TODAY was meant to be the day that the Republic of Ireland women’s team’s road to the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand began.
This evening, Ireland were supposed to be in Tbilisi — a place very familiar to the Irish given how many times the men’s team played there in recent years — to take on Georgia in the first game of Group A in the qualifying round.
But unfortunately, the excitement that comes ahead of an important competitive game has been postponed as the FAI submitted a request to the Georgian Football Federation and Uefa to change the fixture due to the unavailability of UK-based players.
With Georgia placed on a red list by the UK Government due to Covid concerns, Ireland manager Vera Pauw would have been unable to call 16 UK-based players out of the 27 she selected in her squad.
The game will now be played in the June 2022 window while their first qualifier will be their meeting with an incredibly talented Sweden side, who are second in the Fifa rankings and recently secured silver in the Olympics, in Tallaght on October 21.
But rather than let an international window go to waste, Ireland arranged a friendly with Australia, who are 11th in the world rankings, for this Tuesday evening, which also gives fans the chance to attend an Ireland women’s game at the Tallaght Stadium for the first time in 18 months since the outbreak of Covid.
The 7pm kick-off will present the Girls in Green with another tough test, but given the fact that they haven’t won a game since last March, before the pandemic struck - a run of seven losses in a row albeit all those sides are currently ahead of them in the rankings — maybe taking on the Georgians, 123 in the standings, at this time would’ve been preferable.
By the time Ireland face second seeds Finland at Helsinki’s Olympic Stadium five days after taking on the Swedes, they will more than likely have lost nine on the bounce which could severely impact their confidence.
Nonetheless, Pauw is adamant these tough examinations against superior opponents will stand to her squad.
“My saying to my players and to myself is, ‘to succeed, you must have the guts to fail’,” she insisted recently. Time will tell.
The hope against the Australians will be to put in a good performance and build on some of the things they worked on during recent international breaks — including the current one — to take into the qualifiers.
To help them achieve this, the Ireland boss has selected a strong squad which makes for interesting reading from a Cork and Cork City perspective.
Starting with disappointing news; Cork natives Éabha O’Mahony and Megan Connolly have been forced to withdraw having both made it into the initial selection.
In better news; Denise O’Sullivan, the Women’s Senior Player of the Year, Saoirse Noonan, and Clare Shine have again earned call-ups following their impressive displays with North Carolina, Shelbourne, and Glasgow City respectively in recent weeks.
While it’s great to see Shine back in the fold — her goal in the Champions League for Glasgow (look it up if you haven’t seen it) was worthy of a call-up on its own — arguably the highlight of this camp would be seeing Noonan play her first minutes of the Pauw era and secure her first senior cap since 2016 when Sue Ronan gave her a run out in a challenge match against Wales.
For Cork City, they may get a further sense of what they are missing as former goalkeeper Eve Badana and former defender Savannah McCarthy, who is currently playing with Galway in the Women’s National League, have also made the cut.
But the Leesiders still have a rising star of their own as Eva Mangan was brought into the home-based senior squad for training recently with Pauw believed to have been impressed from what she saw of the 16-year-old attacking midfielder when she attended the game against DLR Waves at Turner’s Cross and decided to keep an eye on her progress since.
Hopefully, a senior call-up for Mangan is not too far away, but for now, Pauw’s side just needs to show signs of development, starting with the friendly against Australia.