Ryan Byrne/INPHO Louise Quinn speaking in yesterday's press conference.
# Best of Enemies
'For once, will yous do us a favour?' - England helping no longer 'Spursy' Ireland
Vera Pauw’s side are chasing the World Cup dream.

YOU’D IMAGINE THE Irish women’s national team were glued to their phones over the weekend.

Vera Pauw’s side had secured their 2023 World Cup play-off spot against Finland on Thursday, but were waiting on a string of results elsewhere to go their way to help their cause.

“I wouldn’t say glued,” Louise Quinn admits. “We’re always interested in how the other teams are doing anyway because of our team-mates. It was interesting. Even in terms of the England game, it was our day off and we wanted to see, we have friends on the team. It was nice that things went our way.”

Vastly experienced defender Quinn had no shortage of peers to keep an eye on.

Currently the Birmingham City captain, her former Arsenal colleagues Leah Williamson and Beth Mead are two of England’s biggest stars.

And the Lionesses gave Vera Pauw’s Tigers a massive shot in the arm when they beat Austria 2-0 on the road, combining with Serbia and Belgium’s defeats, to put Ireland in pole position for one of three best runners-up spots.

A win against Slovakia in Senec this evening [KO 5pm Irish time] would propel them directly into the second round of play-offs.

“I spoke to Beth,” Quinn reveals. “I was like, ‘For once, will yous do us a favour?’

“She text me back and was like, ‘No problem’. It was just the same stuff, contact with her just to see how their experience was. It seems so strange that they’re back in camp already after playing their [Euros] final.

“It was just general chit-chat at first, then we started realising that they could help. There was a few jokes back and forth, but it was nice of them to do so. I think she has her own cans of beer, so we will cheers with one of those!”

arsenal-team-left-to-right-back-to-front-goalkeeper-sari-van-veenendaal-danielle-van-de-donk-viktoria-schnaderbeck-leah-williamson-dominique-bloodworth-louise-quinn-vivianne-miedema-lisa-eva Alamy Stock Photo Quinn and Katie McCabe in the same Arsenal XI as Leah Williamson and Beth Mead in 2019. Alamy Stock Photo

Pauw and Quinn sat at the top table together yesterday, reflecting on this Irish team’s significant growth and development.

They dissect last week’s all-important 1-0 win over Finland together and gradually rewind the clock through a fascinating listen.

Quinn’s passion for the art of defending shines through with each and every word she utters, as the former Gooners star discusses problem solving and keeping an attacking onslaught at bay — just like last Thursday.

“It’s not too stressful,” the Wicklow native grins. “I’d say it’s definitely more stressful for yous and for those in the stands. My Mam wasn’t able to watch the last 15 minutes. She’s a stressed head. She had to go for a walk.”

“But it’s not as stressful, it’s what we’ve trained and learned to do. But maybe that was us a few years ago where we did let the stress get to us…”

Pauw interjects, analytical as ever: “To adapt to that as a squad, without experience at that level to do that, that’s a huge task. And credit to this team, if it’s not clear, they start fighting and fighting and fighting. Megan Connolly got injured in that third minute and played the whole game.

“The only thing about this team, and that’s what makes them so special, is them thinking, if we don’t get it in a nice way, we make sure the ball is not going in until we get that organised and we can play again. So every single player was just, ‘Over my dead body’ that the ball is going in. That makes this team so strong.

“When it is not going our way, and even if we don’t understand what is happening on the pitch, there is such a common drive that we need to make sure we go through this phase until it gets sorted. That is the strength of this team — they then just do it. The only thing they think is, no goal against, because then we are in a good place to qualify. That is the huge difference with a few years ago.”

Block after block, stop after stop. Over my dead body.

Is there now a nasty streak in the team?

“Em, I think so but wouldn’t say nasty,” Quinn responds, before Pauw jumps in once more and notes: “We have the least amount of fouls in the group. We had three fouls in Sweden away, four away to Finland. At home to Finland, it was seven but everyone agreed two were mistakes. That is really, really low, the lowest yellow cards of the campaign.

niamh-fahey-and-louise-quinn-celebrate Ryan Byrne / INPHO With Niamh Fahey after last week's win. Ryan Byrne / INPHO / INPHO

“Nasty? Maybe but I think it’s a quality, but that’s a question for you [Louise].”

Too nice. Not streetwise. It’s been used to criticise Irish teams in the past.

“That comes up, doesn’t it, like it’s very Spursy,” Quinn picks up jokingly with a nod to Tottenham who have fallen short time and time again. “That’s what it sounds like but we’re not very Spursy. That’s what Antonio Conte is in for, to bring that.”

“We started with 24 fouls against Ukraine, so it’s not that it wasn’t squad,” Pauw points out as she remembers her first game in charge in October 2019. “We had to develop it as a strength rather than work against us. The strength of the tigers is to constantly press the opponent.”

Exhibit A of falling to streetwise opposition: Pauw’s second clash at the helm, Greece away in November 2019; a late, late equaliser ultimately a big blot on their Euro 2022 qualification copybook.

“Yeah,” Pauw frowns, “we have learned and learned and learned. Everyone thinks we are playing tougher, also opponents do, and the stats show we are playing tougher, but within the rules of the game.”

Both manager and player stressed the challenge Slovakia pose — they drew in Dublin last November — and Pauw vowed that her Girls In Green will do everything in their power not to relax having already secured a play-off spot.

“It’s extremely difficult, but training yesterday showed that the players want it,” she assures. “You need to want to play the best game again.

“If you don’t want that, relax and think, ‘We have the play-offs and we’re going to play nice,’ but you can see from those players that they want everything. Whether we manage it or don’t manage it, the absolute will to play with the same intensity is there.”

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