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'It's not all about the here and now, but growing as a squad' - new-look Ireland aim to win

Vera Pauw’s Girls In Green face Russia in the Pinatar Cup semi-final this evening.

A general view of Ireland warming up ahead of their Pinatar Cup opener.
A general view of Ireland warming up ahead of their Pinatar Cup opener.
Image: Martin Seras Lima/INPHO

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland women’s national team may be one game away from reaching the Pinatar Cup final, but this tournament is all about the bigger picture.

Heavy squad rotation had been expected after the 2-1 come-from-behind win over Poland, but that Vera Pauw will field “a completely different team” against Russia in this evening’s semi-final [KO 7.30pm Irish time, live on FAI TV] affirms that player development is the focus in La Manga, Spain.

A new-look XI will be tried and tested, as preparations ramp up for the resumption of the 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign. Ireland’s bid to reach a first-ever major tournament kicks into gear once again with an important trip to all-conquering Sweden on 12 April.

Pauw isn’t calling tonight’s clash against Russia — who are ranked 25th in the world, six places ahead of Ireland — a semi-final, stressing that this is a friendly tournament with the positives, trials and tribulations learned across three run-outs and players getting game time the priority.

Wholesale changes could mean international debuts for Brighton & Hove Albion goalkeeper Megan Walsh, versatile Shelbourne star Chloe Mustaki and 16-year-old Reds talent Abbie Larkin.

Liverpool goal-scoring machine Leanne Kiernan and her returning clubmate Megan Campbell should also get international minutes under their belts after a few stop-start years.

“No matter who’s on the pitch, the principles remain the same,” injury-plagued Campbell said earlier this week, as she set her sights on a long awaited 43rd cap.

“The goal is obviously to win the game. You want to win every game for your country. The emphasis is on winning it.

“We obviously know that Russia will be a threat. They’ll also be a physical side like Poland, but we’re just going into it with our own confidence and focusing on ourselves, what we can do and what we can get out of this camp because at the end of the day, it is a friendly tournament.

“So we are learning and growing as a team. It’s not all about the here and now and the competition in this game, but growing as a squad.”

Versatile defender and long-throw specialist Campbell has most often watched that from the outside over the past two years, as serious ankle and knee injuries unfortunately meant her closest involvement came as an RTÉ pundit.

But being back in the thick of it has confirmed exponential growth.

“The progression since I was last in, we have come on leaps and bounds,” the Drogheda native pointed out.

“The professionalism within the girls has always been there in terms of fitness and the drive to be as good as possible when you come into camp with your national squad, but technically and tactically the girls are very far ahead now, compared to when I was in last.

“The younger ones coming up, the confidence to be on the ball when you are under pressure, that’s not really known to us previous to now. It’s good for the girls to be able to see that, even if you come up against good opposition, you can still play through it.

“We stick to the principles that Vera has instilled in us; be confident and you are taking risks, but it’s risk versus reward and if the reward comes off, you win games.”

Louise Quinn said after the Poland victory that this tournament is “a competition that we can do and win,” and Kiernan agrees that building momentum ahead of the Sweden showdown is key.

“Of course yeah. It’s obviously a good tournament to have a look at players. We’re going into the match, wanting to do well, and it’ll bring a lot of confidence into our next qualifying game against Sweden. We’ll see what happens.

“We went into the Poland game of the back of some really good results and we did well against them. Let’s hope we can keep it up. Everyone’s pretty confident. It’s always good when you’re winning.”

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There’s a unquestionable buzz in the group, both Campbell and Kiernan reported; “a chill vibe in the sun” bringing out the best in the Girls In Green.

As they bid to overcome the Russians – who defeated Hungary in a penalty shootout at the quarter-final stage – for the first time at the seventh attempt, they won’t lose sight of the bigger picture, though.

Sitting in a good position, second in Group A, with qualification for Australia and New Zealand 2023 the ultimate end goal.

“It’s incredible,” Campbell nods. “The result against Australia in the friendly and the next round of games, the last qualifying game we had it was incredible for us to come off the back of that camp with that massive result [11-0 against Georgia], that positivity and growth within the game.

“But it’s a big test against Sweden in April so to start off this tournament with a win, against Poland who are ranked above us, it’s great to see how far the team have come.

“It also gives us confidence to know that when we play against the higher-seeded teams, that we are well able to hold our own.”

More of the same tonight, so.

BTL 5

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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