The Republic of Ireland Women’s National team have kick-started their first ever UEFA Nations League Campaign with back-to-back wins over Northern Ireland and Hungary this week. Sports Editor Oisin Gaffey analyses the two victories and their significance
History was made on Saturday when the Irish Women’s National Team played their first-ever game in the Aviva Stadium, the national football stadium in Ireland. Previously playing in Tallaght Stadium which has a capacity of only 8,000, The Girls in Green were watched by 35,994 fans in the Aviva on Saturday, breaking the record for attendance at a women’s football game. Similarly, they were playing in their first-ever UEFA Nations League game, with the competition only coming into existence this year.
‘The Girls in Green were watched by 35,994 fans in the Aviva on Saturday, breaking the record for attendance at a women’s football game’
The Departure of Vera Pauw After the 2023 World Cup
The departure of Vera Pauw from the Irish National Team has been well documented and has dominated Irish Sports Media in the aftermath of the 2023 World Cup.
After a six-hour deliberation from the FAI Board of Directors on Tuesday 29th August, it was decided that the FAI would part ways with Vera Pauw. Tensions had been raised following allegations of her being ‘abusive’ and ‘belittling’ to players during her stint as Houston Dash manager in 2018.
Rumours also spread that she had ‘lost’ the support of the dressing room, and Captain Katie McCabe throughout the World Cup, though neither has commented on this. Diane Caldwell stated in a press conference that “The results and performances that we got were in spite of Vera being our coach”, in what was a jaw-dropping confession.
Pauw offered criticism of the FAI’s handling of proceedings, stating that “Despite committing to issuing an offer to me, the FAI reconsidered their stated position and I never received the promised offer.”
After Pauw’s departure was confirmed, Assistant Coach Eileen Gleeson was announced as interim manager for The Republic of Ireland’s two games against Northern Ireland and Hungary in September 2023.
Republic of Ireland 3-0 Northern Ireland
Knowing we would witness a record-breaking crowd, the hype surrounding this fixture was immense during the build-up to the game. A spine-tingling rendition of Amhran Na Bhfiann before kick-off encapsulated the excitement heading into this game; the football did not disappoint.
The Republic of Ireland, led by warrior captain Katie McCabe, was up for the occasion from the first minute, as they looked to build from their World Cup performances in what is now being described as the Post-Vera Era (Taylor’s Version).
‘A spine-tingling rendition of Amhran Na Bhfiann before kick-off encapsulated the excitement heading into this game’
It was McCabe who was heavily involved from the start. Her corners, though not as spectacular as her goal against Canada, caused the Northern Irish defense a host of issues. In the 21st minute, a dangerous McCabe corner was met by the head of Kyra Carusa, but Northern Irish Goalkeeper Shannon Turner produced a good save to deny the striker from close range.
Just ten minutes later, The Republic of Ireland broke the deadlock, with veteran centre-back Lucy Quinn etching her name into the history books as she scored the first goal for the Women’s National Team in the Aviva Stadium. With McCabe producing another dangerous corner, the ball fell to Quinn on the edge of the penalty area, where she volleyed her effort into the bottom-right corner to lift the roof off of Lansdowne Road.
Northern Ireland would do well to wrestle back some control in this game, but they failed to turn this momentum into anything tangible. In the 70th minute, an error of communication between Goalkeeper Turner and Defender Rebecca Holloway saw the two players fail to clear a dangerous ball to Carusa. Turner, who was well-off of her line, and Holloway, who had scuffed an attempted clearance, could only watch as Carusa rolled the ball into an empty net to make it 2-0.
‘Veteran Centre-Back Lucy Quinn etched her name into the history books as she scored the first goal for the Women’s National Team in the Aviva Stadium’
A Lily Agg header from another Katie McCabe corner sailed into the top-right corner to give the ‘Girls in Green’ a 3-0 lead with just five minutes left to play. It was a joyous final five minutes for the Republic of Ireland, who could enjoy the atmosphere as the game drew to a close.
It was a great win to kick-off the post-Vera era, as the team played some truly exciting football. They were helped by a rather docile Northern Irish side, but one must not underestimate the significance of scoring three goals in a game - something that rarely happened during the Vera Pauw Era.
Republic of Ireland 4-0 Hungary
Off the back of their historic day on Saturday, Eileen Gleeson’s side traveled to Budapest to take on Hungary on Tuesday night in their second Nations League game. Hungary is the lowest-ranked side in League B, sitting 32nd in the current World Rankings, but is not a team to be underestimated.
Ireland made a strong start to this game, as they looked to dominate possession early on. An early chance from Heather Payne rattled the crossbar, and it wouldn’t take long for Ireland to break the deadlock. In the 18th minute, McCabe picked up the ball on the far-right touchline and produced a wonderfully weighted, 30-yard cross, deep into the Hungarian box, where it was met by the head of Caitlin Hayes at the back post. Hayes’ effort went through the legs of Hungarian Goalkeeper Reka Szocs, who could only watch as the ball nestled into the back of the net. It was a brilliantly worked opening score.
Katie McCabe would get herself on the scoresheet on the brink of half-time, as she pounced on a loose ball from Evelin Fenyvesi, taking one touch to set herself before powering an emphatic shot into the top-right corner from 35 yards out. Eyebrows were raised about the goalkeeping of Szocs, but there was very little she could do due to the quality of the Arsenal defender’s strike.
With just four minutes played in the second half, Kyra Carusa got her head on the end of a Heather Payne cross, beating Szocs at the front post to give Ireland a comfortable 3-0 lead in the game. Carusa, who was brilliant in the World Cup, grabbed her second goal in as many games in this International break.
The striker would get the assist for the fourth goal of the night, picking up a pass from Heather Payne and shaping to shoot before drawing back a perfect pass to the oncoming Denise O’Sullivan. The midfielder connected well with the ball, her shot rattling the back of the net to make it 4-0 on the night.
Ireland made it two wins from two in their opening games of the Nations League, as they now sit top of their Group on six points. They did not face the calibre of quality that they faced in the World Cup, but these were two emphatic performances to get some confidence back in the side following a disappointing World Cup exit and the ongoing Vera Pauw controversy.
‘Ireland made it two wins from two in their opening games of the Nations League, as they now sit top of their Group on six points.’
What is the Women’s Nations League?
The competition is divided into three leagues (A, B, C), with Leagues A and B being further divided into four groups (A1, A2, A3 etc.), whilst League C has five Groups. The Leagues and Groups have been created in this way so that teams can play more regular matches against teams of a similar standard.
The Republic of Ireland find themselves in Group B1, as they are currently ranked 17th in the World and is joined by Northern Ireland, Hungary, and Albania. The teams will play each other twice; once home and once away.
The winner of the group will be promoted to League A, whilst the runner-up will enter a play-off with a team that finishes third in one of the Groups in League A. The winner of that match will play in League A the following season. The three best third-placed teams play off against the three best-ranked second-placed teams of League C, the winners play in League B.
The lowest-ranked third-placed team and the fourth-placed team will be relegated to League C.
Simple enough, right?
Focus now turns to the Women’s Super League, which starts up again on Sunday 1st October. Ireland will be back in action on Friday 27th October as they take on Albania in Dublin, before playing the reverse fixture just four days later.