John Fallon: Crowning glory time beckons for O’Sullivan and McCabe

Denise O'Sullivan is four appearances off reaching a century of caps and, at 28, would be the youngest player, either male or female, to hit that milestone.
John Fallon: Crowning glory time beckons for O’Sullivan and McCabe

LEADERS: Katie McCabe, left, and Denise O'Sullivan of Republic of Ireland. Photo by Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

OF all the excuses for missing national service, mislaying a passport must be the most forgivable.

Enduring that misfortune when Ireland hosted Portugal — shortly after moving stateside in 2016 — is the only reason Denise O‘Sullivan hasn’t been available for all 50 qualifiers since her senior international career commenced 11 years ago.

The midfield schemer has turned up, fit and well, for 49 competitive fixtures, featuring in all bar one, in her first campaign for the 2013 Euros.

It’s a remarkable display of determination and endurance, unwavering in friendlies too, for a player based in America over the last six-and-a-half years.

The Corkwoman is four appearances off reaching a century of caps and, at 28, would be the youngest player, either male or female, to hit that milestone.

Her constant companion Katie McCabe is doing her best to shadow that streak.

Nineteen months younger, her career in the green shirt only began in 2015 but of the 32 qualifiers since her arrival, the Ireland captain has been on the pitch for 31.

Her sole absence was during the early throes, a torn quad muscle sustained away to Portugal in October 2015 keeping her out of Spain’s visit to Tallaght.

It’s been a clear run for the deadly duet since that campaign.

Ireland have had eight qualifiers in each of the last three campaigns, the first of those the tilt at qualifying for the 2019 World Cup under Colin Bell.

His abrupt exit handed a brief caretaker stint to his assistant Tom O’Connor for the Euro 2021 opener at home to Montenegro, filling in before Vera Pauw’s appointment.

That eight-game series was followed by a replica schedule under Pauw in these World Cup qualifiers, bringing to 24 the haul of competitive matches in a row both have been involved in.

And they’ve been the fore, each completing the full 90 matches in every qualifier stretching back five years.

Golden moments have interspersed some of the dark ones, such as McCabe’s penalty miss in Ukraine two years ago that cost a playoff shot against Northern Ireland to reach the Euros in England.

For instance, in this latest campaign — which extends into next Tuesday’s World Cup playoff away to the winner of the semi-final between Scotland and Austria — O’Sullivan grabbed winners in Finland and Slovakia and McCabe’s opener earned a point against top seeds Sweden.

All three results against nations around them in ranking were accomplished away from home, highlighting their propensity to meet a challenge.

That’s been their calling card too at club level; O’Sullivan earning personal and collective accolades for North Carolina Courage and McCabe establishing herself in an Arsenal side next only to double winners Chelsea in the Women’s Super League.

We’re fortunate to have the combo at their peak — the Robbie and Duffer or the modern era — and it’s not weighing them with expectation to single them out as pivotal in next week’s decider.

Ireland may be within 90 minutes of smashing their major tournament drought by being part of the European coterie heading to New Zealand and Australia next July and our hopes will rest of what dollop of magic either can conjure in the cauldron of Hampden Park or St Pölten’s NV Arena.

Pauw has already bestowed the highest of praise on O’Sullivan by categorising her as one of the best midfielders in the world, a status validated by outsiders too.

Tony Gustavsson was swift to praise the swashbuckling playmaker’s qualities before the visit of Australia to Tallaght last year and the coach wouldn’t allow the moment to pass without namechecking McCabe as the other threat.

Pauw possesses what Stephen Kenny doesn’t by having at her disposal two creators worthy of world-class bracketing. That both have rediscovered their positioning on their ascent is admirable too.

Historically renowned as a terrier operating off the striker, with time O’Sullivan’s traits have been better served in a deeper midfield role. Likewise, McCabe has been converted at Arsenal from the left-winger she was recruited as, into a full-back or wing-back.

Pauw liked the deviation, mirroring Arsenal’s ploy with Ireland but the distinctive repertoire McCabe brings to an international side lacking attackers inhabiting that standard of club action makes her selection further up the pitch a no-brainer.

Together they fuse into Ireland’s optimal avenue for goals.

Half of the 26 scored in this campaign have been delivered by the pair; seven for McCabe and six from O’Sullivan.

They’ve suffered the anguish of near misses in unison as well, both at U19 and senior levels, and their relief at the end of the Finland win that sealed the playoff was apparent.

Old friends and team-mates, kneeling on the Tallaght turf, embraced to signify the belated turnaround in their Ireland journeys.

Their calibre demands stages such as next year’s global spectacular, yet as Pauw cautioned last week, nothing is guaranteed. All that’s changed is a steeper cliff to crash down from.

If anybody is going to instill a winners’ attitude, it’s the double-act, two players of their generation deserving of reaping rewards for their unstinting dedication.

Memoir of Real Madrid visit a reminder of Limerick's lust for football

Joy and despair has dominated Limerick football for decades and there's a dose of both in the short documentary released marking the 1980 visit of Real Madrid in the Champions League.

Led by player-manager Eoin Hand, Limerick City got the plum draw by meeting the Spanish giants who had by then racked up six of their 14 Champions League trophies.

" Sit Down and Shut Up" – a title twisted from the famous Munster win over the All Blacks – charts the background to the fixture, including the controversy of moving the game from Markets Field to Lansdowne Road.

Unlike 1968, when Waterford were also forced to switch from their home ground to Dublin for the visit of Manchester United, public interest was paltry. On top of Limerick's hardcore deciding to boycott the game, the recession of the time and limited public transport options combined to draw a measly crowd of just 5,000.

Still, there was plenty of drama on the pitch as Limerick led through Des Kennedy's opener till 20 minutes from the end, eventually falling to late goals by Juanito and Pineda.

Kennedy was again on target in the return at the Bernabeu, a rare reprieve in a 5-1 mauling before 90,000 fans.

Featuring interviews with Kennedy and goalkeeper Kevin Fitzpatrick, as well as local fans such as Gary Spain and the late publican and Fianna Fail councilor, Jerry O Dea, this charming 13-minute production directed by Cian O'Connor is well worth a watch on Youtube.

Bohemians vacancy attracting a wide array of candidates

The spine of Ireland's 2002 World Cup team is aiming to manage Bohemians, if various reports are to be believed.

Since ending Keith Long's eight-year stint at the end of August, the Gypsies have assigned three members of their board to interview prospective candidates.

Applications from home and abroad were accepted and, at various stages of the last five weeks, Robbie Keane, Kenny Cunningham and Richard Dunne were linked with assuming control at Dalymount Park.

The latter has been the only figurehead publicly questioned on his interest or otherwise, hardly distancing himself by confessing a desire to finally mount the carousel of management having obtained his Pro License through the Northern Ireland FA.

Fans favourite Derek Pender, currently in caretaker charge alongside another of Long's coaches, Trevor Croly, doesn't hold the requisite coaching qualification to be appointed full-time but could form part of the new appointment's staff.

With Bohs 10 points adrift of fourth place and European qualification all but doomed, they are in no rush to name their first full-time boss since 2014 but would be minded to consider employing a director of football simultaneously.

For all of Long's noble traits, being burdened by an excessive workload caught up with him.

Wexford boss Ian Ryan is another contender but, if Bohs are dipping into the First Division, Tommy Barrett's credentials from the wonders he's worked on a shoestring at Treaty warrants the attention.

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