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Dublin: 1°C Friday 7 May 2021
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'100%, I have full belief that we will qualify for this next tournament coming up'

Despite the failure to qualify for the World Cup, there was a feel-good factor about Ireland’s 4-0 win in Tallaght last night.

Michael D Higgins with The Republic of Ireland Women's team after last night's match.
Michael D Higgins with The Republic of Ireland Women's team after last night's match.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

AS DEAD RUBBERS go, it could not have gone much better.

Usually qualifying matches at the end of a campaign where neither side has anything other than pride to play for tend to be dreary, painstaking affairs.

Yet there was a vibrancy on show at Tallaght Stadium last night in the Irish team’s performance that was not exactly befitting of the occasion.

While the side’s hopes of reaching France 2019 may have ended in Norway last June, there remains a sense of optimism within the squad. As manager Colin Bell says: “It is development, so it’s not just a one-game thing or one-campaign thing. We have a larger vision.”

The fact that it is a very young squad, which includes five teenagers, probably helps. One of the players in question, Leanne Kiernan, epitomised this youthful enthusiasm with two very well-taken first-half goals to end the game as a contest after less than half an hour and leave Northern Ireland wilting.

“100%, I have full belief that we will qualify for this next tournament coming up,” player-of-the-match Kiernan says confidently afterwards, when asked about the 2021 Euros.

Another individual who made a big impression and also scored a brace was Katie McCabe. She is another youthful member of the squad at 22, but has sufficient leadership qualities to have been appointed team captain.

“We’re disappointed after the Norway camp not to be in with a chance to qualify,” she says. “What was important for us this week was to just get back to winning ways, back to having clean sheets behind us and scoring goals.” 

As well as the result, the style of football on display will have been pleasing to the Irish fans and coaching staff alike — with the latter working hard during the week to improve on this aspect of the game.

It’s something we’ve worked on during the week, playing more forward passes, getting forward, top-class players, the likes of Leanne up top, Denise getting in good positions,” McCabe says.

“I enjoyed playing in it tonight. It’s how we score goals, we’re getting more bodies forward.

“Getting the balls to me further up the park is important, you can get defenders turned and really put the other team under pressure. We did that against Northern Ireland tonight and obviously got the reward for it.”

Of Ireland’s 18 players named in the squad for this fixture, McCabe is one of 10 who play professionally, with Leanne Kiernan, Claire O’Riordan and Heather Payne all getting moves abroad from the Women’s National League recently. Moreover, youngsters like Jessica Ziu, Tyler Toland and Isibeal Atkinson certainly have the potential to follow suit in the not-too-distant future.

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, however, as McCabe initially discovered. Having made her name in Ireland as a gifted teenager with Raheny United, she moved to Arsenal in 2015. However, she struggled to get first-team football during those early days in London, before a loan move to Glasgow last year gave the Dubliner the minutes on the field she craved and a renewed vigour for the game. Since then, she has gone from strength to strength. With a new coach, Joe Montemurro, installed at the Gunners last November, McCabe won a place in the starting XI. Along with fellow Ireland international, Louise Quinn, she signed a new contract back in June, while she has started the season in promising fashion, scoring twice in last week’s win over West Ham

Starting the season well last week with two goals was really good,” she says. “I think I’ve carried that into tonight’s performance.”

McCabe also echoes the sentiments of others in predicting great things to come for this Irish side.

“We’ve come on a lot. We’ve found our feet and how we want to play. We’ve still to progress. We’ve a lot of improvements to make, but we’re heading in the right direction.”

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Paul Fennessy

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