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'All we've spoken about is Slovakia' - Focus on Friday first as Ireland ride the crest of a wave

Denise O’Sullivan is relishing the challenge of back-to-back World Cup qualifiers in Tallaght.

IT’S FAIR TO say that Denise O’Sullivan can barely contain her excitement to get that green jersey on her back and take to the grass at Tallaght Stadium on Friday evening.

Denise O’Sullivan Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The Cork native is counting down the minutes until Ireland’s 5pm kick-off against Slovakia, as their quest to reach a first major tournament continues with a phase of crucial 2019 World Cup qualifiers.

“Very excited,” she grins, in conversation with The42.

“Honestly, I think we’ve been excited since the day we left the last camp really. Always, the players are excited to come back in. We’re up against two very tough teams. But we’re excited and we’re up for a challenge.”

European champions The Netherlands are waiting in the wings and they’ll hope to exert revenge next Tuesday night for that memorable 0-0 draw in Nijmegen before Christmas.

But it’s one step at a time. Their undivided attention is on the first job at hand.

“Honestly, since we’ve came in, all we’ve spoken about is Slovakia. That’s the main focus right now on the field, in ‘the classroom’ as they call it, where we do our video and stuff. The main focus is Slovakia. It’s going to be a challenge.

“They’re very good. They have a new coach so we have to go into the game prepared. We don’t know what they’re going to do. We have video of them but they might change things obviously with the new coach.”

O’Sullivan — who can shift seamlessly between midfield and striker roles — plies her trade with US outfit North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL).

Karren Duggan, Katie McCabe, Denise O'Sullivan, and Leanne Kiernan Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

The 23-year-old first arrived from Houston Dash midway through last season and signed a new deal in January.

“We’re two games into the season right now,” she explains. “We’re two out of two, two wins. Just played Saturday before I left, won that game and I’m getting game time.

“Very happy there,” she adds, but all involved would much rather talk international football considering the sheer magnitude of the coming days.

Unbeaten to date in the qualifiers, the upcoming 180 minutes of football could be the biggest for women’s football in Ireland, ever. And home support to witness that, and boost the side’s chances, is key.

“It’s really important for us really, that extra person. Just hearing them cheer you on and get behind you. If you’re having a bad game or a good game, just to hear them behind you and to know that they’re supporting you. We want to pay them back with a win, for sure.”

She adds, on the squad itself: “We’ve had a bit of bad luck with injuries; Steph (Roche), Megan Campbell and Harriet (Scott) as well.

“Getting Aine (O’Gorman) back was a great boost for us. She’s a very important player for us with a lot of experience so it’s good to have her back in the squad for sure.”

From speaking to players, it’s clear that there’s a real sense of confidence and belief within the squad. Colin Bell must be credited as a huge driving factor behind that.

Denise O'Sullivan and Colin Bell Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

As he said last week, ’I like to have that confidence in the way they play, the way players perform. At times, a little bit of arrogance but not complacency’.

He has instilled this mentality that Ireland are capable of beating anyone on their day, and O’Sullivan is first to testify that shared feeling within the fold.

“We’ve a great group of players. Everyone works hard when we’re in camp, we work hard for each other and Colin instilled that confidence in us. We’ve been unbeaten in the qualifiers since he’s came in.

“We’re confident right now but we just have to bring that confidence onto the field and get the three points on Friday.”

The focus is on Friday first.

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