Denise O'Sullivan and Megan Connolly key to Ireland's hopes against Slovakia

Cork's Saoirse Noonan and Éabha O’Mahony are also in the Ireland squad for the vital qualifier in Tallaght
Denise O'Sullivan and Megan Connolly key to Ireland's hopes against Slovakia

Republic of Ireland goalscorers Megan Connolly and Denise O'Sullivan celebrate following the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 qualifying in Helsinki, Finland. Picture: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

EVEN though they have only played two games so far this campaign, the Republic of Ireland Women’s National Team has already given themselves a huge chance of reaching the play-offs for the 2023 World Cup.

Sweden, who are ranked second in the FIFA World Rankings and are Olympic silver medalists, have won all three of their games in Group A — scoring six goals and conceding zero in the process — so they look certain to finish top.

That means the real battle is for the second spot and Ireland’s 2-1 win away to Finland last time out, thanks to goals from Cork natives Megan Connolly and Denise O’Sullivan no less, puts them in pole position to finish runners-up.

But things can change quickly in football and if the Republic fails to secure six points in their two upcoming home qualifiers, their hopes of claiming that playoff place will suffer a huge blow.

It’s inconceivable that they will fail to beat Georgia at Tallaght next Tuesday night given that they have lost all three of their matches so far — scoring zero and conceding nine in the process — to perhaps justify their ranking of 123rd in the World.

But tonight’s clash with Slovakia — kick-off at 7pm and it’s live on RTÉ2 — will not be as straightforward.

The Slovakians lie 45th in the rankings, just 13 places behind the Irish, and they were also only narrowly beaten by Sweden while their 2-0 win over Georgia will mean they also have an eye on second in the group.

Along with Connolly and O’Sullivan, manager Vera Pauw has named fellow Leesiders Éabha O’Mahony and Saoirse Noonan in her squad and she is also hoping for another huge home crowd will make it to Tallaght Stadium to ensure they win both these decisive qualifiers, starting tonight.

“From my very first game with Ireland, in that win over Ukraine in front of a record crowd, I looked at the players and how they performed and I just felt that they were like a bunch of tigers,” enthused Pauw.

The players learned what it means to take on any opponent without fear and now we have a chance to take the next step in our qualification process.

“We are currently preparing for our next two challenges, against Slovakia and Georgia, and we cannot underestimate them. We need to be sharp and on our toes, ready to attack, just like a tiger.

“We have so much faith in what we are trying to achieve — players and staff — but we have to build on the win against Finland and find a way to take maximum points from these two games.”

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