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Sue Ronan is hoping her side can ride the crest of Stephanie Roche's wave in 2015

Ireland kick-start their year with a training camp in Spain.

Ronan has been manager of the WNT for four years.
Ronan has been manager of the WNT for four years.
Image: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND women’s manager Sue Ronan will use this month’s intensive winter training camp in La Manga to experiment ahead of a seminal year for her side.

Ronan, who has been in charge of the national team for four years, has named five uncapped players in her 21-player squad for the trip to Spain, during which Ireland will face Norway in a friendly on 15 January.

And, when the team reconvenes for the first time since September, there will be a sense of optimism as they prepare for a busy twelve months.

Ireland are coming off the back of their most successful qualification campaign having amassed 17 points in their World Cup qualifying group and although it wasn’t quite enough to make the cut for Canada, it was a significant step in the right direction.

“It has been a busy year for us but we’re now eager to get going again in La Manga,” Ronan said at yesterday’s squad announcement. “It’s the second time we’re going and last year it set us up nicely for the twelve months that lay ahead so that’s the plan again.”

Now, with a new campaign – for the 2017 European Championships – on the horizon, the team are determined to make that breakthrough and fly the Irish flag at a major tournament.

Stephanie Roche, Sue Ronan and Aine OÕGorman The large media turnout highlights the attention women's football is now receiving Source: Cathal Noonan/INPHO

Uefa have expanded the competition, which will take place in Netherlands, to 16 teams from 2017 so the door is very much ajar for Ronan’s fledgling side.

“The players themselves are optimistic and they feel the breakthrough of qualifying for a major tournament is not too far away. The door is open a little bit and the players are a confident bunch and they’ve put expectations on themselves but we’ve done well over the past year and its a real opportunity.”

Ireland will face Norway in the solitary training game in Spain and Ronan hopes a trial and error process will benefit the squad in the long-run.

“The friendly is purely a training game and there are no ranking points on offer. It gives me the chance to blood some of the younger players and put them against the experienced ones and see how they can handle it.

“We’ve nothing to lose, we can try different things in a competitive environment.”

Among the call-ups included is Raheny United’s Katie McCabe, who was one of the stars of the U19s’ run to the semi-finals of the European Championships last year.

McCabe, who is a sister of Shamrock Rovers midfielder Gary, has trained with the squad before and although still in the infantry of her career, has already showed her potential.

“Katie has been training with us before to get a taste of things because we don’t want to be putting pressure on younger players,” Ronan said. “She’s a fantastic talent but it is a big step up from U19s to senior international football but she has the ability to do it and anybody who saw that goal in the FAI Cup final will realise she deserves a chance.”

Caroline Thorpe with Katie McCabe Katie McCabe (right) has been called-up to the senior squad for the first time Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

Stephanie Roche, who will join up with the squad after attending the Ballon d’Or awards ceremony, is now one of the squad’s senior members. Ronan believes the feel good factor surrounding Roche’s goal will inspire the younger members of the squad, in particular.

Wexford Youths striker Rhianna Jarrett, who has just returned playing college football in America, her club colleague Carol Breen, English-based midfielder Emma Beckett and Lauren Dwyer are the other new faces included.

They’ll all be hoping to make an impression ahead of the real business which starts in September.

“We want to give ourselves the best chance possible by picking up as many points in our opening games of the group,” Ronan said when asked about the ambitions for 2015.

“We’ll have two, maybe four, games depending on the draw but it will all about getting some momentum and getting points on the board.”

The draw for the Euro 2017 qualifying takes place in Nyon in April but the players and management don’t want to tempt faith by speculating about the best and worst draws possible.

“The last time I was asked this question I said I wouldn’t like Germany and alas they came out of the pot so we’ll take anybody we get!,” Ronan joked.

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Ryan Bailey

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