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Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
Morgan Treacy/INPHO Megan Connolly (file pic).
# swede as a nut
Ireland's Brighton star 'enjoyed every minute' of Battle of Gothenburg
Megan Connolly impressed in a different role against world heavyweights Sweden.

DESPITE ALL THE added eyes, expectation and pressure, Megan Connolly enjoyed every minute of last night’s landmark 1-1 draw with European and World heavyweights Sweden.

The Republic of Ireland midfielder was deployed in a different role at Gothenburg’s Gamla Ullevi Stadium, reverting to the left side of a back three in a successful solution to the Girls In Green’s need for a reshuffle.

Brighton & Hove Albion star Connolly is unquestionably a defensive-minded player and has played plenty of football at the back, but this was a sizeable challenge against a star-studded outfit, ranked second in the world.

“Vera trusted me to go in there,” the Cork native said after she duly filled the void left in the absence of injured duo Savannah McCarthy and Diane Caldwell.

“All week we’ve been practicing in training, just getting confidence having not played there for a while. Having Courtney [Brosnan, goalkeeper] behind me helped me a lot. I enjoyed it. As tough as it was, those are the games you want to play.

“It was tough at the start to get that confidence and back yourself. In midfield you can make a mistake or two and the backline can help you out whereas in the back line you are the last line of defence. It helps when you have people doing their role so you can just do yours.”

Connolly’s different role wasn’t the only major change to the Girls In Green XI. Chloe Mustaki made her first competitive start, the Shelbourne player slotting in at left wing-back and allowing captain and goalscorer Katie McCabe to push further up that flank.

Mustaki’s journey to this point has been well documented: from a cancer diagnosis in her teenage years to a cruel cruciate ligament injury on the eve of a potential senior international debut in March 2020.

“She did really well,” Connolly beamed. “You wouldn’t think that was her first start.

“She read the game very well… credit to her, she deserved it. She trained well all week. She deserved her spot and she showed why. That was massive for Chloe. Everyone backed her but then again, it was one of those games where when it’s your first game in that kind of atmosphere, you can crumble and let it take over, or you can do what she did and showcase yourself.”

Courtney Brosnan certainly did so too. The US-born goalkeeper has been starved of game time since joining Everton from West Ham last summer, but was outstanding last night. 

She has been through the campaign thus far, making the number one jersey her own and holding off stiff competition in that department.

“I’m surprised she’s not starting for Everton with those kind of performances,” Connolly conceded. “We’ll take every single bit of that. Courtney deserved her spot and she showed tonight why. She kept us in it.”

denise-osullivan-and-lucy-quinn-celebrate-their-sides-opening-goal Tommy Holl / INPHO Denise O'Sullivan and Lucy Quinn after Katie McCabe's goal. Tommy Holl / INPHO / INPHO

The 25-year-old was keen to laud the overall squad effort, all the more impressive given the discipline and composure shown in a cauldron atmosphere created by 12,123 fans.

“I enjoy that,” she smiled, also showing her appreciation for the travelling support. “I watch a lot of football and that’s what you want to be in. We want sellout crowds, we want to be in games like that. I enjoyed every minute of it.

“It was a tough game. Sweden were relentless in everything they did. Making it 1-0 before half time was massive for us, to give us that relief, keep us going and give us energy. They showed their quality for the goal. We’ll take a draw away from home.

“It was an amazing atmosphere. The crowd, the noise… to be able to communicate in a stadium that you can hardly hear yourself in, and be tough to break down, is a big positive to take.”

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Connolly added on one of the biggest results in the history of Irish women’s football:

“Five years ago [after the 0-0 away draw against the Netherlands] we didn’t have the support and backing from everyone. Now there’s a lot more pressure on us, a lot more eyes, a lot more people tuning into watch us.

“With all the eyes and the pressure on us, at the end of the day it’s just us on the pitch with Sweden, 11 v 11. We just had to do our job – and we did it.”

And there’s more to be done, as Ireland hunt down the coveted play-off spot in their bid to reach a first-ever major tournament. Next up is a trip to Group A minnows Georgia in June, before a decisive double header against Finland and Slovakia.

“For us, we take the positives of the point and the performance, keeping out a team second in the world, but we know we’ve a lot to go,” Connolly concluded

“Three games, and we need to get as many points as we can to get in the play-offs.”

BTL 5

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