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The importance of home-based sessions, training with boys and the Sweden showdown

‘It brings us together as a whole nation.’

File pic of Vera Pauw with her Ireland players at training.
File pic of Vera Pauw with her Ireland players at training.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

VERA PAUW NAMED her Republic of Ireland squad for the upcoming 2023 World Cup qualifier against heavyweights Sweden yesterday.

But before any last-minute decisions were made and the 27 players were finalised, she oversaw a training session for home-based players at FAI HQ, Abbotstown, the previous evening.

The Dutch coach went on to name six current Women’s National League players in her squad — Chloe Mustaki, Abbie Larkin, Jess Ziu (all Shelbourne), Áine O’Gorman (Peamount United), Ellen Molloy (Wexford Youths) and goalkeeper Eve Badana (DLR Waves) — all of whom were in attendance on Wednesday.

They were among the big names in the domestic league put through their paces and offered the chance to impress, along with some of the country’s top underage internationals.

Pauw, her assistant coach Tom Elmes and goalkeeping coach Jan Willem van Ede, and U19 manager Dave Connell, were among those in charge of proceedings, the day after James Scott’s U17s — whom the aforementioned Larkin captained, and hence sat out — saw their campaign come to a close.

The aim is to run these home-based sessions once a month, and while that’s not always possible with how international windows fall, they appear hugely beneficial.

Not only do all players avail of the top resources at international senior level eg. stat work, the alignment of the age-grades is a massive boost.

“When I used to do home-based sessions back with [former manager] Colin Bell, you’d never see an underage player. Well maybe four or five, but now it’s unbelievable seeing the U16s, U17s, U19s,” Ziu tells The42.

“I think it kind of brings us together too as a whole nation because 16s, 17s, 19s are all going to be progressing into the women’s team eventually. So I think it is really good.

“I think the sessions are really beneficial too. They’re a bit more intense than a club session because everyone wants to obviously prove their points. So hopefully we have more to come.”

Before players went their separate ways on Wednesday night, Pauw hammered home her well-documented advice to train with boys.

It’s something she has spoken about time and time again through the years, and has often organised fixtures for her side against underage boys teams. In fact, they’ll use one to “try out a few things” before travelling to Gothenburg for the 12 April clash with Group A’s runaway leaders.

Ziu, who recently agreed a deal to join West Ham this summer, is a big believer in training with, and playing against, boys, having done so for her whole underage career with Rivermount.

“No matter how fit you are as a female,” the 19-year-old explains, “the boys… we could be eating healthy for years and the boys could eat takeaways and they’re just quicker than us, stronger than us, they’re just boys! So I think playing with them really is beneficial.

“I think you can see the difference of a few — Abbie Larkin, she plays with the boys and look how unbelievable she is at 16, two caps, U17s captain. She’s good, she is, and you can see the difference. Training with the boys is very beneficial.”

The vast majority of Girls In Green regulars are based overseas, and wrapping up club commitments before the international break. There’s a full round of WNL games this weekend, too, with all players due to report for camp on Tuesday.

Gothenburg’s 18,000-capacity Gamla Ullevi [KO 5.30pm Irish time] hosts the clash then on Tuesday week.

The Swedes — the top-ranked side in Europe and second in the Fifa world rankings, with Ireland having just moved up to 30th — face group minnows Georgia away five days before the visit of Pauw’s side.

“First we will tackle the away meeting with Georgia with full focus on bringing a good result home to Gothenburg and the meeting with Ireland,” manager Peter Gerhardsson said as he announced his squad this week; his side also preparing for this summer’s European Championships, having won Olympic silver last year.

“Then we have everything in our own hands and can secure a place for the 2023 World Cup in front of our home supporters.”

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jess-ziu-with-mariam-danelia Jess Ziu facing Georgia earlier in the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

Ireland will focus on themselves, as they sit second in Group A with seven points from four games.

They’re one point clear of Finland in the race for the runners-up spot — the route to the play-offs — with a massive September double-header against them and Slovakia to come.

But it’s all about Sweden now.

“I think being underdogs coming into it, there is no pressure on us,” Ziu noted. “You seen the 21s beating them [this week], it’s possible. I don’t see why it’s not possible.

“The girls have been unbelievable the past few camps, the results we’re getting are really good. I think that Spain camp helped us massively. Everyone got game time. We really did touch on a few areas that needed fixed or bettered. So I think everyone’s coming into this camp buzzing.

“Underdogs, so we have nothing to lose really against them. They’ve probably got more to lose than us.”

Ireland’s 2019 World Cup qualifying 0-0 draw with The Netherlands in Nijmegen has been referenced through the build-up, as a massive result was secured in a cauldron atmosphere, and Ziu is keen to strive for even more down the line.

“I remember seeing pictures, it was orange everywhere,” she added. “0-0, the way we were celebrating, I hope in the future we can get to the stage where we’re winning 1-0 and celebrating like that – and a draw isn’t good enough anymore.

“We’re getting there slowly — like the men’s team, we’re getting there slowly, but still getting there, you know?”

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