Super sub Barrett Ireland's hero as World Cup qualification dream lives on

Her 87th-minute winner proved decisive at Tallaght Stadium.

Amber Barrett and Leanne Kiernan grabbed the goals.
Amber Barrett and Leanne Kiernan grabbed the goals.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Ireland 2

Slovakia 1

Emma Duffy reports from Tallaght Stadium

IRELAND WOMEN’S DREAM of reaching a first-ever major tournament lives on after a late show at Tallaght Stadium saw them beat Slovakia 2-1.

Amber Barrett proved the hero on the evening as her 87th-minute stunner from the bench sealed the 2019 World Cup qualifier win. Ireland now prepare to host The Netherlands at the same venue on Tuesday evening.

Teenage sensation Leanne Kiernan had put the hosts 1-0 up in the second half, but Slovakia struck back just two minutes later to leave for a nervy close to proceedings.

But Barrett’s first international goal came at the perfect time to keep the dream alive, sending the majority of the 3,521 spectators into raptures.

Unbeaten after three away games in Group 3, Colin Bell’s side came into their first home clash of the campaign hoping to back up wins over Northern Ireland and Slovakia and, of course, that huge 0-0 draw against European champions Holland.

Without key players Stephanie Roche, Megan Campbell, Harriet Scott and Tyler Toland – all sidelined through injury – Ireland were forced to change things up with the starting XI.

They made two changes from that memorable November night in Nijmegan: Florida State University’s Megan Connolly and Celtic striker Ruesha Littlejohn both started.

Slovakia, meanwhile – the basement side on zero points after some heavy defeats – were hoping to kickstart their campaign.

It was a slow but controlled start to proceedings at Tallaght Stadium from the hosts, dominating possession from the get-go and comfortably playing the ball around as the sun beamed down.

Early doors saw Ireland with some chances but more often than not, crosses succumbed to nothing. With nine minutes on the clock, Denise O’Sullivan intercepted and cleverly played Leanne Kiernan into the box but Maria Korenciová did enough to keep it out.

Leanne Kiernan celebrates scoring her sides first goal with Katie McCabe Leanne Kiernan celebrates her goal with Katie McCabe. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The Slovakia goalkeeper, who plays her club football with SC Freiburg in Germany, was called on numerous times in the moments that followed, with set-pieces whipped in from the boot of captain Katie McCabe and Megan Connolly kept at bay.

Ireland’s other two main chances of the first half fell to McCabe. Her headed effort off the back of a Sophie Perry cross in the 24th minute sailed over the bar, before she had another opportunity shortly before the break.

A goal kick landed in her path before her shot-cum-cross floated wide of the far post, with the on-rushing Kiernan narrowly missing the connection.

In the opening exchanges of the second period, it was the visitors who looked the brighter of the two sides. Standout player Dominika Skovánková, who threatened once or twice on the attack in the first half, continued to do so with Patricia Hmírová also stepping up to the mark.

52 minutes in, boos rang around the stadium as McCabe went down in the box but penalty calls were waved away by referee Simona Ghisletta.

It turned into more of a tit-for-tat battle in the second half, with both defences asked to up the ante as the chances came thick and fast. Ireland keeper Marie Hourihan was called on in the 64th minute, where she comfortably dealt with Skovánková’s effort.

The deadlock was broken in the 69th minute by Kiernan, who excellently beat her player to turn and run at goal, burying the ball in the back of the net to give Ireland the dream lead.

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But that was cancelled out two minutes later at the other end, Jana Vojtekova finding the back of the net after a mix-up between Hourihan and her defence.

Kiernan had a golden opportunity to make it 2-1 after being played in by McCabe, but her shot went high and over the bar. As Ireland went in desperate search of a winner, Slovakia persisted at the other end.

It looked like it wasn’t to be for Bell’s charges until super-sub Amber Barrett powered home in the 87th minute to keep the 2019 World Cup qualification dream alive.

Player of the Match Karen Duggan played the ball over the top before the Donegal native controlled it and blasted into the Slovakia goal despite Korenciová’s fingertips connecting.

And Ireland held on, with Holland waiting anxiously on Tuesday.

IRELAND: Marie Hourihan; Sophie Perry, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell, Karen Duggan; Denise O’Sullivan, Niamh Fahey, Megan Connolly; Katie McCabe (c), Leanne Kiernan, Ruesha Littlejohn (Amber Barrett 78).

SLOVAKIA: Maria Korenciova; Lucia Susková, Patricia Fischerová, Diana Bartovicová, Jana Vojteková; Maria Mikolajova (Lucie Harsanyová, 89), Alexandra Biróová, Valentina Suslová; Patricia Hmírová, Dominika Skovánková (c); Martina Surnovská (Klaudia Fabová 82).

Referee: Simona Ghisletta

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Emma Duffy

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