Ireland manager Vera Pauw and captain Katie McCabe (file pic). Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Pauw Patrol

'It will harm our game. Please solve it' - Ireland boss' latest passionate call for change

Vera Pauw and Katie McCabe reflect on the progress and pitfalls of women’s football of late.

VERA PAUW HAS called for change time and time again through her tenure as Republic of Ireland women’s national team manager.

Namely a major reshuffle to the calendar as imbalance and unfairness grow in the game.

We’ve seen so many extremely lopsided results of late, which have highlighted serious issues. Just two examples from Group A in this 2023 World Cup qualifying campaign so far: Ireland’s opponents tonight, Sweden, crushed Georgia 15-0 last week — “not fun,” as described by one of their stars, Kosovare Asllani — while the Girls In Green were 11-0 winners themselves against the minnows in November.

There’s major disparities across the board, and a severe lack of contact time and fixtures for some international teams.

Ireland included. 

Pauw has underlined that before, and used yesterday’s pre-match press conference to hammer her point home.

This evening’s World Cup qualifier at the Gamla Ullevi Stadium [KO 5.30pm Irish time, live on RTE Two] is her 20th game in charge — she’s overseen eight wins, two draws and nine defeats — and her reflections before the landmark occasion encapsulate the struggle.

“Two-and-a-half years in charge and 20 games,” Pauw said. “I am proud of it and it is fantastic but how many games did Sweden play in the last two-and-a-half years, 55 or so? Possibly. That says it all. Uefa I hope you are listening.” 

“I am really really proud,” she continued. “We are all proud, the players, the staff, that in every single game we became a better team under these circumstances. That shows the talent and the determination we have in the squad and it is so contagious for us staff that we give our all to them.

“We are growing even though we only played 20 games in two-and-a-half years.”

Earlier in the press conference, Pauw was asked by a Swedish journalist if there had been any developments on her calls for change and suggestions to play international games during Champions League windows. 

She has often aired her concerns that Uefa and Fifa are not taking care of the second-tier nations in the women’s game; most recently after Ireland’s record-win over Georgia.

“I heard Alexander Ceferin say something about it, that they need to look into more opportunities for the second level,” the Dutch coach began yesterday, launching another passionate argument for change. “The key problem is we put so much money into the top, it is driving away from us. I did not expect it so quickly.

“Those figures are so big recently — 15-0 and 20-0 and even us, 11-0 against Georgia, and that is something that should worry Uefa and Fifa. The key reason is they’ve put money into the top and brought down the number of international games is to create space for the clubs. But realistically, the second level have clubs that won’t go into the group stages.

“That means that one club has two (European) games early in the season in August and that is it all year. We have handed in in six international games and camps for that, and nobody has taken care of that. That is why I had a call with Nadine Kessler (Uefa head of women’s football) about that and she said nobody had ever mentioned that to her. I was a bit surprised because all the second level countries deal with this.

“It is so simple to solve. Open the Champions League weeks up for the second level so that you can play, with the only restriction being you cannot play the players playing in the Champions League every week.

It’s very simple. Just open it so we can play and you can make steps up. All the Irish-based players have only six camps in the year and they have to catch up with players who are playing at that level every week. Something needs to be done about it. I’ve offered to go over (to Uefa) to discuss it. We will see what happens, but I really feel that for women’s football, it’s crucial that something needs to be done to close that gap because otherwise, soon people get bored with the top [level] also and it will harm our game.”

“Nobody takes care of the countries just under the top,” she added. “That needs to be done. It’s so simple to solve it, so please solve it.”

While these issues have perhaps stunted the progression of women’s football in ways, huge strides have still been made. Both on and off the field.

Captain Katie McCabe, sitting beside Pauw, can certainly vouch for that.

The Arsenal star made her Ireland debut in 2015, and has experienced a roller-coaster journey since then: highs, lows, near misses and a stand-off with the FAI in a quest for better conditions. 

There have been drastic changes on an Irish front recently, perhaps best captured by the historic, slick Sky advertisement in Dublin Airport, the same place they were forced to change into and out of tracksuits in the toilets on international duty.

I came in at a real pivotal time,” McCabe reflects. “We had some great leaders in the team when I first came in. Obviously Emma Byrne being our captain at the time.

“The last few years we have had some big moments but where we are now, I think it is a real credit to all the players who fought for everything really for women’s football in Ireland. For us now, the current generation, we need to keep fighting, we need to progress the game at international level and in our league. I still keep an eye on the Women’s National League even though I am in London.

“For us to get better as an international team we have to look after our own league and support it.”

It’s undoubtedly the most exciting period in her involvement thus far, as the Girls In Green look to build on recent progress and qualify for their first-ever major tournament.

“It’s up to us now to do our job on the pitch,” McCabe concluded.

“We got great support from the FAI, there is no chaos behind the scenes, or anything like that where maybe there was a few years ago. It is just up to us to fully focus on what we have to do on the pitch. It starts tomorrow night and goes right through to September when the campaign ends.”

In the final episode of the series, The Front Row – The42’s new rugby podcast in partnership with Guinness – welcomes comedian Killian Sundermann in to studio. The online funnyman fills us in on his schools rugby days, gaining recognition during the pandemic, making his stand-up debut and travelling around Europe in a van. Click here to subscribe or listen below:

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