Ireland women to fly by charter for first time as Covid concentrates minds

Ireland women to fly by charter for first time as Covid concentrates minds

The Republic of Ireland senior women's squad will travel to a game by charter flight for the first time due to the Covid crisis.

Vera Pauw's side face Ukraine in a crucial Euro 2021 qualifier in Kiev next Friday. Win or draw and they are guaranteed a play-off place as Group I runner-up, at the very least, and the need to safeguard the travelling party is top of the agenda.

Ireland will prepare in Duisburg in Germany, just as they did ahead of the tie against the Germans last month. The flight to Ukraine has also been put back a day, until Thursday, in order to complete all Covid testing and ensure that everyone who flies has returned negative results. There is no foolproof way of avoiding the virus, of course.

The men's team that flew to Slovakia for their Euro 2020 playoff did so on the back of widespread negative results but had to do without Aaron Connolly and Adam Idah after the pair were discovered to be close contacts of an FAI official who was later found to have returned a false positive.

Still, it surely won't be the case that players choose their own seats on this or any other team flight after that unfortunate episode and the charter decision is also another sign of the progress made around the women's game.

Pauw was asked this morning about the issue of equal pay for players representing the male and female national teams and made the point that it is a question that goes far beyond the value of a cheque signed for services rendered.

“Gender equality is having equal rights and opportunities and, with this Covid situation, having to travel in a normal airport and being in line with other people, the risk of picking up the virus is so big. The (FAI) management said that we have to make this happen.

“I wasn't even part of that. If we are talking about gender equality then this is the moment that this is necessary because otherwise we are putting our players into risk and therefore qualification also into risk, apart from the personal danger.

“So I got the message that we are flying with the charter. It shows the change in thoughts, that the women's game is in every single discussion and the proof now is there that this is really serious.”

The Ireland manager admits that the Covid situation is a concern as they prepare for a game on the far side of Europe and in another country with rising cases but both management and players have done everything they can to reduce their potential exposure.

They are, she said, on the cusp of something special. The women's senior side has never qualified for a major tournament before and they face a Ukrainian side that had conceded 16 goals across two games to Germany but one that can still pip them to second spot.

Pauw believes Ukraine underestimated her side when Ireland won 3-2 in Tallaght last October and has been impressed with the manner in which their hosts on Friday stuck to the task in racking up the goals against Greece last month.

The excitement and nervous anticipation is palpable.

“How do you call it? Goosebumps? Yes, because it is a final and we are on the brink of something special and we feel that if we get to the playoffs then we have a really, really strong squad to go into those,” said the Dutchwoman.

“We are also aware that this game could go anywhere. We have to have a draw to play those play-offs at least so we are aware that it can turn the other side and we have to be absolutely ready because the strengths of us and Ukraine are very close at the moment.”

Diane Caldwell, the hugely experienced centre-back with SC Sand in Germany, has been carrying an ankle issue but she came through a full 90 minutes yesterday having been rested by her club for another game last Wednesday.

Pauw also confirmed that goalkeeper Marie Hourihan, who is struggling with a dislocated finger and is only on standby for this fixture, would not have made the panel if fully fit. The Braga player has been first-choice foremost of this campaign.

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