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Is Ireland boss Vera Pauw under pressure amidst winless run?

The Girls In Green have suffered seven defeats on the bounce, a streak stretching back to March 2020.

Vera Pauw speaking at the announcement of Sky as primary sponsors of the women's team last week.
Vera Pauw speaking at the announcement of Sky as primary sponsors of the women's team last week.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

TALK MAY BE heightening, but Ireland boss Vera Pauw insists she is not feeling the heat amidst her side’s winless run.

The Girls In Green have lost every game they’ve played since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, and halted football in March 2020. They’ve suffered seven defeats on the bounce since.

Pauw’s record reads three wins, one draw and seven defeats – albeit most were to higher-ranked opposition – from 11 games since she first took charge in October 2019.

Ireland’s opening 2023 World Cup qualifier against Group A minnows Georgia – originally scheduled for Tbilisi on Friday – presented the golden opportunity to record a first win in 18 months, though it was postponed.

They now face Australia in a friendly at Tallaght Stadium next Tuesday. The Matildas – led by Chelsea superstar Sam Kerr – are ranked 11th in the Fifa world rankings and are recent Olympic semi-finalists, with Ireland 33rd and yet to reach a major tournament.

Their start to the next campaign is a pretty daunting one, welcoming the world’s second-ranked team, Sweden, to Dublin on 21 October, before facing second seeds Finland [25th] at Helsinki’s 39,500-seater Olympic Stadium five days later (Slovakia are the other team in Group A).

The harsh reality is that this winless run could extend over the coming weeks, but veteran coach Pauw is adamant that she isn’t feeling the pressure.

“My saying to my players and to myself is, ‘To succeed, you must have the guts to fail,’” she stressed at the announcement of Sky as primary sponsors of the women’s team last week, ever confident her side are improving.

“It’s not about myself or my position, only what is best for the players. I’ve never in my career chosen for myself and I won’t start now.”

The Dutch coach’s first game at the helm was a stunning 3-2 win over Ukraine at Tallaght Stadium almost two years ago.

That came as a major boost in their European Championships qualifying bid, but a disappointing 1-1 draw in Athens, in which Greece scored a late equaliser, stunted their progress. Wins over the same opposition and Montengro followed just before the pandemic, but two defeats at the hands of all-conquering Germany and that heartbreaking 1-0 loss in Ukraine on the restart ended their Euro 2022 dream.

So far this year, Ireland have played four friendlies against higher-ranked opposition in Denmark, Belgium and Iceland (twice). They lost 1-0 to Denmark at home, and the same to Belgium away in April, while the clashes in Iceland finished 3-2 and 2-0.

karen-duggan Karen Duggan on the ball for Peamount. Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Former Ireland international, current Peamount United star and pundit, Karen Duggan, spoke about the current situation on Off The Ball yesterday (full chat from 8.30 here).

While welcoming the “really, really significant” backing from Sky, the recent pay parity announcement, and the “shift within the FAI,” she was keen to point out problems she saw on the field under Pauw.

“Too often we just look at things like the Sky deal and say, ‘The women are making great progress,’” Duggan told presenter John Duggan. “There’s more exposure, and we’re beyond that now.

“For me, since we played that home game against Ukraine, the performances haven’t quite set the world on fire. I don’t really see a proper identity with this team. She’s had them for a full campaign now and a good few different friendlies. Yeah, we’ve been playing against opposition that are of a higher caliber than us, but we have the same issue in the women’s team as the men’s team: we love being the underdog. The games that we’re struggling in are the games that we have to establish possession, create chances and score goals.

“We’ll have a Slovakia game coming up that’s an absolute must-win. A home game against Finland, we have to realistically win that game. We have a friendly against Australia, another team who are ranked much higher than us. They were in an Olympic semi-final and have a lot of players in top, top leagues. Again, it’s just going to be a game we’re defending, but if we have ambitions of qualifying, we have to start winning games.

“Drawing to Greece, the Ukraine result away from home [0-1 defeat] against a Ukraine team that eventually went on to get knocked out of the play-offs by Northern Ireland… we obviously know the amount of girls playing here in comparison to Northern Ireland is much, much greater. So there is an issue there that does need to be addressed.”

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“We’d be hoping that the time in the last campaign will have helped,” she added.

“Although it’s a World Cup qualifying campaign – I think we’re in the same position as the men where realistically, our target probably should be the Euros. In saying that, she needs to start blooding more players, she needs to establish a pattern in attack.

“We’re kind of just hoping that Heather Payne will get on the end of a long ball and use her pace and trickery. We’re hoping that Katie McCabe will pull something out of the bag in terms of a set-piece. I think she’s in the wrong position. I think there are some changes that need to be looked out for, and that needs to hit the ground running.”

While Duggan may feel the goal should be qualifying for the next European Championships rather than the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Pauw wasn’t drawn on that last week.

Asked if this upcoming campaign could essentially be a “dry run” with the main target qualifying for Euro 2025 in Poland – a pointed allusion to Stephen Kenny’s comments on building a squad for Euro 2024 qualifying – Pauw smiled:

“This World Cup is our priority at this moment. Top sport is about the next event so we will do everything in our power to qualify for the World Cup.”

Screenshot 2020-11-24 at 9.04.07 AM

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Emma Duffy

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