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'It's about building morale and backing ourselves that little bit more that we can do it'

A winning start for Ireland on the road to England 2021 last night, but definitely not the most convincing performance.

A WINNING START and three points on the boards, but a win which wasn’t particularly convincing as Ireland opened their Euro 2021 qualifying campaign against group minnows Montenegro at Tallaght Stadium last night.

18-year-old Manchester City midfielder Tyler Toland and skipper Katie McCabe were on target with Tom O’Connor the interim manager at the helm as 3,423 watched on but the 2-0 result wasn’t exactly the goal-fest many had anticipated.

katie-mccabe-and-aleksandra-popovic Ireland captain Katie McCabe facing Aleksandra Popovic. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A good start, particularly with the clean sheet considered, but not exactly the dream one against Group I’s bottom seeds Montenegro. Top seeds Germany beat them 10-0 on Saturday, and followed that up with a huge 8-0 win over second seeds Ukraine before a ball was kicked in Dublin last night.

So a big result was needed as the bid to reach a first-ever major tournament begins again.

It was 9-0 and 5-0 the last two times these sides met in 2016, but Montenegro definitely came to park the bus last night. The Girls in Green dominated possession from start to finish but were left largely frustrated by Mirko Maric’s side.

“They defended really deep in those tight banks,” 23-year-old captain McCabe said afterwards.

“Look, we’ve done it before playing massive nations like the Netherlands and Norway so we know how frustrating it can be.

“I would have liked us to maybe break them down a little bit better than we did but for me, I was happy with the chances we created. If we weren’t creating chances then I’d have something to worry about. Maybe on another night we could have scored a few more. I think we did well with the task in hand. I’m just happy we got the three points.”

Limerick-born defender Claire O’Riordan added that Ireland met their objectives, and will focus in themselves rather than opposition teams like Germany.

“It was a little bit difficult out there,” she said. “Getting on the ball, we just wanted to make sure that we were securing possession.

“We definitely need to look at the game and analyse it, just be a little more confident that we can go forward. When we get forward we can hurt teams, and that’s what we’ll look to do going forward: improve the goal-scoring chances.

“If you don’t shoot, you don’t score and you see a brilliant strike from Tyler Toland in the middle of the park. She shot, she scored, it was brilliant. In the second half, we got the penalty and Katie made no mistake in putting that into the back of the net.

“It’s just about building morale and confidence, getting at teams and backing ourselves that little bit more that we can do it.”

marie-hourihan-gives-away-her-socks-after-the-game Goalkeeper Marie Hourihan with fans afterwards. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“It was just important for us to stay calm and not get frustrated,” Arsenal defender Louise Quinn added on the 90-plus minutes. “I think it’s going to be a brilliant learning game for us.

“We need to learn to be comfortable on the ball for that amount of time, for that much possession. For us to get those three points and learn a lot from the game, it’s very, very positive.”

There’s plenty to improve on and they know they need to be better going forward, but Ireland won’t get too worried about the Germans’ dream start to the campaign — or anyone else’s.

With ex-Dutch coach Vera Pauw now confirmed as the new manager and the squad set to be more settled for the visit of Ukraine next month, they’ll focus on themselves.

“Of course you look at the results of that and that just shows the quality of Germany,” McCabe continues when the 18 goals are put to her.

“We’re not going to underestimate anyone, that’s right down from the bottom seeds to the top seeds. We know we have to take each game as it comes.

“Obviously the scorelines, it shows how strong Germany are right now and have been in the past. We don’t play them until next year, it’s obviously Ukraine up first. All focus will be on that. They are up first and it will be a really tough game.”

Quinn added: “It’s 18 goals but for them, it’s still two wins. For us, it’s one out of one.

“We’re going to be pushing. By the end of November we want three out of three for ourselves. Of course you want to be able to put away those goals.

“Germany are a brilliant team and know how to play all different ways and break down those teams. I think even looking at the game, Montenegro were almost maybe more open against Germany than in our game. Fair play to them but there’s not going to be that sort of stuff when they play us.”

megan-connolly-and-dzenita-ramcilovic Megan Connolly on the ball last night. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

With players playing in different leagues all over the world, a big chunk plies their trade across the water in England. The Women’s Super League [WSL] kicks off this weekend, and those involved accepted that a lack of competitive minutes could have been a factor last night. 

For McCabe, it was her first competitive game of the new season, with her focus switching back to club commitments at Arsenal fairly swift.

“I’m looking forward to obviously analysing this game with the squad, but then getting back over to London to concentrate on what will be a tough game against West Ham,” the Dubliner said, with Champions League action against Fiorentina on 12 September.

“Another important game. I’m looking forward to playing all these big games. You want to be playing against the best and in the best leagues, Champions League is where you really want to test yourself. I’m looking forward to the next few weeks of football.”

Her clubmate Quinn echoed the excitement to get stuck in, while O’Riordan is gearing up for her second season of professional football in Germany with MSV Duisburg in the Frauen-Bundesliga.

“Last season because there was so much new for me; changing positions, changing teams, countries, making the step from amateur to professional; it was a big change,” the former Wexford Youths star concluded, “but now I’m in my second season of it.

“I really need to just crown it up and lay my mark, push on.”

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Emma Duffy

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