As the sold-out signs were last night hoisted for Tuesday’s Euro women’s qualifier against Ukraine at Tallaght Stadium, Ireland defender Claire O’Riordan insists she’s ready to meet the nation’s expectations.
Ireland have never qualified for a major senior women’s tournament but the momentum of the team, coupled with the expansion of the 2021 finals, has raised hopes of the drought being ended.
The appointment last month of seasoned coach Vera Pauw alleviated some of the chaos caused by the abrupt departure of Colin Bell just 10 weeks ahead of the campaign but the real tests will be the two games against Ukraine.
Eight-times champions Germany already hammered the Ukrainians 8-0 — and that was an away assignment.
At her first press conference, Dutchwoman Pauw wrote off first place off in the group to Germany. The eight-times title winners are expected to inflict another heavy defeat on Ukraine today.
A runners-up finish for Ireland would at the very least seal a play-off shot at reaching the showpiece in England.
That highlights the importance of Tuesday’s Tallaght showdown before a crowd of 8,000, although O’Riordan, from Limerick, doesn’t believe victory is essential.
What they will require is an improvement in performance levels on the only game of the campaign, last month’s sluggish 2-0 home victory over minnows Montenegro.
“The main thing is that we don’t lose the game,” said O’Riordan, currently playing in the German Bundesliga for Duisburg.
“Ukraine will come into our game having played Germany today, so we’ll all looking at the video from that one. They are the second seeds in the group but we cannot afford to concentrate too much on the opposition.
“Confidence is high that we can qualify for a first major tournament.”
O’Riordan could do with a bit of confidence. She linked up with the Ireland squad bristling from an 8-1 mauling by Wolfsburg last weekend.
The German champions, backed by an annual budget of €50m, have reached four of the last seven women’s Uefa Champions League finals.
O’Riordan, 24, realised her move to Duisburg at the start of last season would present the biggest challenge of her career and, with one full campaign behind her, she’s got used to the standard of the league.
Her international colleague Amber Barrett is in a similar predicament having joined FC Koln. They have also struggled this term against the heavyweights.
“A lot of it does come down to money,” admits the former Wexford player, who Bell converted from striker to centre-back.
“Our budget would only be a fraction of what Wolfsburg spent. The Bundesliga has some of the best players in the world and it’s great for my game to be tested against them.
“Last season, we managed to avoid relegation and that’s the target again. I’ll be relieved once we get our first point.”