Celebrations after Denise O'Sullivan's late winner against Albania last night. Nikola Krstic/INPHO

Job done: How important is Nations League promotion for Ireland?

‘It’s absolutely massive. It gives us a lot of confidence, it is a real big boost for us.’

HALLOWEEN NIGHT IN Shkodër won’t be forgotten any time soon.

The first-half thunderstorm, the unplayable pitch and the near-100 minute half-time break as the game was suspended may spring to mind first.

Perhaps then it will be Denise O’Sullivan’s 88th-minute winner as the breakthrough against group minnows Albania finally arrived.

But most importantly it should be remembered for the confirmation of promotion to League A of the Uefa Women’s Nations League and, in turn, European Championship qualifiers.

A Republic of Ireland win, coupled with a draw between Northern Ireland and Hungary, meant they couldn’t be caught atop Group B1 with two games to spare. 

Post-match interviews — almost four hours after kick-off — were underway when news from Belfast filtered through. 

It was inevitable, to say the least, with Eileen Gleeson overseeing three convincing wins (3-0, 4-0, 5-1) in her caretaker campaign to date, but to have it solidified is a huge achievement and a major boost.

Ireland will dine at the top table of European football once more in 2024, taking their place alongside Spain, England, Germany, France and the likes.

“I think it’s huge,” interim manager Gleeson said. “The narrative around this group has been about how weak the opposition are but you still have to come out and do your job and as you’ve seen tonight, anything can happen.

“Football is wild, you can be the top favourite and playing a lower-ranked team and still lose so tonight there was high risk in this game with the conditions, the performance wasn’t what we wanted it to be but we showed real resilience and it took grit to come back out and be ready again to go for the second half.

“I’m super proud of them, we got the three points.”

Promotion also guarantees a play-off for Euro 2025 as the Girls In Green look to build on their World Cup experience and reach a second major tournament.

Going up is absolutely crucial in terms of the progression of this squad, as they await the appointment of Vera Pauw’s permanent successor and look to continue on an upward trajectory.

Regular games against top opposition will be invaluable through that quest, with the Euro qualifiers getting underway in April after the draw on 5 March. With six games from then until July, the top two teams from each group in League A qualify directly for Switzerland 2025, with the third-and fourth-placed teams entering two-legged play-offs next October.

The next step in the evolution of this Irish side will be striking a balance between the possession-based, dominant football they’re playing now, and the ultra-defensive set-up of before. 

eileen-gleeson Eileen Gleeson. Nikola Krstic / INPHO Nikola Krstic / INPHO / INPHO

Life in League A will not only give Ireland the benefit of testing themselves regularly against top-class opposition, but also figuring out systems and styles to allow them to thrive in the upper echelon: going toe-to-toe defensively and being competitive against better teams, with a shot at getting a result, and figuring out when the right moments are to let the shackles off and go at them.

It will likely mean more big days at the Aviva Stadium, and the play-off element is huge in itself. Previously, Irish teams had to really battle for this, but now they’ll automatically be in a stronger position to consistently qualify for major tournaments, once they can retain their top-tier status.

It’s undoubtedly where they belong, having just missed out due to rankings before this Nations League campaign.

“Absolutely massive,” matchwinner O’Sullivan added on promotion in general.

“It gives us a lot of confidence, it is a real big boost for us. We know we have very important games coming up in December — promoted, as happy as we are, our focus will still be on those games. We still want six points in that camp.”

The Christmas present was ultimately wrapped up on Halloween Night, but as O’Sullivan says, Ireland will be hell-bent on a clean sweep of Group B1.

Hungary come to Tallaght Stadium on 1 December, before the short trip up the M1 to round out the six-game 2023 Nations League series against Northern Ireland.

And then it’s onward to League A, where Gleeson firmly believes the Girls In Green can be competitive and make a splash.

“Yeah I think so,” the FAI Head of Women and Girls’ Football concluded. “The team has been really developing over the last two years, has become difficult to beat, now wanting to add different facets to the their game and they’ve shown they’re capable.

“Yeah, we need to be tested by different opposition but there is real potential here to drive forward and continue on the journey that the team has been on. We’ve got some good young players coming through, we’ve got players that are out injured that will most likely make a return at some point.

“There’s starting to be real competition in the team and players with different attributes that can allow us to have a little bit of flexibility in the way we play as well.”

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel