Former Ireland manager Vera Pauw during the World Cup homecoming in Dublin. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
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FAI can't hang players out to dry over Pauw exit

Association have made their decision but silence will chip away at goodwill.

THIS WAS REMINDER number 29082023 that everyone in football is disposable.

Once the comfort blanket of the World Cup was removed, Vera Pauw was at her most vulnerable during her time as Ireland manager.

That she only learned her contract would not be renewed in a late-night phone call from FAI chief executive Jonathan Hill after a drawn-out board meeting tells its own story of how abruptly you can be cast aside.

Success had insulated Pauw at times from far more wide-ranging scrutiny.

When she was named in a report published before Christmas investigating misconduct in America’s National Women’s Soccer League, the FAI were swift to offer their full, unflinching support.

On Tuesday night she didn’t even have the courtesy of being looked in the eye, face-to-face, and told that her time as manager was over.

After Pauw contacted The Athletic earlier this year to go on the record with her side of the story relating to the accusations from her time at Houston Dash, the timing of its publication in the days before the World Cup send-off game with France once again brought the matter into the public domain when interest in the team was at its most heightened.

Again, the FAI were steadfast in their support. Publicly, at least.

The contract negotiations that had been taking place in the background had been put on hold. Suggestions a new deal could be finalised – and confirmed – before the World Cup never came to pass.

Then the tournament came and went, the fallout of which has led to this point.

It’s one of no return for Pauw, and one that now brings far greater scrutiny – and demands – for a group of players who have enjoyed so much public goodwill because of their success.

Pauw shaped what has been achieved but it was the players who were the most important element; producing on the pitch and buying into her methods.

Until they didn’t.

It is not just the players who are ready for something different. The FAI now want to usher in change too.

The soundings now are that the association will not be immediately making their reasons known on the record for opting against offering the manager a new contract.

FAI director of football Marc Canham carried out his extensive review of the World Cup with input from Pauw, players and staff, and its contents were debated among the 11-person board.

Details of the souring of relationships between some key players and Pauw had already been drip-fed, but it now seems that one of the central tenets of the report is the desire from the FAI to see the role of manager become a primarily coaching position within structure established by the association.

The background and story behind why her contract was not renewed was laid out here.

The sense is that a progression in training methods and strength and condition influences will also now be required to sustain the success that has been achieved to this point.

Such reasoning and strategic thinking is something the FAI could do with confirming – and expanding on in public – to show there is method behind what some would view as madness having just qualified for a first World Cup.

Plenty of respect remains, but some of the tension that was bubbling underneath the surface with players came to the boil publicly, as Pauw highlighted herself by taking on Katie McCabe in the aftermath of the 0-0 draw with Nigeria when she volunteered the information about her captain demanding that Sinead Farrelly be substituted.

McCabe responded with a zipped-lip emoji on social media as Ireland prepared to head home.

The longer there is a vacuum of information and explanation from the FAI as to the reasoning behind Pauw’s departure, it risks leaving the players out to dry.

They will be the ones accused of turning on their manager and staging a coup.

But is that the reality?

As ever in football you can be sure the truth is somewhere in the middle, but until Canham, as author of the report, lays out the facts a single perception will fester: player power has won the day.

Some have spoken publicly since returning from the World Cup, with RTÉ’s coverage of the knockout games the forum of choice.

Aine O’Gorman, who has since retired from international duty after starting the defeat to Canada, said: “It’s important for them (the FAI) to do the review, which we all know is taking place now, and make the right decision for the team going forward because the future definitely is bright. There are a lot more major tournaments and the team needs to grow and develop.”

Louise Quinn, who played all three group games and remains a key cog in the heart of the defence, also laid out her desire to see Ireland find a different way of playing when they go into the Nations League campaign as favourites in a group that kicks off against Northern Ireland in just a few weeks with Eileen Gleeson placed in interim charge.

“I would like to see us really going after games. I think we need to… you want to take advantage of the quality players we have going forward,” the Birmingham City centre back said.

“Everyone does different things at club level and you just want to try to bring that together. Our only goal [at the World Cup] was directly from a corner. We want to go and excite the world, excite Europe and get Ireland to a place it deserves to be. That’s possible, but we have to take the right steps at the right time.”

The FAI have taken a considerable one this week. It’s only right they now explain their reasons why.

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