The Game Of Their Lives

The world was a very different place in October 2019. For one thing there wasn’t a global pandemic, and Ireland weren’t in a level 5 lockdown.

But a bit over a year ago was when the Ireland senior women’s football team really boosted their chances of qualifying for a first ever major tournament. They’ve made 10 previous attempts at qualifying for the Euros, and 7 at qualifying for the World Cup, yet they’ve never been on the big stage. But a win in front of a record breaking crowd in Tallaght changed all that.

Goals from captain Katie McCabe and a first senior international goal for Rianna Jarrett put Ireland in front. Ukraine pegged them back, but an own goal sent Ireland top of the group.

Since then Germany have, as expected, taken top spot. They’ve yet to concede a goal in the qualifying campaign. They are almost certain to take the automatic spot.

Ireland’s Denise O’Sullivan celebrates her team’s third goal. Photograph: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho
Ireland beat Ukraine 3-2 last October (Image: Laszlo Geczo/Inpho)

Ireland now face Ukraine in the return game, knowing a draw will guarantee them at least a play-off, which will take place over two legs next April. It could get better however, as a win would put them in contention for one of 3 automatic qualification spots as a best runners-up.

While at times finishing has left something to be desired, Ireland have only really failed to get the result they deserve once/ They drew away to Greece thanks to a 93rd minute equalizer. There were chances in that game to seal the win, they weren’t taken, and Ireland were stung. Equally there were chances in the return fixture against Greece to increase the lead, in what ended up being a nervy 1-0 win. Ireland also struggled to build a lead at times against lowly Montenegro.

But it’s important to point out that those complaints show how far Ireland have come. In the past Ireland were also-rans in a qualifying group, possibly getting a few points. Now Ireland are genuine contenders to qualify for a major tournament. So much so that it would be disappointing if they didn’t. That is unprecedented.

There’s plenty of talent in the team. Just last week world class midfielder Denise O’Sullivan, captain Katie McCabe, and Reading goalkeeper Grace Moloney made the WSL team of the week over in England. McCabe, one of many leaders in the team, scored a belter of a freekick for Arsenal.

Elsewhere there is talent all over the pitch. Megan Connolly has been super for Brighton, and Rianna Jarrett, her club teammate, has proven to be a valuable workhorse, and has shown in her time in the Women’s National League she is a clinical finisher and a leader on the pitch. Aine O’Gorman has been scoring whenever she wants in the WNL. This is an Ireland team capable of getting a win here, never mind the draw they need.

We spoke about the game on this weeks women’s football edition of Peil and Back, which you can listen to here, or on Spotify below. It’s also available on most other podcast platforms (Apple, Pocket Casts, Player FM, etc) by searching Post to Post Sport.

The game is live on RTÉ, kick off is at 5pm. We’ll have analysis on next weeks Women’s Football episode of Peil and Back.

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