'Ireland squad is probably the strongest it has ever been in terms of talent coming through'

We speak to Chelsea star Niamh Fahey and Glasgow City’s Clare Shine as they prepare to face Spain in Thursday’s Euro 2017 qualifier in Dublin.

Niamh Fahey with Adelina Engman Ireland defender Fahey with Adelina Engman of Finland back in September. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

AFTER LEADING CHELSEA to a first ever league and cup double in 2015, Ireland’s Niamh Fahey is determined to end the year on a high with a major international upset.

The 28-year-old, who is comfortable in defence or midfield, played her part in front of 30,000 fans at Wembley Stadium as the Blues claimed a 1-0 win in the Women’s FA Cup final in August.

Remarkably, it was the former Galway GAA star’s fifth time lifting the trophy having won it previously during a six-year spell at Arsenal.

Chelsea then went on to wrap up the Women’s Super League, England’s top division, with a 4-0 victory over Stephanie Roche’s Sunderland last month.

“Winning the first silverware for the club and getting a double was amazing as nobody would have thought we could do that,” Fahey told The42 this week.

“To go to Wembley for the first ever Women’s FA Cup final to be played there was a historic occasion and winning was something special. I couldn’t have asked for a better year.”

Unfortunately, European glory was a step to far for the London club as they bowed out of the Champions League at the last-16 stage last week — going down 4-1 on aggregate to two-time winners Wolfsburg.

“It was disappointing to be knocked out of the competition at this stage but we came up against a strong opponent and they were the better team so we can’t really have too much to be disappointed about.

“We’ve had a great season domestically so it is just something we will have to try on build on for next year.”

Soccer - Women's Super League - Chelsea Ladies v Sunderland Ladies - Wheatsheaf Park Fahey (second left) with Chelsea team-mates Laura Coombs, Rosella Ayane and Jodie Brett after clinching the FA Women's Super League last month. Source: Steve Paston

With the club season drawing to a close, Fahey met up with her international team-mates in Dublin this week ahead of Thursday’s Euro 2017 qualifier with Spain at Tallaght Stadium.

Finland came away from Shamrock Rovers’ home ground with a 2-0 victory in the campaign curtain-raiser back in September, when Sue Ronan’s girls were undone by a combination of bad luck and poor finishing.

However, there is a renewed sense of optimism in the camp thanks to last month’s 2-1 win away to Portugal.

“We didn’t get off to the best start and coming away with a loss at home could have been seen as a disaster but luckily we picked ourselves up and got ourselves a great win against Portugal so that sets us up nicely,” says Fahey.

“We were unlucky not to get something from that Finland game so we shouldn’t be afraid of going out there and getting a result as we are more than capable of doing that.

The win against Portugal has blown the group wide open in my opinion. We’ve moved on and hopefully we can kick on and get some more wins to secure that second place if not challenge Spain for first.”

While Finland are currently in the driving seat with two wins from two, top seeds Spain sit level with Ireland on three points having played one game less.

Fahey is under no illusions about the magnitude of the task at hand and accepts that a draw would be a respectable result against the nation ranked 18th in the world.

“With any top seeds in the group you’re going to settle for a result so we would take a draw. We’re not expected to get anything being a lower seed so it would be a big thing for us if we could take some points off them.

“We know the quality they have so we have to respect them as opponents but we won’t fear them and hopefully we can grab something.”

One of the more experience members of the squad, Fahey is confident about the future given the number of young girls stepping up to push for places in the senior team.

“I think the squad is probably the strongest it has ever been in terms of youth players and the talent coming through,” she added.

“Some were part of that U17 team that did really well and there are a few more that have filtered through.

“They are very good young players who have the potential to be top class. There is a good mix of youth and experience so it is a good time for us and hopefully we can capitalise on that.”

Clare Shine Ireland striker Clare Shine. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

One player who comes under that bracket is 20-year-old striker Clare Shine.

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The Cork native featured at the 2010 U17s European Championships as Ireland were beaten by Spain in the final, before representing the U19s at a major finals four years later as Dave Connell’s team went out to the Netherlands at the semi-final stage.

In May, the former Raheny United player made the switch to Glasgow City and she has since won the domestic treble in her first year in Scotland while also getting the opportunity to test herself in the Champions League.

It has been a positive experience for Shine, made considerably easier by the presence of international team-mate Denise O’Sullivan at the club.

“I’ve really enjoyed my first few months, especially as I had Denise there to help me settle in and make new friends. So it has gone really well.

“I grew up playing against Denise and we know each other from living in Cork and playing U17 and U19 together so it was great to have her there.

“It is a massive step up,” she adds. “I was out of the game for seven or eight months (with a broken leg) and I was coming back from injury.

“Glasgow is a good stepping stone for anyone who wants to go and play in England. For me personally it has been a great move.”

An undoubted talent, Shine has yet to make her senior bow for Ireland but she knows it is only a matter of time.

We’re not here to make up numbers, we’re here to qualify,” she says. “This will be a big test on Thursday but with the girls in the squad and the mood of the camp right now I hope it will go our way.

There is definitely places up for grabs and hopefully I can prove myself in the next couple of months and get my first cap. I’m just working hard so hopefully my day will come.

“Sue has been really positive towards my performances lately so I’ll take my chance when it comes.

Ireland play Spain in a Euro 2017 qualifier at Tallaght Stadium on Thursday. Kick-off is 2pm. 

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Ben Blake

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