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What would the meaning of World Cup qualification be for Irish women's football?

‘The whole game will explode,’ says Vera Pauw.

Vera and the Chocolate Factory: Pauw was speaking at Cadbury Ireland yesterday.
Vera and the Chocolate Factory: Pauw was speaking at Cadbury Ireland yesterday.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Updated Oct 1st 2022, 10:05 AM

WHAT WOULD IT mean for Ireland to qualify for the World Cup?

“Oof, massive,” Vera Pauw responds almost immediately.

The Girls In Green manager is speaking at her squad announcement press conference for the historic play-off away to Scotland or Austria on Tuesday week. 11 days out. Potentially one win away from finally reaching a first-ever major tournament. “The biggest cup final we have ever played,” as she put it at one point.

“You cannot imagine what it will do,” the Dutch coach picks up. “I have seen it in other countries, I have experienced it in the Netherlands.

“We are now in the position we were in in 2009 when I was coach there. We suddenly broke through and went to the semi-final – four minutes left in extra-time and we were in the final. The whole country was upside down.

“It’s football. It is the biggest sport here. It will make a huge difference, not only for the game, not only for the joy that people feel, but especially for thousands of girls afterwards.”

Ultimately, it’s the spark that’s needed to bring women’s football to the next level on these shores. Just look at the remarkable Euros bounce England experienced this summer.

Emotion. Interest. Development.

It would also bring significant financial benefits — “but not to the extent of the men,” as Pauw stresses. That said, major knock-on effects. 

“Yes, well if you see the sponsors that we have now,” she nods at Cadburys Ireland in Coolock, taking in her surroundings, the branding and promotion particularly striking.

“If you look around here: this has never been done, Cadburys are concentrating on the adult grassroots and that is as important as the national team. The majority of football is at grassroots and for the people to enjoy it. They watch our team and become inspired to play themselves. Before, there was no opportunities but now there is huge activity because of our sponsor.

“That is what we emit with the national team. It works hand in hand. One is not more important than the other. I’m very proud, I really enjoy all these posters. If you know me now, I find the grassroots as important as the elite game — even though the elite game is my responsibility So yes, it will bring in sponsors, people who want to work harder, facilities and leagues. The whole game will explode.”

It all comes down to one result, though. What happens in either Glasgow’s Hampden Park or St. Pölten, near Vienna, on 11 October overwhelms everything else from this campaign.

Ultimately, success or failure, progression or stagnation, euphoric history or yet another near miss.

“If you are in elite sport you grow to a certain level and that process is very rewarding for everybody involved; for players who feel they dominate better in situations, for the staff who see what all the work is brining into the team,” Pauw says.

“But at the end if you don’t win, you don’t have anything. That is elite sport. It is a very double feeling, I am proud of where we are but still, I’m very, very conscious of the fact that we do not have anything yet.”

All eyes will be on Glasgow on Thursday night when the Scots and Austria do battle in a straight shoot-out to face Ireland. Pauw explained the strict scouting mission yesterday, and added that she just watches their two most recent games and “some special moments” to prepare.

Once again, she refused to be drawn on a preference. “What I said last time. I think Austria is very, very strong but if Scotland manage to beat Austria they are even better. I have no preference, they’re both as tough.”

denise-osullivan-and-katie-mccabe-celebrate-winning Katie McCabe and Denise O'Sullivan celebrate after securing an historic play-off spot. Source: Tom Maher/INPHO

Should it be the hosts who prevail, there will be a clash with Celtic in Champions League action. The Hoops — widely supported on these shores — are due to welcome RB Leipzig to Celtic Park that same evening.

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“What do I say about that? We know where we stand and that’s the reality. For us, the only thing that counts is the two 45-minute halves on that green pitch between the white lines. We leave all the other stuff to our marketing and communications teams. It is not up to us, we cannot do anything.”

Kick-off times are yet to be locked in, with talks ongoing between the FAI and RTÉ, the latter under Champions League contract, but timing is likely to be an issue.

Three teams will be left standing after Tuesday weeks’ showdowns. The two with the highest ranking (based on results in the qualifying group stage and second-round play-offs) will qualify automatically for next summer’s finals in Australia and New Zealand, and the other side heads to the inter-confederation play-offs Down Under in February.

Pauw’s side are currently third on the rankings table behind Switzerland and Iceland. The Swiss host Wales/Bosnia, while Iceland travel to Portugal/Belgium in their respective second-round play-offs.

A win for Ireland would likely send them to the inter-confederation play-offs — but the main hope for direct qualification is that Portugal/Belgium beat Iceland at home that same night, unless there’s an unlikely slip-up for Switzerland.

“What I find strange is that the three games are not played at the same time,” Pauw explains. “It could come down to goal difference and we may have to play one hour earlier, which is unfair. I don’t understand.

“Every last round of a competition is always played at the same time. And I have asked them why but they haven’t given me an answer. So one team might know they need an extra goal and they can gamble. And that is very unfair play. But to be honest, this whole set-up has not been the best. It’s not yet amended by Uefa. It’s very strange.”

Pauw’s injury-hit squad will report into camp on Tuesday. They will watch the Scotland-Austria showdown together on Thursday after playing a game against underage boys, and then depart Dublin on Sunday, 9 October.

Uncertainty reigns over flight slots, leaving the destination of Sunday’s training session up in the air. That’s likely down the pecking order of Pauw’s worries right now, but it is another step along the way to achieving the World Cup dream. Oof, what it would mean.

About the author:

Emma Duffy

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