Connolly, O'Sullivan and Irish women's team on the brink of something special

Connolly, O'Sullivan and Irish women's team on the brink of something special

Denise O’Sullivan, Republic of Ireland, and Sara Däbritz, Germany, during the UEFA Women’s 2021 European Championships qualifier. Picture: Marcel Kusch/Sportsfile

VERA PAUW is an experienced coach, but even she can’t escape the excitement of the Republic of Ireland women’s crucial Euro 2022 qualifier away to Ukraine.

“How do you call it? Goosebumps? Yes, because it is a final and we are on the brink of something special,” said the Ireland manager.

Ireland will take on Ukraine in Kiev on Friday evening — kick-off is at 5pm Irish time and it is live on RTÉ 2 — knowing a draw will see them secure a play-off spot for the European Championships in England.

Pauw’s first game in charge of the Irish was just over 12 months ago and on that night, in Tallaght, they defeated the Ukrainians 3-2, in front of a record attendance.

A similar result would also give them a greater chance of claiming one of the three best-runners-up places, which would then secure an automatic spot and qualification for their first-ever major tournament.

“I learned about Ukraine that they underestimated us,” said Dutch woman Pauw.

“I think that they were overwhelmed about our structure and the way that we were approaching them.

“I saw how they played against Greece — which was their latest game — and their perseverance to get as many goals as they could and the way that they did it; it’s more that I learned from that last game than our first game. Our first game was just everybody wanted so much to get a positive result and there was such an intensity, the whole stadium felt this intensity and the crowd brought it on the pitch,” Pauw said.

“Now the intensity comes just by the fact that this is a final; it’s a final for everybody, both for Ukraine and for us. Saturday, I was talking to a player and she said, ‘This is most likely the most important game of my career’: This was one of the veterans.

“I feel privileged to be the coach of this team, because the determination is so big. They are so ready to make this last step and, as a coach, to jump into a situation where a group is on the edge, and they feel this is our moment, is just a joy to work in.” 

Ireland’s Megan Connolly and Germany’s Svenja Huth in the UEFA Women’s European Championship qualifier at Georg-Melches Stadion. Picture: INPHO/Tim Groothuis
Ireland’s Megan Connolly and Germany’s Svenja Huth in the UEFA Women’s European Championship qualifier at Georg-Melches Stadion. Picture: INPHO/Tim Groothuis

The Irish women’s squad will fly to their away fixture by a charter flight for the first time. Pauw believes this is a sign that the women’s national team is starting to be treated as seriously as the men’s.

It should also ensure they avoid the coronavirus disruptions that wreaked havoc on Stephen Kenny’s side’s preparations recently.

“Gender equality is having equal rights and opportunities and, with this Covid situation, having to travel in a normal airport and being in line with other people, the risk of picking up the virus is so big,” Pauw said. 

“The (FAI) management said that we have to make this happen. I wasn’t even part of that. If we are talking about gender equality, then this is the moment that this is necessary, because, otherwise, we are putting our players into risk and, therefore, qualification also into risk, apart from the personal danger.

“So I got the message that we are flying with the charter. It shows the change in thoughts, that the women’s game is in every single discussion and the proof now is there that this is really serious.”

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