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Dublin: 7°C Thursday 22 October 2020
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'That's the vision: to get to the Euros. We can do it, this is the time' - Ireland midfield maestro O'Sullivan

The dream of reaching a first-ever major tournament is well and truly alive.

“ABSOLUTELY NOT,” IRELAND star midfielder Denise O’Sullivan responds when she’s asked if the Girls In Green have done enough to nail down second place in their Euro 2021 qualifying group. “We’re not ready yet, we have a long way to go.”

diane-caldwell-celebrates-scoring-the-first-goal-with-denise-osullivan Denise O'Sullivan with Ireland goal-scoring hero Diane Caldwell. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

But the US-based sensation does believe that this is a special group of players that can make history, and become the first-ever Irish senior women’s team to reach a major tournament. 

“I think this is the time, to be honest. We have a mixture of youth and experience in there,” she smiles, with a nod to Áine O’Gorman coming out of retirement to win her 101st cap last week. “We have a good squad of players and they’re very hard working.

“That’s the vision: just to get to the Euros. I think we can do it, this is the time.”

O’Sullivan stands in the mixed zone just moments after a hard-fought 1-0 win over Group I rivals Greece at Tallaght Stadium. Delighted with the “badly-needed” three points, the Cork-born midfielder has just put in another outstanding shift, with everything Vera Pauw’s side do going through her. Consistently brilliant, brilliant consistently.

At the halfway point of group qualification, unbeaten Ireland are in second place. Germany — who are strong favourites to finish first — sit top, the Girls In Green are two points behind. More importantly, they’re six clear of the Greeks, and then there’s their other main challengers, Ukraine, who sit further back. 

A win over group minnows Montenegro — who Ireland beat 2-0 in their opener before Pauw took over — this week would power them top with a German double-header and big test against second seeds Ukraine yet to come, but above all else, it would put them in pole position to finish second (The group winners and three best second-placed sides qualify automatically, while the six other runners-up head for play-offs.)

denise-osullivan O'Sullivan facing Greece on Thursday night. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Understandably, O’Sullivan is keeping her feet firmly on the ground although there’s no denying that Ireland are on the front foot heading to Budva [Wednesday, 2.30pm, live on RTÉ 2].

“We’re in a very good position but we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves obviously,” she continued. “We’re not taking Montenegro lightly. They’re going to be a good team, they’ll be well organised.

“Ukraine are very good team as well. We ain’t going to take them lightly too, we beat them already but they’re a tough team. And then obviously, Germany are top guns. Our realistic position is to be second, but we’re still not done. We have a lot to go.”

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With Manchester City defender Megan Campbell and Brighton & Hove Albion midfielder Megan Connolly two “huge injury losses,” and Heather Payne the latest to join the list, Stephanie Roche and Shelbourne youngster Emily Whelan have come into the set-up for the Montenegro showdown.

O’Sullivan is pleased with the strength and depth of the squad — with fellow Cork native Clare Shine getting a mention after her international return as well as Donegal striker Amber Barrett — and is confident that Ireland can take their plentiful goal chances going forward.

“We just have to keep encouraging each other and backing each other as a team,” she added. “Montenegro are going to be compact, tight, hard to break down but I think we just have to stick to the game plan and take it as it comes, keep patient, move the ball quickly and once we do that, they’ll start to break up and we’ll score goals.

“It will be tough against them, but as I said, we’ll just go into the game confident, backing each other 100% and hopefully get the three points.”

soccer-nov-22-w-league-rd-2-western-sydney-women-v-newcastle-jets-women O'Sullivan plays her club football Stateside but starred for Sydney Wanderers in the off-season. Source: Speed Media

And not looking too far ahead, but what about a word on Germany? They face the European giants away in April, before a home tie in their final group game in September.

“Those are the games you want to play in,” the two-time NC Courage MVP beams.

“They’re absolutely fantastic games to play in against Germany, they’re a great team, they have world-class players and our team wants to play in big games like that. I think we’ll just take Montenegro next and see how it goes from there.”

Step by step, game by game.

A long way to go yet. 

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Emma Duffy

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