Beating Finland twice and stalling the Swedish steam-train has fuelled belief that Ireland can hurdle the final step on October 11 towards the women’s World Cup.
Vera Pauw unveiled her 28-player squad for the playoff final on that date away to the winner of the semi-final meeting between Scotland and Austria being played five days earlier.
Ireland could be just 90 minutes away from a first major tournament – the finals co-hosted by New Zealand and Australia in July 2023 – but must tackle that obstacle without three key players.
Megan Connolly and Ruesha Littlejohn, both injured in last month’s 1-0 win over Finland, have been joined on the unavailable list by Leanne Kiernan, who suffered a serious ankle injury during the 2-1 win over newly-promoted Liverpool over Chelsea.
Austria (20) and Scotland (23) are both seeded above 26th-placed Ireland in Fifa’s rankings but Pauw’s tigers have caused shocks already by splitting the two Nordic neighbours, top seeds Sweden and Finland, during the regulation qualifiers.
Aside from finishing off the Finns with a six-point haul, Ireland became the only side to take points off the Swedes. Getting the 1-1 draw in their backyard of Gothenburg magnified the feat.
“Nobody gave us a chance against Sweden but they did not feel that at all,” noted Pauw, the veteran Dutch coach appointed by the FAI in September 2019.
“We went on the pitch to win, and of course, did it in a way that was realistic to growing our chances. We needed a draw, calculating already back then for a point to get to the next stage (runners-up and playoff).
“Therefore, nobody is afraid of Austria or Scotland, although we do know how strong they are.
“This is another final for us, like it was against Finland and Slovakia last month.” The vagaries of the playoff system afford Ireland minimal time to study their opponents.
Pauw has planned contingencies, the game at Hampden on Thursday week a one-stop shop to gain an insight on the winner. She’s leaving the scouting to her staff.
“It's a bit odd, something I’ve not seen before,” she said about the quirks around the sequence of playoff matches.
“Our opponent can fully concentrate on us already, whereas we need to devise our plan.
“We have organised that, with three people going to the Scotland-Austria game. One scout for Austria, one scout for Scotland and my assistant Tom Elmes will go because he's delivering the presentations to the team, he's doing the analysis of the opponent.
“He can focus on the overview and be ready the next morning to present to our players.” One player Pauw won’t have during the final lap of qualifying is Clare Shine, the Cork native who opted to retire last weekend at the age of jut 27.
“All respect for her,” she said of the striker, who has been praised for going public with her battles with addiction and depression.
“I’ve had a very long and good talk with Clare as she told me in person.
“The thing is she really feels this is the best decision for her. It’s a shame for football, but at this moment football is not important.
“For us, for me, the only thing is her health, her wellbeing and that she’s happy. She has chosen this direction so full respect and love.”