Megan Connolly pictured playing for Ireland. Kristinn Magnusson/INPHO

Ireland hoping to make history ahead of Tallaght clash with 'one of the best teams in the world'

Megan Connolly and co open their World Cup qualifying campaign against Sweden on Thursday.

LAST UPDATE | 19 Oct 2021

IT’S AN exciting time for women’s football in Ireland.

Monday was another good news day, as following on from news of last month’s sponsorship deal with Sky, a new partnership with Cadbury was announced.

On the field too, there is plenty to be enthusiastic about.

The likes of Katie McCabe and Leanne Kiernan have started the season brilliantly across the water, while Vera Pauw’s side ended a seven-game losing run last month by beating Australia, a team currently ranked 11th — 22 places above Ireland.

Thursday, though, will be their biggest game for a long while. They face a Sweden team ranked only below USA in the world, according to Fifa, in their opening World Cup qualifier at Tallaght Stadium.

Brighton’s Megan Connolly is raring to go having missed the Australia game with a calf strain.

“Just to see the girls get the result that we wanted for a long time; to get a result against a high team [was fantastic],” she says.

Beating Sweden, who finished third at the last World Cup and have qualified for the upcoming Euros, would be an even bigger coup.

“There’s no underestimating they’re probably one of the best teams in the world. We’re just going to prepare as best we can, bring everything we can to the pitch on Thursday and just see what can happen.”

A win would undoubtedly enhance the feel-good factor that is currently apparent. With equal pay to the men’s team now secured, the women’s side have come a long way from the scenes at Liberty Hall in 2017, when several members of the squad were moved to publicise the inadequate working conditions that were undermining any hopes of progress.

“For us to see Sky and Cadbury coming in now, it’s amazing to see that the backing and support from everyone,” Connolly adds. “It’s just important that we stick to the football and get the results on the pitch and do our bit. 

“It’s amazing to see it’s sold-out for 4000 [the highest number of people currently permitted at Tallaght Stadium]. Hopefully, they can give us that extra bit on Thursday when we need it, but in the future obviously, more people will be allowed in and we can really sell out Tallaght.”

The Cork-born midfielder says she is feeling more confident of late. She recently returned from a spell out injured and was on target for Brighton in the Continental Cup last week.

“It is nice to get a goal, and be coming into camp with a bit of confidence. I think that’s the big thing when you’re out with injury, coming back to try and get some game time and try build confidence.”

That goal came against a Birmingham side that featured no fewer than seven Irish players who either started or came off the bench on the night, and Connolly adds: “A lot of [Irish] players in recent times are taking that step to play at the highest level. I see a lot of girls going to England at the minute, a lot went to Birmingham and I think that’s important for us and it’s really going to help us with players making that next step and testing themselves in the toughest environments. It’s great to see everyone achieving what they have, and really performing and it’s only going to help us: everyone getting minutes, playing and scoring.”

And Connolly is hopeful the many recent good news stories associated with Irish women’s football off the field will be reflected on the pitch, starting this Thursday and culminating with a first-ever World Cup qualification.

“It’s something we’re longing for as a nation; to qualify for a massive tournament. We came up short the last time and it’s something we want to achieve. Yeah, we’re not going to shy away from saying we want to make the World Cup, we want to be that team, why can’t we be that team that qualifies? But it is going to be tough. You see Sweden, Finland, Georgia, Slovakia; tough teams.

“Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Ciara Grant; players that have come before me. I really looked up to them, they paved the way and this generation is the team that wants to go even further and qualify for a tournament so the younger ones know it’s achievable and something we can do. I think for everyone in the team, it’s something we dream of, something you want, it’s something that doesn’t come often — or ever to a nation like us. But I think we have improved a lot in the past few years, and I think we’re getting closer and closer.” 

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