HAVING COME THROUGH one of the most turbulent periods in the history of Irish women’s football, the senior international team returned to the pitch yesterday afternoon.
The whole episode is likely to have brought this group closer together and there is no denying that media coverage over this past week has been unprecedented — albeit in highlighting the FAI’s shortcomings.
A home friendly with an inferior Slovakia team represented ample opportunity for the players to put the fall-out with the association behind them after last week’s mediation talks resulted in an agreement.
John Delaney’s absence was notable, but the lunch-time kick-off time meant there were plenty of empty seats at Tallaght Stadium — The official attendance was announced at just over 1,000.
A disappointing turn-out when you consider the support they had received over the past week.
In truth, the standard of football in the first half was particularly poor from both sides. Ireland edged it, but their play was riddled with misplaced passes and there was a distinct lack of fluidity.
Thankfully, significant improvements were made after Stephanie Roche scored what turned out to be the winning penalty-kick just after half-time.
The game began to open up with Katie McCabe running at Slovakian defenders whenever she got the chance. Along with Roche, Denise O’Sullivan and substitute Claire O’Riordan, the winger was unlucky not to add to Ireland’s advantage in the closing minutes.
In the end, one goal was enough but Bell accepted afterwards that his team will need to show vast improvements in the coming months if they are to qualify for their first major tournament.
“The first half was a little too hectic with no clear or good decisions,” said Bell. “They opened us up a couple of times as well so we were a little bit lucky. The girls needed that half to get them back into international football.
“Football is about results and there is nothing better than a win to start off with. There was a lot of attention and focus on the girls but they handled it well. Second half, we made mistakes but we kept going and it made it an exciting game. Katie [McCabe] tried those one-on-ones, taking the risk and being positive.
“That brings the crowd and the whole game up. So I was really pleased with the energy of that second half. We got the perfect start, with an early goal and it was just what we needed to settle us down. We could have had a couple more for sure.”
The Irish players applaud the 1,037 who attended the game.
Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO
Ireland have looked more convincing at the back since Bell’s arrival and he intends to build the foundations of his success on defensive solidity.
“They’ve got to improve,” he added. “They’re not at the level I want them to be. I’ve been around in football a long time and in women’s football for the last few years. I’ve been lucky enough to work with world-class players so I know what the level is.
“We’ve obviously got to raise our level much higher to get anywhere near that but we’re on the way. And the girls have risen again. This is my fifth match and we’ve had four clean sheets so that’s a good start for us.
“You have to give yourself a chance to win games and if you’re conceding every match it means you’re going to have to score at least two and that’s a massive task for every team. So that’s why we’re putting the emphasis on defence to start off with.”
With the World Cup qualifying draw now two weeks away and friendlies to come in the summer, Bell wants to put the recent controversies to bed and focus on developing the players.
“It’s important that we finish that off now, it’s done and dusted,” he said. “The FAI and the team came together, and got the conditions sorted. Now we can put it away and do the work that we need to do on the pitch because we’ve got tonnes of it to do.”
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