It was a case of in with the old but also in with the new, when Vera Pauw yesterday unveiled her provisional squad for Ireland’s crucial Euro 2021 qualifiers against Greece in Tallaght Stadium on Thursday, March 5 and away to Montenegro on Wednesday, March 11.
The headline grabber was the news that Áine O’Gorman has come out of international retirement to answer the coach’s call. O’Gorman had stepped down in 2018, with 100 caps and 13 goals for her country to her name, but at the request of Pauw, the Peamount United player has now overturned that decision and once again made herself available for duty in the green shirt.
“She will bring a lot of experience, that is the key reason we have asked her to be available for us,” said Pauw. “We have a few injuries, including two full-backs, and we would not bring her in if we did not feel she can make an impact on the field and in that position.”
But it also looks like there will be some brand new faces available for the back-to-back qualifiers, with Pauw revealing that three, as yet unnamed, foreign-based players — one of whom is understood to be a goalkeeper — have declared for Ireland and, pending international clearance, will be in contention for inclusion in her trimmed-down squad.
“It’s in the final phase,” said the manager. “They are players on the edge of coming in.”
As well as O’Gorman, also returning to the squad are Courtney Brosnan, Harriet Scott, Megan Connolly, Niamh Farrelly, Ruesha Littlejohn and Heather Payne, who all missed last November’s draw away to Greece.
Defenders Keeva Keenan and Megan Campbell are both ruled out due to injury — of the latter, Pauw remarked that “it looks like it will not be short-term, unfortunately” — while Eabha O’Mahony and Emily Whelan will be part of Dave Connell’s Women’s Under-19 squad for three Uefa Elite Phase qualifiers in Czech Republic.
A notable absentee is rising star Tyler Toland whose progress appears to have stalled since her summer move to Manchester City.
“As you all have seen, she is not playing there, apart from 15 minutes,” said Pauw. “I’m not saying that if she’s not playing she cannot be selected but there are other players at this moment who bring more to the squad. She needs games and I’m sure she will find the way to develop her talent and that she will come back into the squad.”
With Germany the hot favourites to top the group and the developing shape of the other groups suggesting that Ireland will struggle to be one of the three best runners-ups who qualify automatically for the finals in England, Pauw believes that the “realistic target” for her team now is to finish in second place and look to progress through the play-offs.
And to achieve that goal, she says that the Irish — still unbeaten in this campaign but having drawn away to Greece in their last outing — must take maximum points at home to the Greeks and away to Montenegro.
Pauw landed in the job in the midst of the most turbulent year in the FAI’s history but while she said she never feared for her or her team’s future, she did express relief that the Association now appears to be on a more solid footing..
“Everybody is relieved it’s true because salaries can be paid and there is huge gratitude for that,” she said. “But the thing as well is that, within the national team, the drive and the will is so big that nothing can stop us. The feeling that I received from the players when they were calling about things was: ‘Whatever happens, we will be there for Ireland’. And that’s the same feeling that I have. Whatever happens around me, I will be there.”
Republic of Ireland WNT squad
Goalkeepers: Marie Hourihan (SC Braga), Grace Moloney (Reading), Courtney Brosnan (West Ham United), Niamh Reid Burke (Peamount United).
Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Aine O’Gorman (Peamount United), Louise Quinn (Arsenal), Diane Caldwell (SC Sand), Claire O’Riordan (MSV Duisburg), Jamie Finn (Shelbourne), Claire Walsh (Peamount United), Chloe Mustaki (Charlton Athletic).
Midfielders: Julie-Ann Russell (Sydney University), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Hayley Nolan (University of Hartford), Niamh Farrelly (Peamount United), Jessica Ziu (Shelbourne), Ruesha Littlejohn (West Ham United).
Forwards: Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Clare Shine (Glasgow City), Heather Payne (Florida State University), Leanne Kiernan (West Ham United), Amber Barrett (FC Koln), Rianna Jarrett (Brighton & Hove Albion).