Dublin: 9°C Sunday 25 July 2021

Praise and guidance for Ireland's young talents, 'club is the heart of the game' and room for improvement

Ireland manager Vera Pauw should be here to stay.

LISTENING TO IRELAND manager Vera Pauw speak is always a pleasure.

After games, it’s refreshing to witness her methodical football brain at work as she reflects on the good, the bad, and the ugly, always delivering with passion and energy as her words spread confidence that there are good things ahead.

Likewise when things aren’t so upbeat, she puts her hands up and says it as it is. But she’ll always find positives.

Screenshot 2020-04-27 at 14.18.04 Vera Pauw appeared on a video call this morning. Source: FAI.

Although those post-match analysis sessions haven’t been possible of late due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the shutdown of football across the globe, a video call with Pauw and an other FAI staff member in which she answered questions from the media was circulated this morning, and it was a nice breath of fresh air in these challenging times.

The Dutchwoman fielded the more obvious questions first: her situation as manager now with talks underway about contract extension, Euro 2021 moving to 2022, what that means for Ireland, the campaign so far, and what’s yet to come. 

Then, she got talking about individual players and the roles they will play in the team and the squad going forward — and that opened more doors into her mindset as a coach, her approach to her job and the progress she has made, and is yet to make, on these shores.

Cavan prodigy Leanne Kiernan was the first player to get a mention. Coincidentally, Kiernan turns 21 today so it’s rather fitting that her rise to the top gets a quick examination.

After sparkling for Shelbourne in the 2016 FAI Cup final, 17-year-old Kiernan capped a dream year with a goal on her Ireland debut. Her star continued to rise, and shortly after completing her Leaving Cert, Kiernan made the move to Women’s Super League [WSL] side West Ham. She took London by storm and grew into the green jersey more and more, but was stopped in her tracks last summer.

After a tough few months with injury, she made her international return by coming off the bench in Pauw’s first game in charge. Involved in squads since, Kiernan missed out on the last double-header due to another injury niggle, but is in line for bigger and better after this shutdown.

“Leanne Kiernan is a player that’s developing really fast,” Pauw said on today’s call.

“I’m so happy that she’s now playing in England because now she gets the resistance to develop the parts of her game that probably could help her develop into a top, top player. She has the pace, she has all the things to break a defence, she now needs to develop it further at the highest level and under the highest pressure.

vera-pauw-celebrates-after-the-game-with-leanne-kiernan Leanne Kiernan and Vera Pauw after the Ukraine game. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

“I’m sure that although people in Cork will not like it that they have lost her, they will follow her and be proud of her developments.”

Cavan, she meant, but we’ll leave her off… this once.

The next question was about Galway ace Heather Payne. The Ballinasloe 20-year-old currently plays for US college side Florida State Seminoles and has been impressing Stateside, while she’s a huge asset to the Irish defence. 

Payne was extremely lively down the right against Greece, creating several chances for Pauw’s side before an unfortunate hamstring injury in the late stages of that qualifier.

“Heather has a different situation because she plays in the USA,” the manager picked up.

“That means she only plays competitive football two months a year, with too many games congested in those two months. That’s also the reason why she got injured now — from a highly-congested schedule to no schedule at all.

“We tried to help her get into the rhythm of playing and being ready for a full game, we thought that was the case but the circumstances of a stretch at the end of the game — she protected herself by contracting her muscles immediately, which would not have been done if she had been in a rhythm.

“For her, we are hoping for the day that she is going into regular football, into a big league.”

After mentioning how pleased she is with Kiernan’s move to West Ham and talking about Rianna Jarrett’s short-term switch to Brighton in the past, Pauw was asked if she encourages players to move further afield to benefit themselves. She doesn’t.

“I don’t encourage them. It’s their decision and it’s a process that they have to take home. I’m not a coach that is getting involved in any transfers or moves. They can come to me with questions and ask me for advice, but I will never advise [them] to go away from a club.

heather-payne-and-leanne-kiernan Ireland duo Heather Payne and Leanne Kiernan. Source: Oisin Keniry/INPHO

“I will advise over where is she now, what is the load, how can she manage the load and so on. Those things are the most important things for a national coach, not being a semi-agent and getting players away.

“Because the club is the heart of the game, the clubs in Ireland are the heart of their football. As you can see from [Women's National League] players like Aine O’Gorman, Niamh Farrelly who’s now stepping up, Emily Whelan, Jessica Ziu, their development with the support we can give them from the association together with their clubs, they are developing also.

“The nature of top sport is that players want to play at the highest level against the best players of the world. So if they get the chance to go, for example, to England you cannot stop them.

“I’ve been a top player myself and if you can play in the highest league, that is what you want. But me as a coach will not get involved in that.”

Pauw went on to highlight the strengths of the the WNL, and detailed the work ongoing to improve the development of home-based players like the above.

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The manager has consistently picked players plying their trade on these shores and handed starts to O’Gorman, Whelan and Shelbourne midfielder Jamie Finn, for example. She’s a fan of the national league.

“Talents are everywhere,” she nodded. “The key trick, the art is to get those talents developed. We all know that training twice-a-week at a club is not enough so we need to do more aside from that club activity.

“The clubs do great jobs, that is the heart and base of our sport. But, to to become an international top player, if you play in Ireland you have to do more.

“So, training with boys, the home-based training sessions, special individual programmes on top of their club activities; that brings the development of the players to where they are now.” 

“Don’t forget the whole youth development programme that is now in Ireland, from the U15s to the senior squad,” she added, delving into her role in the development of grassroots football.

vera-pauw-during-the-national-anthem Ahead of the most recent Montenegro game. Source: Filip Filipovic/INPHO

“During this lockdown, we are very intensively discussing how to create a seamless pathway for all the players in Ireland — where do we change a little bit, where do we add a little bit, where do we take something off — so when we come out of this lockdown, we can help the players better. We have the time for that now.

“With the whole team, with all the national coaches, the performance director, the people from the international department, video analysis department and Dan Horan — with the support from sport science — we are very intensively discussing how to get the game in Ireland to a higher level given the circumstances that we have now.

Pauw believes that everyone has bought into the same vision after the “great job” of FAI High Performance Director and fellow Dutch native Ruud Dokter, but it’s now time to move forward together and improve the domestic leagues.

“The thing is there are gaps in the pathway at this moment. There’s an overload, for example, to the U12 activities, then suddenly it drops and it will be picked up at U16 again. Things like that.

“The analysis has been done by everybody who has been involved for years and years like Sue Ronan, Dave Connolly, James Scott, Ruud Dokter and Eileen Gleeson. Knowing those gaps and knowing where the drops in the development are, now we have the time to really discuss what can we do to not have this dip in their development process.

“That is something that has not so much to do with the clubs, that is more related to our activities — and how can we balance it in a way that we have the best, best pathway for every single player in Ireland.”

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Emma Duffy

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