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Dublin: 12°C Thursday 15 April 2021
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'Now we set the standards' - Ireland boss keen to move on from 'tracksuit-gate'

After the events of this past week, Colin Bell has stressed that there is nothing he can do about what went on before he took the job.

Bell took training in Dublin earlier today.
Bell took training in Dublin earlier today.

IN THE TWO short months since Colin Bell was named manager of the Ireland women’s team, this past week has certainly been the most eventful.

Having taken the job at the beginning of February, the Englishman met his squad for the first time ahead of last month’s Cyprus Cup.

An encouraging start to life under the former FFC Frankfurt boss saw the Girls in Green earn a fourth-place finish in that competition and the aim would have been to build on those performances in a friendly against Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium this coming Monday.

However, some doubt was cast over whether that game would be played when 14 members of the squad held a press conference with the Professional Footballers Association of Ireland (PFAI) and Siptu earlier this week.

The team outlined the “humiliating” working conditions they are expected to perform in and expressed their frustrations at the FAI’s refusal to engage in meaningful negotiations.

Wednesday’s training was boycotted but, after mediation talks dragged on into the early hours of Thursday, an agreement was eventually reached between the two sides. After taking a session with the squad this afternoon, the Ireland boss spoke to the media for the first time since the issues have been ironed out.

It’s important that everybody came together and the conditions have been solved,” Bell said.

“New conditions have been offered and they have been accepted, which is great. The girls can move forward and concentrate on the most important thing, which is winning games and qualifying for tournaments.

“There’s been a lot of press and the girls have been covered a lot over the last few days. So now what’s going to happen on the pitch? That’s what I want to concentrate on.

“This has put focus on the women’s national team, which is good, but the girls also have to know that they are in focus.

“When you’re on the pitch playing football, you’re not thinking about conditions or situations that may be difficult off the pitch. You’re thinking about the opponent and your team.

“For me, that’s what it’s all about. I don’t like excuses and hiding behind things. Now the conditions have been sorted out, we set the standards. They will be set by me, nobody else.”

Ireland players with Colin Bell The Ireland boss with his players. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Bell added that his role has been to bring the players and the FAI together and stressed on a number of times that he cannot speak about what went on before his time.

“That’s a question you have to ask the girls,” he replied, when quizzed about whether he thought the team had been treated well. “I had nothing to do with the process before so I will not comment on it. I don’t know if they felt they have been treated fairly or unfairly.”

He went on: “Please don’t forget, I only had one day with them before we went to Cyprus. I got to know the majority of the girls in Cyprus so we just concentrated on football.

“There are a few little things that needed to be changed, I was aware of one or two things and I also picked up on others.

“What my predecessor has done in the past doesn’t interest me. What interests me is that the foundations have been laid and I have a team to take over but these issues didn’t come up in Cyprus.

“I’ve only been in the door five minutes and I need to get sorted out first. The important thing for me is to get to know the girls and that’s what Cyprus was about. Please stop asking about what happened before my time. I haven’t a clue.”

Bell, who took over from the FAI’s new head of women’s football Sue Ronan, also pointed out that he had been treated extremely well by both the FAI and the players since his arrival.

His contribution over the past week was not to take sides but unite them, he explained:

“Both parties had my support. We came together and talked about the situations that had to be solved. That was my role in this — to support what we want together, which is to be able to compete at international level and one day qualify for a tournament.”

Colin Bell Speaking to the media at FAI HQ. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

It has been a turbulent period for all involved, but the squad members were in good spirits as they trained at the FAI’s National Training Campus — laughing and joking during the warm-up — and the management team are now eager to concentrate on matters on the field.

After Monday’s meeting with Slovakia (2pm kick-off), attention will turn to the 2019 World Cup draw, which takes place in Nyon on 25 April.

There are friendlies pencilled in against Iceland (8 June) and Scotland (7 July) before a new qualifying campaign kicks off in September.

I want to get the focus back on football, that’s why we’re here,” stated Bell. “Everybody has come together to improve the conditions and the girls are happy so that’s a great base to work off.

“Now it’s just a question of finding a pool of players that is capable of winning matches. We have the squad here together, we have games coming up in June and July, and we also have a good young players coming through.

“I’ve seen the U19s, we had three players with us in Cyprus (Roma McLaughlin, Amanda McQuillan and Leanne Kiernan) and they will definitely be coming into the squad for the next games. We have some really good talent at U17 and these girls will be pushing too.

“There will be good competition for places with young girls coming through and the ones that are here now will have to play for places. The standards will be set by the head coach, which is me.

“I said to the girls this morning before we started training that it’s a great time to be here. I’m really looking forward to that and the girls are up for it.”

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Ben Blake

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