THE Republic of Ireland’s hopes of qualifying for the 2022 UEFA Women’s European Championships suffered a massive blow as they were beaten 1-0 by Ukraine in Kiev on Friday evening.
An Aine O’Gorman own goal proved to be the difference between the sides and Ireland now need to beat Germany in their final game of Group I or need Ukraine to lose against either Greece (on Tuesday) or Montenegro to reach their first-ever major tournament.
Despite knowing a draw would be good enough to seal second, Ireland manager Vera Pauw named an attacking line up as she decided to take no chances that complacency could settle and went for the win.
Two Cork natives were selected in the squad that travelled to Eastern Europe and they both featured from the start in the heart of the midfield with Denise O’Sullivan winning her 79th cap while her fellow Leesider Megan Connolly was winning her 25th.
O’Sullivan impressed from the start and her energy helped the Girls in Green begin this crucial qualifier on the front foot.
They forced a succession of early corners that their Ukrainian counterparts did well to deal with before Katie McCabe was inches away from giving Ireland the lead just past the quarter of an hour mark.
The captain took responsibility for a free-kick just outside the penalty area and the Arsenal forward was desperately unlucky to see her superb effort clip the top of the crossbar.
The Republic remained in control but then midway through the first half disaster struck.
The experienced Aine O’Gorman stretched to cut out a through ball towards Ukraine’s Yana Kalinina and send it back to goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan, who given a start in goal after first-choice number Marie Hourihan was ruled out through injury earlier in the week.
But her pass back was overhit and with Brosnan - in her second international appearance - caught flat-footed, the ball rolled agonizingly across goal and into the far bottom-right corner of the net.
Ireland had a glorious opportunity to level the scores just eight minutes later but after O’Sullivan was brought down inside the box by Lyubov Shmatko, who somehow avoided being shown a second yellow card, McCabe’s blasted her penalty against the crossbar.
The luck of the Irish remained elusive with the half time break approaching as Rianna Jarrett cleverly cut inside her marker before then seeing her weak but goalbound strike cleared off the line by the recovering Shmatko.
Ireland remained dominant in the second period and they almost scored an equaliser after 54 minutes but following more brilliant build-up play from O’Sullivan, Jarrett’s powerful shot was saved at the near post.
But it just wasn’t to be their night. O’Sullivan sent a curler just past the top right corner on 72 before Louise Quinn sent a close-range header over late on.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Courtney Brosnan, Aine O’Gorman, Diane Caldwell, Louise Quinn, Harriet Scott, Megan Connolly, Denise O’Sullivan, Heather Payne, Ruesha Littlejohn, Katie McCabe, Rianna Jarrett.
Subs: Amber Barrett for Rianna Jarrett (86), Ellen Molloy for Harriet Scott (86).