The FIFA Women’s World Cup odyssey is over for the Republic of Ireland. After a stalemate with Nigeria at Brisbane Stadium, it is now time to reflect on the tournament for the Republic of Ireland camp. Hawkeye Sidekick takes up the narrative.
Injuries leading into this tournament played into squad selection. Megan Campbell and Aoife Mannion were automatic picks.
Their absence then forcing management to delve into unchartered squad depth chart territory with Isibeal Atkinson and Claire O’Riordan getting the call ups.
The midfield squad selection was mostly predicted. Jamie Finn unfortunate to miss out here given her performances in the team during the campaign. Jess Ziu side-lined with injury. Sinead Farrelly getting the nod in the squad.
The attacking unit was a concern leading into the tournament. Apart from Amber Barrett, no-one named in the squad depth chart had scored international goals. Abbie Larkin and Marissa Sheva late bolters to the squad at the expense of Saoirse Noonan and Leann McKiernan whose injury issues cost her a place in the squad.
The Aoife Mannion absence at the back was telling upon reflection. Vera Pauw was not confident of any other defensive options. Diane Caldwell and Claire O’Riordan deemed surplus to requirements. Megan Connolly thrust into a back three position, a role Connolly valiantly tried to take on, but it did not work.
I feel sorry for the outfield players Claire O’Riordan, Diane Caldwell, Ciara Grant and Chloe Mustaki. The time and effort to get into the squad but no significant game minutes. The players will be quite disillusioned by the tournament. Management showed zero faith to these players.
Megan Walsh and Grace Moloney were always going to be cover for Courtney Brosnan but no game minutes leading into the tournament was telling. Management again not convinced by the keeper depth chart so there were clear questions on depth chart leading into the tournament.
Zambia game identified some pace issues in the side defensively which prompted Megan Connolly to move to a defensive back three slot. Amber Barrett shining in this game, but we saw precious little of the Donegal native during this tournament.
The French game was a lesson in keeping focused for an entire game; two quick fire goals before the break finishing off the friendly. Final third toiled and this was a trend to continue into the World Cup tournament.
Brisbane as a base was an interesting pick given that Sydney and Perth were also matchday venues. The decision to switch training facilities after FIFA intervention was a disappointing development but hopes were high heading into the opening matchday against co-host Australia.
Opportunity lost in the opener. This tournament saw the Republic of Ireland start on the back foot with a defensive approach to the opener against Australia. A penalty concession was enough for the hosts minus Sam Kerr to secure three points. It was a physical battle.
Australia only threatened late on when Abbie Larkin injected much needed pace in the final third. The final third hold-up play not good enough for this level of competition unfortunately with possession lost at a rate of knots.
Did the team pay too much respect to the rankings of the teams within their group? Canada’s performance against the Republic of Ireland lacked cohesion. Yet another missed opportunity. Self-inflicted wounds with the Megan Connolly own goal and then Leon evading the defensive cover to score early in the second half.
Katie McCabe’s goal coming from a direct corner kick, but the side failed to build on that advantage. The performance fell off a cliff after the break; the own goal sapped the morale and energy of the side. The travel, the scheduling and player minutes catching up on the side. The Perth weather matching that of the mood of the camp postgame. The World Cup dreams were over.
The Nigeria game was a fixture of pride and consolation. Given the Melbourne events, Nigeria were at ease and picked their moments to attack a defensively well organised Republic of Ireland setup.
Kanu’s effort producing a superb save from Courtney Brosnan. The final third issues again exposed. McCabe the only player to provide a significant attacking flair to proceedings.
The playing minutes tells the tale of the tape when it came to the squad. The management team placed their faith on a core group of players (9) and the rest of the squad were fringe players who if contributed was a positive.
The management uncertainty in the overall squad again highlighted on this squad game minutes stats given those below Heather Payne in the game minutes. Aine O’Gorman game minutes coming last minute against Canada when Heather Payne pulled up before that fixture.
The player’s attributes and what they would bring to the squad appears unclear. Louise Quinn being asked to venture to attack in search of a goal in the first two games late on.
Louise Quinn admitted that she did not like the role but given the consummate professional that she is adhered to management orders.
The leadup and postgame tension between the players and head coach was apparent for all to see. A direct question on Vera Pauw’s future was batted away by the players, no support for their manager.
The Pauw and McCabe difference of opinion today exposing Vera Pauw’s frustration at the lack of contract talks with the FAI. Grenades thrown to the media which is not a good look heading into a long-haul flight back to Ireland. This response should have been kept in house. An own goal from the manager here.
There is no denying Vera Pauw’s contribution to this national women’s setup. The World Cup qualification was a superb achievement, but this campaign felt a bit like when Giovanni Trapattoni took the Republic of Ireland’s men’s squad to the Euros in Poland 2012 – no genuine squad depth confidence, setup defensively and hoped to launch a counterattack for goals.
The goal scored in this tournament came from a direct corner kick. McCabe execution standout but the final third setup and threat was exposed throughout the group campaign.
It is an acceptance that there needs to be significant improvement in this area of the pitch. Carusa and Sheva failed to provide attacking threat throughout the tournament. A time to evaluate if there are other players ready to step up to the team.
Denise O’Sullivan tried hard but was well contained by opposition in this tournament. It meant more onus on Sinead Farrelly to deliver and despite some good cameos against Canada, it was a struggle. Katie McCabe then forced to become that attacking outlet for the side who was the standout player for Ireland in this tournament from an outfield sense.
Courtney Brosnan was a standout in goal. Her save against Kanu today capped off a superb tournament.
The back three overall did as well as they could. Fahey and Louise Quinn strong in their defensive duties. Littlejohn was abrasive and energetic in the middle of the park but the elevated opposition exposed issues in the team performance. An early exit is merited given the overall performance sequence.
Lessons to be learned but with several defensive players set to call time on their careers and increasing uncertainty on Vera Pauw’s future, the Republic of Ireland side’s ability to continue their progression is up in the air.
A rebuild defensively will be required along with a review on the final third side of play. Creativity in the final third to create scoring opportunities is a focus point for management heading into the Nations League campaign.
The elimination is a disappointment but at least the team were competitive albeit defensive in setup. The players and management need to be candid on what can be learned from the tournament. The fear of those top seeded teams usurped any ambition of securing wins upon reflection.
Nigeria to their credit smashed the form book out the window in this group and played what was in front of them.
Perhaps, the Republic of Ireland should be more pragmatic going forward when facing a situation such as this in the future. Pick your moments to attack and create chances against the top seeds, do not be content to sit deep and soak consistent pressure for long periods.
The team have done the nation proud with their efforts. Yes, lessons to be learned but it provides a foundation which hopefully is not squandered by the side going forward. Can Pauw be pragmatic to change her philosophy and can the players improve further? All intriguing subplots.
Time though will be an indicator given the Vera Pauw comments leading into the Nigeria game and her comments postgame. FAI have a decision to make on the managerial direction of the side who want to strive to the next level. That objective starts with a local derby game against Northern Ireland in September.