Failing to perform under pressure cost Ireland’s women in the qualification campaign for the European Championship, says head coach Vera Pauw, who has explained her plan to have players train with boys to replicate “the resistance that they feel in the international games”.
A 1-0 defeat in Ukraine, having won the home leg 3-2, ultimately meant Ireland missed out on a playoff for the finals.
And in an FAI interview to mark International Women’s Day, Pauw put that down to some players being unused to such a high-pressure situation.
“We were so much better than Ukraine, our direct opponent for the playoffs. But an unfortunate situation, playing under high pressure is what was lacking.
“If you look at all the goals against, apart from one Germany goal, every single goal was a mistake under pressure. That is what we’re dealing with and that is what we have to take care of.”
The Dutch woman added: “The crucial thing we need to realise that if you have to perform under a certain pressure, you have to train and play under that pressure. And unfortunately, we don’t have that situation yet in Ireland.
“So the task we have is to bring players into a daily routine of training at a high level under the highest pressure.”
Pauw’s comments apply to the home-based players in her senior squad, who typically train twice or three times weekly with their Women's National League clubs, with sometimes a further session together as a group.
“There’s more and more players that are getting closer to the women’s national team, but to make that last step, they need to train like the others who are training abroad every day with world-class players. And we can do that by training a few times a week with boys, outside the club training. Because they bring that pressure.
“So we’re dealing with a project where all the talented players will train with boys, each from their own level, so they feel the resistance that they feel in the international games. Because we feel that is what cost us.”
The plan would involve the players training with boys youth sides close to their WNL clubs, with the FAI covering any insurance issues. Pauw says there has been no resistance to the plan from coaches.
“It’s very easy to organise, very easy to improve. Everybody is so enthusiastic. And the teams that we think would be good for one or two players to train there, we have not perceived any coaches yet that would be against.
“Everyone is very enthusiastic to help us. It’s the easiest, cheapest way to solve this problem. There’s a letter going out to all the clubs to explain. We will pay all the insurance costs for that, because players need to be insured of course.”
Under the plan, Ireland’s home-based attacking players would train with younger boys than her defenders.
“We need to find the right level, which for attackers is a bit younger, maybe 16/17. And for defenders a bit higher age, 17/18, because they need to be under that pressure to defend. Because attackers and attacking midfielders need to create. And if the boys are physically too strong they cannot create.
“I have a lot of experience with that in all the countries that I’ve worked. We’ve done a lot of research when we expanded the age to play and train with boys, in the Netherlands and Scotland. And all the research shows the same thing, that it’s good for both. It’s good for the development of the players, both boys and girls.
“They influence each other and that is why it’s so positive.”
Pauw, who was capped 89 times for the Netherlands, also remarked on the huge strides women's football continues to make around the world.
“The biggest change is the dream that a player can have. You can dream now to play for Chelsea, Manchester City, Shelbourne, Peamount, Ajax, PSV, Lyon, Paris Saint Germain, Barcelona, Real Madrid,
“When I was a kid you could dream to just play, to just get between the lines. And I could only start when I was 13 and the next one in my team was age 25.
“There are so many women who have pulled the game out of the mud, into the light. And sponsors are luckily seeing it now. And women’s football is next to men’s senior football the biggest sport on earth, bigger than all the other male sports. And it can only grow further.”