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Ryan Byrne/INPHO Vera Pauw celebrating Ireland's historic World Cup play-off achievement and the win over Finland.
# onto the next one
Pauw 'not likely' to experiment against Slovakia regardless of play-off picture
But the Ireland manager will be forced into changes with Megan Connolly, Ruesha Littlejohn and Jamie Finn gone from the XI against Finland.

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND women’s national team manager Vera Pauw says she is “not likely” to experiment against Slovakia, regardless of the World Cup play-off picture.

The Girls In Green secured their progression as Group A runners-up with a game to go on Thursday, beating second seeds Finland 1-0 in front of a record crowd at Tallaght Stadium — and play the Slovaks away in their final qualifier on Tuesday.

A win in Senec, plus results in other groups going in their favour on Friday and Saturday, could see Ireland clinch one of three seeded places and move directly into Round Two of the convoluted play-off route.

Otherwise, it’s into Round One: the six remaining nations contesting three single-leg play-offs on 6 October, an open draw meaning the games could be home or away.

Over the past few days, Pauw has constantly urged patience, refusing to be properly drawn on Ireland’s potential route; the Dutch coach stressing the need to wait and see other outcomes first. She stuck to her word in Thursday’s post-match press conference.

But asked if she’s open to experimenting in Slovakia should Ireland know in advance that they won’t secure one of the three seeded places, Pauw gave an open answer.

“If you’re going to experiment, you will lose your teamwork,” she said. “So it’s not likely. We’ll see what the situation is and take decisions on what we’ll do.

“If you’re going to experiment, you take the momentum away and we have the play-offs in three weeks’ time.

“Like in the Euros, for example, in the third game after teams qualified (for the knockout stages), the teams that made lots of changes, often lost in the quarter-finals. Because you take teamwork and the momentum out.

“If you are to change the team, it will be in positions that we expect those players might give more, or that we have injuries or there’s other reasons.

“But not to experiment. This team is not ready and growing, Every minute we play makes us better.”

Pauw will be forced into some changes regardless, with Megan Connolly, Niamh Fahey, Ruesha Littlejohn (injury) and Jamie Finn (suspension) all departing the squad on Friday.

Connolly and Finn both played the full game against Finland, the former dropping deeper from her usual midfield berth to replace Fahey in the central back three. Littlejohn was an enforced substitute after 40 minutes, with Lily Agg sprung from the bench to score the winner.

jessie-stapleton-after-the-game Evan Treacy / INPHO Shelbourne teenager Jessie Stapleton has been called up. Evan Treacy / INPHO / INPHO

Jessie Stapleton and Izzy Atkinson have both been called up, with no shortage of other defensive players in the squad so solutions will be found.

Injury-ravaged Liverpool star Megan Campbell made her long-awaited return to the XI against Finland, playing 75 minutes at left-wing back.

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Pauw smiled when she was asked when she decided to start the Drogheda long-throw specialist. “When the knee was without fluid on Monday morning. That was the first time, to be completely honest.

“She was out for almost two years, playing for a bit, then rehab and the same again. She has the quality to step up to this level and gave herself the moment to start. We discussed it together. We can keep an eye to see if she sprints but she has to tell us when it’s done.

“That togetherness was good and I think she had a big impact.

“Her throws are something else. That’s why we dared to play her for the number of minutes. Now, you can do that because of the five subs. When it’s three subs, that’s more difficult.”

Looking ahead to October’s play-offs, Pauw concluded: “We don’t fear anyone. At half-time [against Finland], I said no fear of failure and feel free. We’re in the frame. That was our secret.”

Kick-off in Senec on Tuesday is 5pm Irish time, with the action live on RTÉ 2.

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