Ryan Byrne/INPHO Vera Pauw stands for the national anthem in Senec.
World Cup Bid
'Adapting to another level again, I have no fear because this team is so special'
Vera Pauw’s Ireland face another step-up in next month’s World Cup play-off showdown.

ALMOST EVERY GAME the Irish women’s national team play nowadays seems to be their biggest ever. 

But their historic World Cup play-off away to Scotland or Austria on 11 October will soon unanimously take the title of The Biggest Game In The History Of Irish Women’s Football — and rightfully so.

A first-ever World Cup play-off; the closest the Girls In Green have come to a major tournament in the past the same stage for Euro 2009.

More pressure, more expectation.


Week on week at this stage.

Vera Pauw is confident her side can adapt to an even higher level.

“I think so because we have shown that we are not afraid of anyone,” she told the media on a Zoom call yesterday. “The players are stepping on.

“I want to highlight and I’m happy to read that the players say the same thing, and that they felt the same thing — against Finland, it looked as if we were nervous but this was not the case. We were absolutely ready to take on our tasks and this was the reason why we kept the clean sheet.

“We were under pressure and it was difficult for us because they came out in a different way. We needed to gain the experience to adapt immediately and play the way that we saw from the side and from the top, especially.

So adapting to another level again, I have no fears about that because this team is so special. They don’t fear anyone.

“But we need experience and we need the momentum of the game to be able to get the best out of us when executing our tasks. Because if you connect that then this is the best performance that you can get.

“So they will grow definitely but the key thing now and the only thing that counts is that we are going to fight to have the chance to qualify for the World Cup.”

After rounding of their Group A campaign with back-to-back wins over Finland and Slovakia and securing their play-off progression to the second-round, Pauw’s players are now back with their clubs.

Women’s Super League [WSL], Championship and Scottish League fixtures have all been postponed due to the death of Queen Elizabeth II, but those on these shores and further afield will be back in action sooner rather than later.

Denise O’Sullivan, who plies her trade with North Carolina Courage in the National Women’s Soccer League [NWSL], is facing into a particularly hectic schedule ahead of the play-offs — “Six games in two-and-a-half weeks is a lot,” as she explained on Wednesday.

“It is not just Denise as the WSL is overloaded often,” Pauw noted yesterday. “We actually get all the players overloaded when they come in camp and I am proud that we get them fresh for the game always. So we keep that structure to give them rest, to have the guts to have a day of completely no training so they regain their energy and we can start to motor.

denise-osullivan-celebrates-after-the-game Ryan Byrne / INPHO Denise O'Sullivan. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“And that is difficult because you need to do so much but we always choose to have them fresh and fit before all the other stuff because they have such knowledge and you can do so much now with video and short training sessions. So it is not only Denise. The load of the players is immense at the moment and it is our task to make sure that they are ready for the fight again.”

It’s interesting listening to Pauw discuss the limited time she and her staff have with the players. “My philosophy is that when the players go to their clubs we should not disturb them,” she explains, outlining the mutual respect between the international set-up and the various different clubs. Some work is done with players that “need extra attention,” but very little else, such as video and analysis, is undertaken away from camp.

Then it’s all about dotting the is and crossing the ts, straight into big-game preparation.

“I am very proud because we hardly have friendlies the way international football is now built, it is about the top clubs in Europe and not so much about the second tier, so the fact that we are growing and growing and gaining maturity….

Even though when we do not play our best football, we get our best result – we know how to get a result from the team that we are facing and the fact that we are still growing within that is a huge compliment to staff and players.”

This growth and upward trajectory will have to hit new heights by 11 October, though, Pauw well aware of the monumental task which lies ahead.

She learned a lot from watching Austria, in particular, at the Euros, but warns of both higher-ranked opposition and their strengths.

“They are very difficult to beat,” she said of the Austrians first. “They are organised, they know their tasks. They are well connected, team work is their key pattern and they have a few players who can break lines with individual creativity. They are a very dangerous side.

If Austria beats Scotland it will be huge task but if Scotland beats Austria, it will show how strong Scotland is and might even be a bigger challenge.”

“They have both done this before,” Pauw concluded. “They both won and lost games in this so they know the importance of it and the way that these games go. I don’t think that we can surprise them in any way.

“We have to be very realistic as we always are. We have to know our strengths, we have to know what we are not so good at and take the best out of us and eliminate what we are not so good at. Then we might have a chance.

“We will give everything — it’s not downplaying it. We give everything that we can in every single game and we prepare. In this way, we have had success but we need to see if in this step up we can handle it.”

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