Due to work commitments we were unable to bring the WFB to you last week, but we’re back with a particular focus on next Tuesday.
Cailín in Green
We’ve been counting down the days until Tuesday 11th October for some time despite not knowing who the opponents are. After Thursdays first round games we know Scotland will be the destination for Ireland.
The Scots will be favourites, but it’s the lesser of two evils. Austria were strong in the Euros over the Summer, picking up two wins and putting it up to eventual champions England. Scotland are a team Ireland are more familiar with in terms of personnel, and it’s a shorter trip. Scotland will go into the game as favourites, but Ireland will benefit from their opponents having played 120 minutes just 5 days earlier. Scotland are looking to make their second consecutive appearance at a World Cup, having made their major tournament bow in the 2019 edition in France.
Match Fact: This will be the 22nd time Ireland and Scotland have met in a senior women’s game, making Scotland Ireland’s most frequent opponents.
Looking at the Scotland line-up from their first round victory, they play with a 1-4-3-3. Matching that up with Ireland’s usual 1-5-2-3 raises the question on what Ireland will do in the midfield. Having just a midfield 2 against a 3, particularly with Ruesha Littlejohn out, could lead to a bit of an overload. Against a front 3, it’s likely if Ireland go with 3 center-backs and wing-backs, it will be more of a flat back 5. That leaves a bit of a gap in the middle of the park.
The solution may be to change to more of a 1-5-3-2, or a 1-5-4-1. Both have their drawbacks. I would favour a 1-5-3-2 as leaving just one up front could see them isolated. A front 2 of Heather Payne and Amber Barrett could reek havoc on the Scottish defense in front of a midfield trio of Lilly Agg, Denise O’Sullivan, and Katie McCabe. There’s a real work-rate quality to that midfield, and although McCabe has done very well in a more advanced role, this is going to be a game for getting stuck in in the middle of the park. Saoirse Noonan is another option to start upfront as she’s been on good form for Durham. We saw when the men’s teams played not long ago the game was essentially a derby, it’ll be a similar situation here.
In the penultimate game of the group stage, against Finland, Ireland started slow. Finland needed a win and were the better team for the opening 30 minutes. The worry is that situation repeats itself. This time there will be a smaller contingent of Ireland fans to get behind the team, Ireland will need to start strong to squash any momentum the home side get from their crowd.
Of course, a win for Ireland (or Scotland) would not necessarily see Ireland progress to the World Cup. Of the 3 play-off winners only the two highest ranked will qualify directly for next Summer’s competition in Australia and New Zealand. The other will have to go to the inter-continental play-offs. This will involve playing 1 or 2 further games. We’ll look at the format of that if it comes to it. The other two play-offs are:
Switzerland vs Wales
Portugal vs Iceland
Ireland would need a win coupled with a defeat for at least one of Switzerland or Iceland, who are ranked above Ireland. In the two games above, Portugal are more likely to do Ireland a favor, having performed well in the Euros. The main thing is winning our game, which as we’ve made clear, is no guarantee.
The big team news in recent days has been Keeva Keenan of Shelbourne coming in to replace former teammate Jess Ziu. Ziu has been a big player for Ireland in the two recent games, and her spark will be missed. As well as Ziu and Littlejohn, Ireland will also be without Megan Connolly, Savannah McCarthy, Aoife Covill, Ellen Molloy, and Leanne Kiernan, who are all injured. Liverpool captain Niamh Fahey and for Shels star Jamie Finn return to the squad after missing the Slovakia game, and Niamh Farrelly, Roma McLaughlin, Isibeal Atkinson, and Kyra Carusa are all recalled.
Extended 29 Woman Ireland Squad:
Goalkeepers: Courtney Brosnan, Grace Moloney, Megan Walsh, Eve Badana.
Defenders: Harriet Scott, Keeva Keenan, Claire O’Riordan, Diane Caldwell, Louise Quinn, Niamh Fahey. Hayley Nolan, Chloe Mustaki, Megan Campbell, Áine O’Gorman.
Midfielders: Katie McCabe (Captain), Denise O’Sullivan, Jamie Finn, Ciara Grant, Lilly Agg, Niamh Farrelly, Roma McLaughlin, Lucy Quinn, Isibeal Atkinson.
Forwars: Heather Payne, Amber Barrett, Abbie Larkin, Saoirse Noonan, Kyra Carusa
A total of four players currently playing in the WNL, with much of the squad having come through the domestic league. There’s a real depth there in that 28. Ireland will certainly have a strong bench to choose from.
The Team We’d Like To See Start:
Niamh Fahey, Louise Quinn, Diane Caldwell, Jamie Finn, Chloe Mustaki,
Lilly Agg, Denise O’Sullivan, Katie McCabe,
Heather Payne, Amber Barrett.
