The Lessons Learned From Ireland’s Nations League Campaign

The Lessons Learned From Ireland’s Nations League Campaign
Alanna Cunnane
Alanna Cunnane

A stellar 6-1 win over Northern Ireland in Windsor Park concluded Ireland’s Nations League campaign last night, earning them promotion to League A and more importantly guaranteeing them at least a play off in the bid for Euro 2025 qualification.

Here are the lessons learned from Ireland’s Nations League campaign under Eileen Gleeson, leaving a rejuvenated squad and an excited fanbase looking ahead to the 2024 season.

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The tide of women’s football is turning, attendances exemplify that

If you cast your mind back to September, the WNT were coming off the back of their whirlwind inaugural World Cup showcase and were aspiring to make more history back on home soil.

Amid dragged out controversy around what was said between their former manager and the FAI, stood a ground-breaking fixture; the first international women’s football match at the Aviva Stadium.

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Lucy Quinn rose to the occasion to net the first goal, but so too did the Irish public, turning out in their droves, or 35,944 people to be exact, to cheer on her and the rest of the Girls in Green.

Yet again, it broke the existing attendance record, and even times it by five, suggestive of the growing support of the team that they had built in the years and months prior.

It was a monumental moment for Irish sport, and one that will hopefully be replicated, and improved upon, in the coming years.

Ireland’s Nations League Campaign showed we are well capable of attacking

If there’s one thing we saw throughout Ireland’s Nations League campaign it’s goals, and plenty of them.

The team put away 20 goals during the six games, conceding just two.

With their 100% win record intact, and even fortified come the final whistle last night, it can finally be said, without any confusion or delusion, that Ireland can play as an attacking team.

Yes, that notion has to be put in the context of the quality of their League B opponents, but currently ranked 24th in the world (which you can probably expect a bump in soon), the Girls in Green have exhibited that they’re a force to be reckoned with.

Often throughout this batch of fixtures we saw Katie McCabe released from the shackles at left back, Denise O’Sullivan move into the pocket at 10 and Kyra Carusa evolve on her World Cup form and into the number 9 hold up player that Ireland have longed for for years.

Caitlin Hayes provides another option off the set piece

If nothing else, what Gleeson and her assistant managers Emma Byrne and Colin Healy have uncovered in Caitlin Hayes can be credited as one of the major successes of this campaign.

She’s not the next Louise Quinn, at 28, she’s her own Caitlin Hayes, and boy did she reveal herself as that throughout Ireland’s Nations League campaign.

Scoring last night at the end of a Megan Connolly corner, she provides another aerial and set piece option, alongside Quinn in attack.

The Celtic woman almost scored on her debut in the Aviva, but followed up and made good during her second outing, opening her scoring tally away to Albania.

Rain, hail or shine, McCabe, O’Sullivan and Carusa always turn up for the WNT

When it rains it pours and that was certainly the case for the Irish WNT during their trip to Albania.

With torrential conditions at play, they should have brought their snorkels rather than their football boots, but yet things still went swimmingly and a goal from O'Sullivan meant they maintained their unbeaten winning streak.

When you remember they played the first half, waited an entire 90 minutes in the dressing rooms before putting back on their wet gear and going again, it's all the more impressive, as is the undeniable reality that the Cork woman, alongside her teammates Carusa and captain McCabe, always shows up.

As the going got tough for the Irish WNT at any stage in Ireland’s Nations League campaign they always came to the rescue, demonstrating the growing list of players that are capable of dragging the team over the line when things aren't going their way.

Eileen Gleeson had a refreshing rapport with the players in Ireland’s Nations League Campaign

At very juncture of Ireland’s Nations League campaign the players took the opportunity to point out just how much they valued interim manager Eileen Gleeson, and the energized atmosphere she brought into camp post World Cup.

You can also visibly see it in the players, who are played with a new lease of life during this latest batch of matches.

You could see that from the returning Tyler Tolund and her Player of The Match performance at that first game in the Aviva Stadium, right up to last night's masterpiece.

Speaking with RTE after yesterday's match, the former Peamount United and Glasgow City manager commented that she's "never been prouder" than to represent her country as WNT boss.

"I love the girls, I love Irish football, I always have. I've been involved in it for 30 years so to be involved tonight I mean it's pretty special," she says.

"This team is going to maximise its potential...this team is really going to drive forward I think."

There was regardless, but there's plenty for the future manager to work with

On top of Tolund's comeback, Jessie Stapleton re-entered the ranks of the WNT last night, making just her second ever apperance.

Erin McLaughlin and Izzy Atkinson have both embedded themselves into the squad under Gleeson's reign in the Nations League as have even younger players, like 'two Peas in a pod' Freya Healy and Ellen Dolan who were both knocking around with the Girls in Green this week at age 16.

Abbie Larkin at 18 made her World Cup debut during the summer thanks to Pauw, and there's no doubt alongside the likes of Tara O'Hanlon, Ellen Molloy and Jess Ziu that there's plenty of youthful firepower to return yet.

In abundance to the squad picked for this window, there's also lots of experienced players to make a comeback as well. Niamh Fahey, Aoife Mannion, Megan Campbell, Marissa Sheva, Emily Whelan and more are all waiting in the wings, meaning as McCabe says, they're "not the finished article just yet."

That thought should be a scary prospect for whoever Ireland should face in 2024, as even though tougher challenges lie ahead, there's more to come from this team too, whoever the next manager may be.

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