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Dublin: 17°C Sunday 13 June 2021

'The fighting spirit of these players brought the win' - Pauw's 'special' first night in charge

Ireland got The Vera Era underway with a hard-fought 3-2 Euro 2021 qualifier win over Ukraine last night.

A WINNING START to life as Ireland manager, and you could clearly see just how happy Vera Pauw was afterwards.

Vera P Vera Pauw celebrating at the final whistle. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

It may not have been the most straightforward victory in front of a record crowd at Tallaght Stadium as the Girls in Green surrendered a two-goal lead, but recovered to seal all three points in a crucial Euro 2021 qualifier against Ukraine

5,328 watched on as captain Katie McCabe and the brilliant Rianna Jarrett put Ireland comfortably 2-0 up with 28 minutes on the clock, but by half time, second seeds Ukraine had levelled matters once again after capitalising on defensive and goalkeeping errors.

An own goal then in the 52nd minute — after yet another expert long throw from Megan Campbell, trojan work from Jarrett and Denise O’Sullivan’s shot in the scramble — put Ireland back in front. And they held on for a major scalp in Group I.

The outpour of emotion at the final whistle said it all. A really hard-fought win to maintain their 100% start to this campaign as they go in search of reaching a first-ever major tournament in England 2021.

And Pauw triumphantly bounced into the media room afterwards, proudly wearing an Irish scarf as she spoke openly, and in great detail, for 24 minutes.

“It’s absolutely amazing,” the Dutch coach smiled when asked for her immediate reaction. “It was very tense. We started the game extremely well and we had them under control constantly.

“And those goals… what a week of teamwork can do, eh? Amazing. Amazing.”

The 56-year-old was appointed after the 2-0 opening win against group minnows Montenegro with just this camp to oversee, so has had a very limited amount of time to work with her new side.

A special mention comes next for the player who stole the headlines last night; the Wexford Youths star who was so instrumental in all three goals, one of those her first on the international stage.

“We did not know that Rianna was capable of this but we believed in her and we trusted her,” Pauw continued of Jarrett, whose feat is made all the more remarkable considering the 25-year-old has battled back from three ACL injuries over a five-year period.

rianna-jarrett-celebrates-scoring-her-sides-second-goal It was a memorable night for Jarrett (12). Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

Yes, three.

“But she didn’t know that herself either, she said. After the game, I said to her, ‘Did you know that you could blast it and do this?’ She said no.

“The discipline of the team and the fighting spirit of these players brought us to win in the end. That is why everyone was so happy, including myself. We were there to win.”

“Is it?” Pauw asked in surprise when later informed that it was Jarrett’s first international goal. “Well it’s amazing what she picks up in one week. It shows that the programme helps players to get fresh and get ready for the game.” 

Then her focus switches to another of her players who got a few mentions throughout, but not so much in the positive light of Jarrett.

Pauw continued on number one, Marie Hourihan: “People will see the mistake of our goalkeeper, Marie, for the first goal and then the mistake for the second goal, but the world [class] save that she made at the end that brought us the win, I hope everybody sees that also.

“Mistakes are part of the game and the fact that she could pick herself up at the end and make that save was phenomenal. At the end of the game, it was defending the win. That was all planned.”

She’s not afraid to say it how it is, anyway. 

“The team needs experience. You could see when the pressure went up, the composure disappeared because in the end it was just long balls forward, and that was not the plan. They were probably so tense and afraid of giving the ball away under the pressure of Ukraine.

“Don’t underestimate the quality of the Ukraine strikers; they are very, very dangerous. Their forwards brought us problems, we could constantly feel the pressure,” she said of the side ranked joint 25th in the world, seven places above Ireland.

“I think in the second half we started again to dominate the play. They finished the game with five strikers so it was just a matter of keeping them away from the goal. If we were under pressure, we had planned to bring players back. And the discipline at the end was what brought the win. The fighting spirit of these players.”

vera-pauw-celebrates-after-the-game-with-leanne-kiernan With Leanne Kiernan after the game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

While it’s clear she’d rather talk about her team, it’s interesting to hear how it all was for her. From her point of view. The day itself, the build-up, the warm-up, the anthems, the atmosphere, and of course, the game itself.

“Special,” Pauw responds without hesitation. “It was very special, especially because this team and this staff is so phenomenal.

“I’ve never had — and I mean that — I’ve never started in such a professional way as now. I don’t need to see everything, I don’t need to check everything because everything is done.”

“As a coach, you focus on what’s happening on the pitch,” she continues, when the rollercoaster nature of the game is put to her again.

“Of course, the two goals against, they were very disappointing. You feel you’re giving it away, and couldn’t get a grip on the game anymore because of that. That is just a shame because we were playing so well.

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“That is the experience that needs to come in. And that is my job, to get that structure back in. As the game goes on, the tension goes up. But you need to keep your emotions away and analyse constantly what is necessary: what moment do you bring Niamh [Fahey] into the backline? What moment do you need to swap players?”

With Greece away on 12 November next on the cards, Ireland and dominant table toppers Germany are the only two in the group with points. The latter beat Montenegro 10-0, Ukraine 8-0 both at home and away, and Greece 5-0.

So just how crucial was that result tonight, with the race for second place on?

“The group is built in a way that winning this game means if we win [against] Greece and Montenegro, which normally we are capable of and we are going to fully concentrate on. Even if it’s only 1-0, to get that win…

“Then it comes back to the away game against Ukraine — it could be that even with one point we don’t even have to play the play-offs. By then we know much better what to do. Against Germany, we need to keep the score down, of course. Maybe steal a point.”

(The group winners and the three best runners-up will join hosts England in the final tournament, with the other six runners-up playing off in October 2020 for three spots.)

a-view-of-a-fan-after-the-game A fan with a sign for star midfielder Denise O'Sullivan. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

A word for the crowd, to finish. The record-breaking attendance of 5,328 fell well short of what it could have been with 8,000 tickets sold or claimed for the fixture, according to the FAI, but the 5,328 present made themselves heard loud and clear.

The droves of adoring kids made sure they kept shouting their heroes on through the more difficult periods, and that was absolutely vital in the end.

“It was good that when we were under pressure and had difficult moments, the crowd was really behind us,” Pauw concluded. “It’s amazing when you hear young girls being so energetic for their heroes, so happy to see those players and be with them, and cheer them on.

“That is fantastic. It’s much broader than a game. Women’s football is, in many countries, much broader. You’ve got Gaelic football but most countries do not have something like that.

“Whether it’s Gaelic, whether it’s football, it’s so good that players have heroes, that they know what they can do. They can do so much more than they think they can.”

Under Pauw, it appears Ireland can too.

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Emma Duffy

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