Ireland hit by injury as Pauw prepares to name squad for World Cup play-off

The Girls In Green face Scotland or Austria away on 11 October.

Vera Pauw at her last squad announcement.
Vera Pauw at her last squad announcement.
Image: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

VERA PAUW IS due to name her Republic of Ireland women’s squad for next month’s historic World Cup play-off tomorrow morning.

The Girls In Green are potentially one game away from reaching a first-ever major tournament, travelling to either Scotland or Austria for a one-off showdown on 11 October.

It could be a little less straightforward than that, though (we’ll try our best to explain below) — a little like Pauw’s selection dilemmas over the past few days.

Megan Connolly and Ruesha Littlejohn were both ruled out earlier this month, the Irish manager lamenting the loss of the injured midfield duo as a “real blow” in the wake of the last international window.

Dynamic attacking pair Leanne Kiernan (ankle) and Ellen Molloy (knee) have since joined them on the injury list, both sustaining long-term setbacks on club duty. Kiernan and Molloy were the two substitutes Pauw called on in their final group qualifier win in Slovakia, both looking lively from the bench and making strong cases for inclusion going forward.

Both Connolly and Littlejohn missed that game, forced to depart the set-up after the previous monumental win over Finland, which sealed a play-off spot. Littlejohn was substituted in the 40th minute that night, having struggled with a foot injury from early doors, while Connolly went the distance despite “fractured ribs and a bruised kidney“.

The latter’s absence appeared a particularly worrying blow for the Slovakia game, given the Brighton midfielder had played deeper in a back three due to the absence of Niamh Fahey — the Liverpool captain was also injured, but is fully-fit again — while Lily Agg impressed and was the goal-scoring hero as Littlejohn’s direct replacement.

Claire O’Riordan took the reins from Connolly as the third centre-half alongside Louise Quinn and Niamh Fahey in Senec, doing a right job on her first competitive start since June 2018, while Harriet Scott also made her long-awaited return to the XI, replacing the suspended Jamie Finn at right-wing-back.

With Connolly, Littlejohn and Kiernan unavailable for selection, barring any miraculous recoveries, of course, Pauw is down three of her 12 Women’s Super League [WSL] players for arguably the biggest game in this team’s history.

amber-barrett-and-megan-connolly-celebrate Megan Connolly (6) with Amber Barrett. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

The full dozen were involved in the last camp; Izzy Atkinson the only late addition after herself and Shelbourne’s Jessie Stapleton were called up amidst the injury woes. Atkinson has since settled into life at West Ham, catching the eye on her WSL debut last weekend, so you’d imagine the nine left standing will be included tomorrow.

Expect the usual call-ups from elsewhere, the same familiar faces on the fringes joining the regular established starters. Injuries may open the door for some players who have been left out of recent squads, with Savannah McCarthy and Aoife Colvill the two other long-term absentees. They’re both out with cruciate ligament knee injuries.

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Scotland and Austria face off in their first-round play-off at Hampden Park next Thursday, 6 October, with Ireland travelling to face the winners — both slightly higher in Fifa’s world rankings — in either Glasgow or St Pölten, near Vienna.

There will be three teams left standing next month as the second-round play-off winners. Of those three, the two with the highest ranking (based on results in the qualifying group stage and Round Two play-offs) will qualify automatically for next summer’s finals in Australia and New Zealand. 

The remaining second-round winner will compete in the first-ever Fifa Women’s World Cup play-off tournament, or inter-confederation play-offs, in New Zealand next February. Ten teams will vie for the last three qualifying spots there. Should Ireland have to take this route, they’d be among the favourites.

Pauw’s side are currently third on the rankings table behind Switzerland and Iceland. The Swiss host Wales/Bosnia, while Iceland travel to Portugal/Belgium in their respective second-round play-offs.

A win for Ireland over Scotland/Austria would likely send them to the inter-confederation play-offs — but the main hope for direct qualification is that Portugal/Belgium beat Iceland at home that same night, unless there’s an unlikely slip-up for Switzerland.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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