths), Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Leanne Kiernan (West Ham), Amber Barrett (Peamount United), Aine O'Gorman (Peamount United), Jessica Ziu (Shelbourne Ladies).

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About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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