Pauw and McCabe after Ireland's defeat to Canada: public disagreement between manager and player has lingered since World Cup exit. Ryan Byrne/INPHO

Vera Pauw's Ireland exit: how did it come to this?

FAI board decide not to offer Pauw a further extension following Ireland’s Women’s World Cup debut.

HOW DID IT come to this?

Vera Pauw led the Republic of Ireland women’s team to their first-ever major tournament. A maiden World Cup, at that.

Last October’s play-off win at Hampden Park was the highest of the high points, but there was also a fair share of off-field drama and controversy during her four years in charge.

The history-making Dutchwoman had been in the job since September 2019 with a record of P34, W15, D5, L14. Pare that back to competitive games alone and it’s P19, W9, D4, L6.

Two of those defeats came at the World Cup — 1-0 and 2-1 losses to Australia and Canada respectively —  before a scoreless draw, and Ireland’s historic first World Cup point, followed against Nigeria.

And then the extraordinary fallout, as everything appeared to reach boiling point after a long, arduous camp.

Pauw’s most recent two-year extension had been agreed to run until the end of the World Cup cycle — to the end of August 2023, in fact — which put her future squarely in the spotlight in Australia.

She had repeatedly said she wanted to stay at the helm and extend her tenure into September’s inaugural Women’s Nations League campaign. Renewal talks appeared to stall earlier this summer, and the FAI’s silence on the matter since had been curious. 

Several players, including skipper Katie McCabe, were non-committal in their backing of the manager, while there have been reports of unrest in the camp. There’s believed to have been grievances with style of play, selection, methods and World Cup preparations.

The build-up was disrupted by the publication of fresh allegations from Pauw’s time as manager of Houston Dash in 2018, which she unequivocally refutes.  

A press conference on the eve of Ireland’s World Cup warm-up game against France was striking. It was dominated by Pauw’s response to the accusations and McCabe appeared incredibly frustrated beside her.

“It’s been a pleasure talking about the World Cup, guys. Really appreciate it,” the captain said as she departed, having discussed the “negative distraction” and “external noise”. McCabe swerved several opportunities to back Pauw, and detailed a seemingly often-fractious relationship between the pair.

That was truly under the microscope after the Nigeria draw. McCabe was heard urging Pauw to make substitutions around the 70th minute, and the manager confirmed the exchange afterwards.

“Why would we change? If Katie McCabe says that she wants a change, that doesn’t mean… she’s not the coach, yeah. Everybody was doing so well. So I said, ‘What do you want, Katie, taking the best player off? No.”

She then name-dropped Sinéad Farrelly, while McCabe tweeted a zipped mouth emoji when all was said and done after tensions simmered.

What had been brewing behind the scenes was now in the public domain.

“I don’t feel this is my last game,” Pauw defiantly noted at one point, while at the homecoming in Dublin city centre, she leaped around the stage and vowed to go for medals at Ireland’s next tournament.

The public support for Pauw did not match up with the feeling in her squad, it seems.

The cooling of relations with some players appears to have been a major issue through the FAI’s internal review, and that perspective must have been taken into account in Tuesday’s board decision.

It’s understood unhappiness was expressed behind the scenes with what some players perceive as overly-negative tactics, with preparations around set-piece routines coming in for specific criticism.

Issue has been taken with training in general, along with some in-game decisions. In Australia, Louise Quinn spoke about never practicing in an attacking role at training, despite it being a tactic which was regularly used down in the final minutes of matches. 

Lucy Quinn’s withdrawal for Abbie Larkin at half time against Canada apparently left players perplexed, while there have been other selection gripes.

Wider World Cup decisions have also been called into question: was it not worth a risk to bring either Aoife Mannion or Megan Campbell or both? Should Leanne Kiernan not have made the cut? What about Jamie Finn being a training player rather than in the 23 with new faces favoured? And the inclusion of a fourth goalkeeper?

How the news was broken is believed to have been messy, while emotions ran high as Pauw named the final 23. That was “the worst day of my career”, she said.

Pauw is a straight-shooter, always open and honest, particularly with the media —- perhaps too much so. Some players are understood to have been irked with her engagements at the World Cup, in particular the infamous “fear in their eyes” line after the abandoned Colombia game.

Her vow to explore legal action regarding the Houston Dash allegations after the World Cup may have caused a headache for the FAI. On football alone, the vast majority believe Pauw deserved a new deal, but off-field distractions coupled with the mood in the dressing room appear to have tilted the balance against a new deal.

That France pre-match press conference felt like a real turning point. Perhaps the writing has been on the wall ever since, as evidenced by contract talks being on ice for so long.

It’s all come to a sorry end, and perhaps we’re left with more questions than answers.

Is this the right or wrong decision? Had Pauw taken the team as far as she could? Was it a harsh dismissal? Or was a fresh start needed?

Only time will tell.

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