By Liam Mackey
Denise O’Sullivan is backing the senior Irish women’s team to become history makers. At the halfway point of qualification for Euro 2021, Ireland are in second place in Group I, after last Thursday’s 1-0 win against Greece in Tallaght maintained their unbeaten record.
With Germany pretty much already nailed on to top the group, a second place finish would allow for the possibility of automatic qualification or, as a guaranteed fall-back, a place in the play-offs, paving the way for a first appearance at a major tournament for the girls in green.
“This is the time,” says O’Sullivan, the Cork midfielder who plays for North Carolina Courage and is one of the stars in this Irish side. “We have a mixture of youth and experience in there. Áine (O’Gorman) coming back was a huge step for us as well. We have a good squad of players and they’re very hard working. That’s the vision: just to get to the Euros. And I think we can do it.”
The strength of the squad is underlined by the fact that Ireland have coped admirably with the absence of some big players, including Megan Campbell and Megan Connolly.
“They’re huge losses,” O’Sullivan concedes: “Hopefully they’ll be back fit and ready soon. But we still have a very strong squad. People get injured, that happens, and we just have to keep encouraging each other and backing each other as a team.”
Though the Irish are sit two points behind the Germans and six ahead of Greece, with Montenegro and Ukraine both on zero points, albeit having played a game less, O’Sullivan rejects the notion that a second-place finish is pretty much in the bag.
“Absolutely not,” she says. “We have a long way to go. We aren’t taking Montenegro lightly and Ukraine are very good team as well. We aren’t going to take them lightly either. And then obviously Germany are top guns. Our realistic position is to be second but we’re still not done.”
Next up for Ireland is their return game in Montenegro on Wednesday. In the opening match of the campaign — the first before manager Vera Pauw took over from caretaker boss Tom O’Connor — the Irish won 2-0 in Tallaght. A 10-0 hammering by Germany and a 4-0 loss to Greece means the Montenegrins have yet to register a goal but, for all that, O’Sullivan expects them to make life as difficult as possible for the visitors this week.
“We’re in a very good position but we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves,” she says. “We’re not taking Montenegro lightly. They’ll be well organised. They’ll sit deep and be compact, and we’ll have to try and break the lines to score. I think we’ll just have to stick to the game plan and take it as it comes: keep patient, move the ball quickly and, once we do that, they’ll start to break up and we’ll score goals.
Kick-off in Petrovac on Wednesday is at 3pm Irish time, with live television coverage on RTÉ 2 starting at 2.30pm.
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