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The addition of 'fantastic' Gleeson, tuition from ex-boss Bell and transition to Irish culture

Ireland face Ukraine in a crunch, sold-out Euro 2021 qualifier at Tallaght Stadium tonight in Vera Pauw’s first game in charge.

Vera Pauw (right) with her assistant Eileen Gleeson.
Vera Pauw (right) with her assistant Eileen Gleeson.
Image: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

THE MOST PROFESSIONAL set-up she has ever worked in, recently-appointed Ireland Women’s National Team manager Vera Pauw reckons.

The Dutch woman made a point of saying it early on in her first pre-match press conference with the Irish crest on her heart yesterday. Pauw, who led Holland to the semi-finals of the 2009 European Championships and also managed Scotland, Russia, South Africa and American club side Houston Dash, has found her feet fairly quickly.

Much of that is thanks to those around her.

With Ukraine coming to Tallaght Stadium and a sell-out on the cards, Pauw’s first squad shows some interesting inclusions with long-time absentees like 2014 FAI Player of the Year Julie-Ann Russell and Celtic’s current Player of the Year Keeva Keenan returning. 

Former U19 captain and this summer’s World University Games team’s skipper Chloe Mustaki also earned a first senior call-up after her incredible journey back from the brink. 

There’s no shortage of familiar faces, of course, with other major boosts in West Ham youngster Leanne Kiernan and Manchester City star Megan Campbell — “she’s ready to play,” Pauw assures, “we expect her impact and we’re very happy that she’s fit” — coming back into the fold after missing out recently.

Assistant coach Eileen Gleeson would have played a huge part in helping assemble the best squad possible going into this crucial Euro 2021 qualifier. The much-respected coach won the treble with Peamount United in 2010, guiding them to Champions League qualification and is vastly experienced in the domestic game.

She knows the Irish players and the Irish game inside out, that’s for sure. And she helps Pauw understand the culture of Irish football more and more every day.

“Eileen’s been great,” as captain Katie McCabe says. “I’ve played against Eileen, and she won’t like that I’ll say I’ve won trophies against Eileen! She’s fantastic.

“I think Vera bringing her in is fantastic. She knows the league inside out, she knows Irish women’s football inside out and I think it gives Vera that insight and that relationship obviously to then understand more about women’s football in Ireland.

“She’s been fantastic this week. The knowledge she has, the experience she has — like Vera said, our staff has fantastic professionalism. From manager down to whoever, it’s top drawer. Eileen’s now part of that and I’m delighted to have her in.”

And for Pauw herself?

“It’s amazing,” the 56-year-old enthuses.

katie-mccabe Katie McCabe in training yesterday. Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

“If you choose an assistant from another country, you need to learn to know each other. But this, it’s like we’ve worked with each other for years, in any sense. Also in all the fun and all the jokes that we make to each other. That shows that the bond is already really, really close.

“[Fellow Dutch native] Jan Willem Ede, the goalkeeping coach, is really core of the group, the three of us. For example now, because I have to be here, they are working on video analysis with different players individually to put the dots on the is. I’m absolutely completely comfortable that they do that.

“We identify everything together; all the clips, all the analysis, all the training sessions, all the individual remarks even. Everything, we do together. And that can only be if the standard of your staff is so high, it’s fantastic really.”

The vibes are good in the camp anyway, both nod, and that’s the main thing.

For Pauw, her transition into Irish culture has been smooth, as has getting used to Irish humour, because it’s similar to that of the Dutch, she says. 

“That’s what’s important as well,” McCabe adds.

“Creating that positive atmosphere is always important in a team. Whether it’s staff or players, we have that good relationship and that good bond, and I think that’s what important in a team: the balance between work and fun.”

“When we work, we work, yeah?” her coach interjects. “When we work, we work. It’s a good atmosphere.”

While the aforementioned Gleeson, Sue Ronan, Ruud Dokter, Dave Connell and interim coach Tom O’Connor are all people she’s pointed out before in guiding her since she’s come on board, a recent meeting with her predecessor Colin Bell was also really helpful in looking at the “dynamics in the team”.

“We went through all the players and he was very, very open about the progress and steps that the team have made,” she explained. “Of course, he had to start with a defensive team organisation, to set that right. Winning starts without losing. You start with your team organisation defensively. We are building on a new point to develop the rest.”

In training this week, they’ve worked on a lot of purposeful possession play and making sure everything they do on the pitch has meaning. That, in turn, leads to more positive attacking play. 

colin-bell Colin Bell. Source: Matteo Ciambelli/INPHO

So ultimately, will we see a different Ireland team to Bell’s?

“We will see an Ireland that’s ready,” Pauw remarks, not too impressed with the question. “I am not in competition with Colin, I’m not going to change things.

“Colin has done a fantastic job and brought this team to a level that’s unbelievable already. This is a team that can only grow, no matter what manager it is. I start where Colin left and this team, you will see every single training session, every single game, they will go to a higher level. They have done that already over the last few years.”

And McCabe was equally conscious not to dwell on the past, taking a smooth diversion when asked if the team’s mindset now changes with the emphasis on purpose in attack rather than setting out more defensively, or on the back foot like they may have done before.

“Every time we come into camp, our mindset is set on that the fact that we want to do everything we can to qualify for a major tournament,” she concluded, “our mindset doesn’t change in that sense.

“Our goal is still to qualify for a major tournament. This is what we’re doing. Obviously Ukraine is another step in that direction. With Colin or Vera, we’re moving forward. With Vera coming in this week has been fantastic for us. There is that certainty now with a manager.

“We’re going in the right direction and obviously that’s what’s important for us as players now, to concentrate on each game as it comes and step in that right direction to qualify for a major tournament.”

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Emma Duffy

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