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Euros 'adds fuel to the fire that Ireland must get to a major tournament' - Liverpool captain

Niamh Fahey and co. have been so close, yet so far in the past. The time to change that is now.

Niamh Fahey won her 100th Ireland cap at the Pinatar Cup in February.
Niamh Fahey won her 100th Ireland cap at the Pinatar Cup in February.
Image: Martin Seras Lima/INPHO

THE COUNTDOWN IS on for the Women’s European Championship finals.

Euro 2022 kicks off across the water on 6 July, with England playing host to 15 other nations. Vera Pauw’s Republic of Ireland will be on the outside looking in, yet to reach a major tournament.

They’ll be focusing on their own rescheduled 2023 World Cup qualifier against Georgia in Gori on Monday [KO 4pm, live on RTÉ 2], as their Group A counterparts Sweden and Finland, along with Northern Ireland, feature on the biggest stage in European football.

Two Girls In Green defensive stalwarts, Niamh Fahey and Diane Caldwell, spoke about the gut-wrenching disappointment and FOMO, but also the motivation it offers on media duty from the squad’s training base in Antalya, Turkey, this week.

“Of course, that’s a bitter moment,” Caldwell conceded. “You think, ‘Oh, we should be there, it’s in England, opening game in Old Trafford,’ but it wasn’t meant to be for whatever reason, so all we can do is learn from the past and implement that going forward now, because we know what’s at stake.”

Centurion and Liverpool captain Fahey echoed her sentiments moments later. “It’s a bittersweet feeling. You are obviously delighted Furney [Rachel Furness, Northern Ireland international] who is with me at Liverpool and their first appearance at a finals.

“Then you think of the, ‘What ifs?’ and the, ‘What could have been,’ so it’s going to be tough from this respect to watch the tournament. But this just adds fuel to the fire that we must do our own thing, take care of ourselves and get to a major tournament.”

It’s been a case of so close, yet so far in the past; most recently, and perhaps most notably, the last qualifying bid, which came to a shuddering halt with a gut-wrenching 1-0 defeat to Ukraine. An unfortunate own goal was ultimately the difference in Kiev, where any positive result would have most likely seen Ireland navigate the play-off route despite valuable points dropped previously.

The Ukrainians did instead, ultimately falling to a 4-1 defeat to Northern Ireland, who made history in qualifying. (A quick look at the most recent Fifa world rankings may help contextualise the situation: ROI 27th, UKR 34th, NI 47th.)

Fahey, Caldwell and co. have all spoken about the momentum behind, and the shift in confidence and belief among the squad through this campaign thus far, where a win over group minnows Georgia next week will move them clear in second place and in the driving seat for the play-off spot with two games to go.

With 103 caps to her name, though she has to be reminded of that figure, Fahey is certainly well-placed to offer her assessment.

“If you look historically over the years with the squads that we had, everyone being in a full-time environment, then this is the strongest we’ve ever been. Also, the level that people are playing at in terms of the clubs, without doubt, this is probably the strongest and fittest squad we’ve ever had.”

vera-pauw-dejected Fahey amidst the dejection in Kiev. Source: Aleksandar Djorovic/INPHO

Mental toughness will certainly be required in the business end, though, even more so given the scarring left by previous failures.

“Vera is to the forefront to ensure we’re mentally ready for the challenge,” talismanic leader Fahey assures. “She does a great job at that, to be fair to her. She works a lot on the mindset and psyche of the players. She has us prepped and ready.

“The big thing really is confidence and belief. Belief that we’d get over the line was maybe something we lacked in the past, believing we’re good enough. It’s about having confidence that we’re Irish but can also play. We’re good footballers and we can do this, not harking back to the nearly moments of the past. That’s probably one of the biggest takeaways.”

“I can’t look past Georgia on Monday,” she adds, not looking too far ahead key. “I know people back home say they can’t wait for the games against Finland and Slovakia but at the top level you can’t take anyone for granted.

“That’s one of the lessons I’ve learnt from all the past games. We slipped up in matches. Against Greece away in the last campaign, we were meant to take three points and didn’t. That result ultimately cost us. You have to just keep one step ahead, one foot in front of the other. That’s how we have to go about it.”

Fahey is fully focused on international duty at the moment, but it would be remiss not to mention her glittering club season.

A life-long Liverpool fan, the Galway woman skippered the Reds to Championship glory; herself, Leanne Kiernan and Megan Campbell helping the Merseyside outfit back up to the Women’s Super League after an unbeaten campaign.

“I’ve had a fair bit of time to celebrate and reflect on the season we had. It was just a relief really to get back up to the top division and to be ready to compete in September.

“It was a fantastic year and delighted to be back up where we should be. It’s a great boost for the Irish girls involved, it adds confidence. There’s a long-term plan in place for us. I know you hear these things but the main thing for us is first and foremost to stay in division, consolidate and then build.

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“I know that the backroom staff and people higher up in the club have spoken of the plan to build Liverpool back up to challenging and winning titles. That’s all part and parcel of next season but the main focus is to stay in the league, finishing up as high as possible.”

“Since I came four years ago, there’s been a shift in how the club views the women’s team,” she continues. “You could say we started at a low level, in terms of where we were thought of. It’s completely changed, which is brilliant and how it should be.”

fahey-4-390x285 Fahey celebrating with the Championship trophy. Source: Liverpool FC.

Likewise with Ireland.

Today, they head for Tbilisi.

Tomorrow, they gear up for their next crucial qualifier as their journey to reach a first-ever major tournament hits new heights. (Also a talented Gaelic footballer, 2004 Galway All-Ireland winner Fahey is hoping to watch her county’s quarter-final meeting with Armagh, and praying to avoid a clash with training time.)

It’s fair to say that the World Cup dream is more alive than ever, but a win over Group A’s minnows on Monday is crucial to keep it going and set them up for the monumental September double-header.

“We’re right in the mix. Obviously there is talk of play-offs but we have three huge games coming up and the first one is Georgia. So we need to make sure that there are no slip-ups, starting against Georgia which is the first step,” Fahey stresses once again.

“We can not take our eye off the ball. We must get past this test first and I’m expecting a much more difficult game on Monday than we had in Tallaght [Ireland won 11-0 in November]. It’s important not to get too far ahead of ourselves and we’re not as we are fully focused on this game.”

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Emma Duffy

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