It’s the biggest game in the history of Irish football, and this is probably the best position Ireland have been in in terms of overall squad quality and facilities. All but 4 of the players in the squad are playing professional football, with many playing for a top tier club. There’s a real opportunity here. In the past Ireland have had legends like Emma Byrne and Olivia O’Toole who made a name for themselves playing for Ireland but ultimately never got to do it at a major tournament in the green jersey. Back in 2017 the Ireland squad was forced to threaten strike action just to get decent working conditions. Only recently has the agreement been struck for the women’s international side to be paid the same as the men. It’s been a long road for this Ireland team to get a decent shot with some actual backing. They’ve taken that chance. This Ireland side, under Vera Pauw, were so close to making the Euros, ultimately that tournament went on without the Girls in Green. Now there’s a place at the World Cup beckoning for an squad that boasts modern day Irish legends in Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan.
Whatever the result on Tuesday this has been a momentous campaign. But this Ireland side is so far above moral victories that all involved in the camp will feel they deserve to be there.
Since we’ve last published this feature, we’ve had two cup semi-finals and another round of league games.
Women’s National League Results – Round 24
Galway 2-3 DLR Waves
Goals: Ellerose O’Flaherty 5′ (1-0), Shauna Carroll 8′ (1-1), Katie Malone 11′ (1-2),
Jamie Erickson 52′ (2-2), Avril Brierley 85′ (2-3)
Shelbourne 2-1 Cork City
Goals: Becky Cassin P 24′ (0-1), OG 45′ (1-1), Megan Smyth-Lynch 87′ (2-1)
Athlone Town 2-1 Wexford Youths
Goals: Aoibheann Clancy P 8′ (0-1), Kellie Brennan 21′ (1-1), Gillian Keenan 82′ (2-1)
Peamount United 1-0 Bohemians
Goals: Stephanie Roche 29′ (1-0)
Sligo Rovers 1-1 Treaty United
Goals: Cara Griffin 9′ (0-1), Lauren McLellan 83′ (1-1)
The only change of position after the last round of games in DLR Waves moving back above Bohemians. With Athlone beating Wexford Youths the gap between the top 4 is now just 3 points. Next week we’ll go through title-race permutations ahead of the final 3 rounds.
Really we could have done a piece on the Midlands side every week, such has been the nature of their remarkable season. Tommy Hewitt is manager of the year no matter what happens, and what could happen is Athlone winning a league and cup double.
Over the past 3 weekends Athlone have beaten reigning champions Shelbourne in the league, knocked holders Wexford out of the cup, and gone to Wexford the following week and beat the league leaders. They are a serious team, and we are seeing the dawning of some new big names in the WNL.
Gillian Keenan scored what is a crucial header at this stage of the title race. She headed in a corner after substitute Emily Corbet did so well to win the set piece. Muireann Devaney has been a sensation. The way she moves the ball around and the ground she covers will surely see her in the Ireland set up soon. Kellie Brennan was player of the match. She scored the equalizer, having scored against Shels two weeks prior. When asked if they are eyeing up the league in her post match interview she said “Why wouldn’t ya?” That’s just it, why wouldn’t they? If they keep that team together we’ll be seeing Athlone around the top of the table for a while.
Close to a Big One
Two things nearly happened during the last game round. Cork almost went to Tolka Park and beat Shelbourne, and Treaty United nearly got a first win of the season against Sligo Rovers.
If either of the Munster sides had won it would have been deserved, Cork have come into their own unfortunately late in the season. Treaty have made a good go of games but it’s been clear they’ll likely find themselves in the second tier when it comes in.
Still, a good week with the two bottom sides showing they can be competitive. We don’t need to go back to the days of 10+ margins of victory.
Women’s National League Round 25 – Saturday 15th October
Wexford Youths vs Sligo Rovers
Ferrycarrig Park / 16:30
Cork City vs Peamount United
Turners Cross / 17:00
DLR Waves vs Shelbourne
Whitehall Stadium / 17:00
Treaty United vs Athlone Town
Markets Field / 17:00
Bohemians vs Galway
Dalymount United / 18:00
Ireland international Chloe Mustaki scored her first professional goal last weekend.
One thing we didn’t get to talk about with no WFB last week was Clare Shine announcing her retirement.
Clare has been an excellent player in her time, but more significantly she has been an important advocate for mental health awareness in Irish sport. She’s contributed to the conversation in hugely important ways. We wish Clare all the best going forward.
Before You Go
And if you’ve enjoyed any of our stuff please take a look at our fundraiser for Ireland’s National Autism Charity. You can read up on the different challenges we’ve done and why we chose to raise money for As I Am. The link to donate is on our charity fundraiser page, all donations are greatly appreciated and every little bit goes a long way.
The Women’s Football Blast will be back next Wednesday (or a day closely following Wednesday) with all the Irish women’s football content you can handle.