Interim Ireland manager Eileen Gleeson with Amber Barrett. Tom Maher/INPHO

Amber Barrett omission underlines increasing competition in Ireland squad

Interim manager Eileen Gleeson is committed to blooding young players.

THAT AMBER BARRETT missed out on both of Ireland’s matchday squads for the Nations League double-header against Albania underlines the fierce competition in the set-up.

Interim manager Eileen Gleeson cited “football decisions” in the aftermath of Friday’s 5-1 rout at Tallaght Stadium, with Heather Payne and Lucy Quinn also absent from the 23.

The Hero of Hampden again watched from the stands last night in Shkodër as Denise O’Sullivan’s 88th-minute winner settled a chaotic game of two halves — and ultimately secured promotion to League A — with Megan Campbell and Claire O’Riordan similarly omitted.

“What they need to do is just between me and them,” Gleeson told the Irish media after last night’s 1-0 win.

“We have lots of competition now, football decisions will stay in between the squad and we have them chats between ourselves. Like I said, it’s all football decisions.”

And that’s without even considering an extensive injury list, as the depth chart grows.

Barrett, who scored the goal that sent Ireland to their first-ever World Cup last October, was a second-half substitute in Gleeson’s earlier games against Northern Ireland and Hungary, and has four goals in seven appearances at new club Standard Liege. But Kyra Carusa has established herself as the first-choice striker after a string of impressive performances, while Erin McLaughlin is also breaking through.

Gleeson has used 20 players through her four wins thus far. Eight players — Carusa, Courtney Brosnan, Caitlin Hayes, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell, Tyler Toland, Denise O’Sullivan and Katie McCabe — have started every game, with five playing the total number of minutes possible.

While not deviating far from her preferred XI, the FAI Head of Women and Girls’ Football has utilised her full compliment of five substitutes on three occasions, with rising trio Abbie Larkin (18), Izzy Atkinson (22) and McLaughlin (20) among those seeing increased opportunity — both from the bench and the outset.

izzy-atkinson-and-abbie-larkin Double act: Izzy Atkinson (left) and Abbie Larkin. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Gleeson appears to be favouring youth. Not afraid to make big calls, she’s committed to blooding young players on the international stage as the likes of Barrett and other seasoned squad members are excluded.

She makes it absolutely clear that nothing’s guaranteed, and no one’s entitled to a call-up or a start. While leaving players out is undoubtedly the toughest part of the gig, the competition for places is “super positive,” and ultimately driven by the up-and-coming stars.

“We want to be able to transition young players through, give them opportunities to express themselves,” the Dubliner explained. “This is the nature of football and the nature of life. We all get old, so you have to plan for that transition.

“These young players are coming through. The only way to give them experience is to give them minutes. I think they’re holding their own. If you make a mistake it’s not a big deal, you just go again. That’s what the girls are doing now for each other so it’s really positive for the staff to see.”

The FAI’s official injury list for the Albania camp was striking: Niamh Fahey, Aoife Mannion, Leanne Kiernan, Claire Walsh, Tara O’Hanlon, Roma McLaughlin and Jess Ziu.

Ruesha Littlejohn, Marissa Sheva, Savannah McCarthy, Éabha O’Mahony and Megan Walsh were also absent from the extended squad for the second double-header of the campaign, Littlejohn and Sheva previously playing major roles in 2023 under Vera Pauw.

There’s plenty others in the mix, too.

While nothing is nailed on, you can bet your bottom dollar that the majority of Gleeson’s eight regular starters will again be prominent in the December double-header against Hungary and Northern Ireland, and going forward into next year’s European Championship qualifiers.

But the new permanent manager could easily ring the changes to the XI and beyond.

Here’s the current breakdown.


Brosnan is the undisputed number one, having earned her 30th cap on Tuesday night. Grace Moloney appears second in line, with Megan Walsh and the uncapped Sophie Whitehouse alternating in the two squads. Naoisha McAloon and Katie Keane are among other back-up options.


louise-quinn-and-diane-caldwell-dejected-after-conceding-a-second-goal Louise Quinn (left) and Diane Caldwell. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Gleeson hasn’t strayed from Quinn, Caldwell and Fahey as her back three, but competition in this department is particularly high.

Niamh Fahey has endured an injury-blighted year, but the Liverpool captain will be looking to add to her 111 caps sooner rather than later as she returns from another calf setback, while Aoife Mannion will have similar ambitions after a flying start to her Ireland career under Pauw.

Megan Campbell is a left-sided alternative, with Claire O’Riordan, Hayley Nolan, Savannah McCarthy and Jessie Stapleton among those also looking to prove themselves.


Tyler Toland has been a mainstay in midfield through this new era, with Megan Connolly among those in and out as a result. Ruesha Littlejohn will hope to join Lily Agg in challenging imminently, with Sinead Farrelly and Jamie Finn offered valuable chances most recently. Ciara Grant has been absent since the World Cup.

Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan are non-negotiables, the former generally on the left wing but often deployed more centrally and the latter in the 10 of late.

While Ellen Molloy is also back in the picture centrally, fellow ACL returnee Jess Ziu should soon add further depth to the wide players. The 21-year-old is another who loves to go one-v-one, with Gleeson repeatedly praising Abbie Larkin, Izzy Atkinson and Heather Payne for that desire.

Akinson has been the ultimate bolter: from standby for the World Cup training squad and the initial Nations League panel to regular presence. It shows anything is possible.

Aside from herself and, of course, McCabe, Megan Campbell, Chloe Mustaki , Tara O’Hanlon and Éabha O’Mahony are also suited to left-wing back, with Marissa Sheva pushing to get back into contention with Payne and Larkin on the other side.


Kyra Carusa has been a mainstay in the front two, joined by McCabe, Erin McLaughlin and Lucy Quinn at different stages across the four games. Emily Whelan has been among the late subs. 

While Amber Barrett’s role has been bit part, to say the least, Saoirse Noonan is yet to feature under Gleeson despite her club goalscoring form. She has been on the bench three times, but hasn’t played.

Leanne Kiernan is closing in on her long-awaited full injury return, and she could add a different attacking threat and more flexibility going forward.

the-ireland-team The Ireland XI that started against Albania last night. Nikola Krstic / INPHO Nikola Krstic / INPHO / INPHO

Competition is fierce, and there’s several others not mentioned above putting their hands up elsewhere. Just look at the League of Ireland for example: McLaughlin has been the only domestic representative in the last two extended squads. Many more are worth a look.

It’s a headache for Gleeson and co., and whoever takes on the mantle next.

But it’s most definitely a welcome one.

Far from a bad complaint to have.

Players used through the 2023 Uefa Women’s Nations League

Current number of caps in brackets

  1. Courtney Brosnan (30)
  2. Caitlin Hayes (4)
  3. Louise Quinn (112)
  4. Diane Caldwell (101)
  5. Heather Payne (40)
  6. Megan Connolly (48)
  7. Tyler Toland (17)
  8. Denise O’Sullivan (109)
  9. Katie McCabe (80)
  10. Lucy Quinn (18)
  11. Kyra Carusa (19)
  12. Izzy Atkinson (11)
  13. Abbie Larkin (15)
  14. Lily Agg (12)
  15. Amber Barrett (39)
  16. Emily Whelan (9)
  17. Jamie Finn (18)
  18. Chloe Mustaki (7)
  19. Sinead Farrelly (7)
  20. Erin McLaughlin (3).
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