Euro Vision

'People believe in us' - Unbeaten Ireland eyeing another special night as Greeks come to town

It’s a ‘must-win’ game in the Girls In Green’s bid to reach a first-ever major tournament.


katie-mccabe-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-first-goal-with-teammates Ireland star players Rianna Jarrett, Denise O'Sullivan and Katie McCabe. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

That’s what Vera Pauw’s Ireland need as they face Greece at Tallaght Stadium tonight [KO 7.15pm, live on RTÉ 2] in their Euro 2021 qualifier showdown. The bid to reach a first-ever major tournament roars on as Ireland remain unbeaten in Group I having played three games.

In their most recent outing, the Greeks rescued a last-gasp draw in Athens and understandably, it came as a huge anti-climax for the Girls In Green after wins over second seeds Ukraine and group minnows Montengro.

It almost felt like a loss.

But revenge is on the cards in Dublin tonight, as Ireland pick themselves up, dust themselves off and go in search of an all-important England 2021 qualification spot.

“We consider this a must-win game if we are to secure second place in the group,” Pauw says, as all-conquering Germany sit top of the table after their blistering start. “It’s crucial. If we draw, it’s not over but it becomes really difficult. 

I think that we’re well on our way. We’re going to do something a little bit different, we’ll see.

Having missed some key players for the away tie, the Dutch coach plans to bring a different attacking approach. Ireland are not a team to sit off, she notes, because they “become passive and don’t influence play, so the opposition take over.”

It’s about getting on the front foot early — as they have done in every game so far, and none more so than their huge win over Ukraine — but keeping the foot on the pedal. It’s expected captain Katie McCabe will start in her normal, more advanced position after reverting to left-back in Athens. 

When they play free, attacking football, Ireland can be a massive threat.

After her dream debut at Brighton & Hove Albion, star striker Rianna Jarrett should be “ready for at least 70 minutes, we’ll see if she plays longer,” as per Pauw, with recently-declared American-born forward Kyra Carusa making the matchday 23 (A knee injury ruled Leanne Kiernan out yesterday, while the absences of Megan Connolly and Jessica Ziu had already been confirmed.)

Jarrett, who hadn’t played since the FAI Cup final in November when she lined out for the Seagulls, was upbeat about a potential international return earlier this week.

vera-pauw Ireland manager Vera Pauw at training yesterday. Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO Brian Reilly-Troy / INPHO / INPHO

“I was itching to go,” she said after hitting a brace. “I scored nice and early, the 15th minute and that settled us down, and scored again 30 seconds after the break and we went from there. It was nice to get on the pitch, remember what it was like to play again, it’s been a long four months.

As a striker I go into every game backing myself to score. If you are a striker and don’t have that mindset there is something wrong, nothing has changed I know I have the capabilities to score. If I get myself into those positions, I back myself to put them away.

Carusa’s addition to the squad “doesn’t change my approach,” the former Wexford Youths star added, with Amber Barrett and Clare Shine two more on-form strikers in the matchday squad:

“For me, I love competition. It should bring out the best in you and that’s what I find. I’ll just keeping doing what I’m doing. We have that one goal of qualifying for the first major tournament. That doesn’t change when different personnel come in.

“The key thing is that the door is always open. If you’re doing well, there’s always an opportunity to come into the squad and the starting team. There is an option to showcase yourself. Each squad needs natural competition and there’s some fantastic players eligible for Ireland.”

Centurion Áine O’Gorman has come back into the set-up after reversing her retirement decision, and is in line to start in a full-back position in the absence of injured duo Megan Campbell — “she’s positive,” after surgery in London — and Keeva Keenan.

Typically a midfielder, the Wicklow native is happy to help the team in whatever capacity she’s required. Her comeback may have been a surprise to many, but not to skipper McCabe.

“Áine loves to play for her country, she loves football, she has 100 caps,” the Arsenal star said. “She is one of the veterans of the team. I learn a lot from her, I’ve played against her millions of times; Raheny-Peamount duals back in the day.

For us to have that real experience and quality coming back into the side, I was ecstatic. I was delighted with her decision to come back in. I’m delighted to have her. I seen her obviously for the first time the other day and it was like she never left.

“That’s Áine, she just fits in and is ready to go straight away.”

aine-ogorman Peamount United midfielder Áine O'Gorman is back in the fold. Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

Their preparation included a match against St Pat’s boys team for “resistance,” but it’s all eyes on the Thursday Night Lights of Tallaght now.

Another record attendance is expected — 5,328 watched the victory over Ukraine in October — with over 5,500 tickets snapped up already. Price increases and family package deals have worked well, and that’s encouraging for Pauw.

“People believe in us,” she smiled. “That’s so important because it gives us a boost.

You don’t know what will happen this week with the coronavirus and whether they’ll come or not, but the fact that people bought the tickets and packages to be there, that is so important for us.

“During the game, I hope that they will be loud and really boost us to another level, an even higher level than against Ukraine because that is what we will need.”

Another three points, and then on to Montenegro next week. That’s the challenge.

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