After the spotlight shining on the Ireland women’s team at the start of the campaign for unusual reasons, Diane Caldwell feels it only fitting the same should apply at the business end approaches.
Never before have Ireland reached a major tournament at senior level but right now, with three qualifiers remaining, that opportunity rests in their control.
All that’s needed is a couple of results, even one win, from the double-header against Norway which starts this evening at Tallaght Stadium, and the concluding tie with Northern Ireland in September could constitute a chance of reaching the World Cup play-offs.
Caldwell, at 29, is in her fifth campaign and, apart from a play-off back in 2008 for the following year’s European Championships, has lamented the team’s challenge invariably waning midstream.
The appointment of Colin Bell, a Champions League winner with Frankfurt, suggested a different dimension would be brought but so too did the squad’s level of contentment. For years, they’d be forced to represent their country amid substandard conditions, including the absence of any match fee payment to player having to take time off work and college to report for duty.
Caldwell and a couple of other senior players had enough of the situation by the end of the last campaign, their search for the simplest of conveniences such as a tracksuit of their own proving impossible, and eventually matters came to a head in April 2017.
They never imagined how far their unprecedented press conference, held with the Players Football Association of Ireland, would extend. The mistreatment highlighted shocked the public, spiking an interest that has translated into higher attendances throughout this campaign.
Attaining provisions, as they eventually did after boycotting the first training session in the lead-up to facing Slovakia in a friendly, resulted in their demands being met and also the expectation levels rising.
Their boss Bell, along with FAI chief executive John Delaney, called on his team to start qualifying for tournaments. Three wins and a draw from their opening four games proved happiness off the field makes a difference and, despite losing to the Netherlands, second spot is achievable.
It will take some effort to extract the points from a Norwegian side ranked 14th in the world and deemed top seeds in the draw before the Dutch reigned supreme at the Euros last summer.
Caldwell believes they can continue to deliver on their promise to be finally last the course in a campaign.
“It all comes down to us now,” said the centre-back based in Germany with SC Sand.
“The changes we wanted in the setup were well-documented. We were fighting for bare minimal things required for a national team and everything is in place now where we can achieve something.
“Those excuses are now eradicated, everything is sorted off the pitch and it’s a matter of getting the results to reach France.
Caldwell’s mission tonight will be to keep under wraps Caroline Graham-Hansen, the Norwegian striker who score twice in their last qualification win over Northern Ireland in April and played in the recent Champions League final. While the Dubliner recognises that Norway as favourites in both games, the second taking place in Stavanger on Tuesday, her knowledge also gives an insight about how they can be got at.
“I played alongside three of the Norway players during my four years at Norwegian club Avaldsnes,” explained Caldwell.
“Their captain, Maren Mjelde, has since moved to Chelsea and they’ve quality throughout their side.
“I’ve come up against Caroline in our games against Wolfsburg this season and she’s a class player, one of the best in the world.
“Norway fully expect an easy six points off us from these two games but they have weaknesses too which I’m aware of.
FAI Player of the Year Harriet Scott misses out with a knee injury while goalkeeper Marie Hourihan will need to pass a fitness test on her calf complaint to start.
M Hourihan (Manchester City) - S Perry-Campbell (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), K Duggan (Peamount Utd) - M Connolly (Florida State), N Fahey (Bordeaux) - L Kiernan (Shelbourne), D O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), K McCabe (Arsenal) – A Barrett (Peamount Utd).
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