Vera Pauw and Megan Connolly during Sunday's press conference at Brisbane Stadium. Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Press Conference

Ireland target Nigeria win as Pauw's future the focus on eve of World Cup exit

Manager believes she should have certainty on contract situation.

IRELAND’S PRE-MATCH PRESS conference was only ever going one way.

It started routinely: injury news, questions and answers about Nigeria and the importance of finishing their first-ever World Cup campaign on a high.

Then, the inevitable: Vera Pauw’s future.

Tomorrow’s game at Brisbane Stadium [KO 11am Irish / 8pm local time, live on RTÉ Two] could well be her last in charge.

The manager has repeatedly said she wants to remain at the helm when her contract expires after the tournament, and discussed the situation in a sit-down interview with the Irish written media in Brisbane on Saturday. The four players also up for press — Louise Quinn, Lucy Quinn, Lily Agg and Kyra Carusa — would not be drawn on Pauw’s future.

While the Dutchwoman did not directly answer the question on Saturday, RTÉ’s Tony O’Donoghue asked whether she should have certainty on her contractual situation in Sunday’s Fifa-controlled presser.

“Yes,” Pauw responded.

“I said what I said. The situation has not changed.”

Asked if she feels she has the backing of her players and the importance of that, the manager added:

“I think we have a fantastic bond in our team and that has shown all over the four years. We have a fantastic game tomorrow to play, Nigeria are ranked 52 (they are 40th) but we all agree now that they are so, so strong.

“Physically strong, skilful, extremely fast so there is a huge task on our plate, I want to concentrate on that game because it is crucial for us, for our feeling, for our pride and for the tournament.”

Megan Connolly sat beside Pauw, who repeatedly thanked the FAI and Fifa before her immediate future came into focus amidst the pre-match formalities.

“Is it unfair that the players are being asked about their view of the manager’s future?” was the question put to the midfielder-turned-centre back.

“I can’t really speak personally on that,” she responded. “It is not my decision. What we have achieved in the past two, three years under Vera has been amazing. She helped us get to this point and I can only speak on my own personal experience and Vera has been great for me. But that is not my decision.”

Connolly was also asked about the preparations and build-up to the tournament.

“I think the build up to this tournament, our preparations allowed us to compete. This is our first World Cup so I am sure we can all learn from this and be better in the future both on and off the pitch. But I think the FAI have been great in the build up. We will learn a lot as players and as an FAI but I think a lot of the players have been happy with how we have prepared.”

heather-payne Heather Payne in training yesterday. Ryan Byrne / INPHO Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

Meanwhile, Heather Payne remains the only injury concern for Ireland as Pauw plans to play her strongest XI. Payne struggled with a tight hamstring in the build-up to last week’s 2-1 defeat to Canada in Perth, and was forced out of the fixture in the warm-up.

“We think Heather might be okay, think she might be able to play and there are no other doubts,” Pauw said. “If there is changes to play, the game-plan is set and we are going to put the dots on the Is today.”

The hope is to show “tenacity” tomorrow, Pauw explained. “This team can rise to any occasion and the bigger the challenge, the better we are. And this is a hugely important but also a very difficult game because the outcome of the game does not change our flight back. But the team is so determined to finish off with the best game ever. I am very confident that we can put that on the pitch. We owe it to ourselves, to the Association, who has put a lot of effort and resources into our preparation, to the fans, who came over in thousands and the whole country in Ireland, that we put everything in.

“But we also owe the tournament, because this game has a big impact on the follow-up for the group so we feel a big responsibility for that and in that for Fifa, who has put so much resources into this tournament but also individually what they have made available for us. So we feel the responsibility so we will do our duty for it.

“Our goal doesn’t change from the start,” Connolly added. “We want to come away from this tournament with the win. I think to date we have shown that we deserve to be here.

“Obviously as a team and as a nation, we wanted to come out with a bit more but I know we’ve made everyone proud and as I said, our goal doesn’t change. We want to come away with a win.”

A homecoming is due to take place in Dublin City centre on Thursday evening.

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