The Republic of Ireland U19 Women’s team came from behind to beat hosts Serbia and win Group 1 in the first round of qualifying for the UEFA U19 Women’s European Championship.
Serbia had hit back to lead 2-1 after being stunned by an early goal from striker Katie McCabe but goals from skipper Denise O’Sullivan and vice-captain Emma Hansberry gave Dave Connell’s side a deserved 3-2 win.
The result is a massive boost for Irish women’s football as Connell has now led the U17 and U19 sides to their respective groups with a 100 per cent record in both cases and, with the Men’s U17 and U19 also qualifying for the elite phase, it been a tremendous autumn for the FAI’s international underage set-up.
Both teams went into today’s game at the FK Srem Stadium in Jakovo having already secured qualification for the next phase but Ireland were very much the underdogs, having lost to the Serbs at U18 level earlier in the year.
In addition the home side only needed a draw to win the group as they had a vastly superior goal difference following big wins over Latvia and Cyprus.
But they were rocked after just four minutes when Orlagh Nolan swung the ball in and Katie McCabe sent a glancing a back header to the net.
Ireland created enough changes in the next half-hour to have put the game out of sight with Gemma McGuinness on the end of four great chances, two of which produced superb saves from the keeper, Vojinovic.
"Serbia are a really good side and had several senior internationals in their line-up" - Dave Connell
Ireland paid the penalty for those misses in the 36th minute when the Serbian captain Damnjanovic equalised and nine minutes after half-time a penalty conceded by goalkeeper Jillian Maloney, when she was adjudged to have brought down Damnjanovic, led to Cubrilo giving the home side the lead.
However, the Irish women responded magnificently and within five minutes were back on level terms when a short free-kick by Claire Shine found Lauren Murphy and her cross was headed home by senior international Denise O’Sullivan.
The winning goal came in the 74th minute when Emma Hansberry curled a 25-metre free kick around the wall and in off the post as the Irish threat from set-pieces once again reaped rich dividends.
With Claire O’Connell in superb form at the back and goalkeeper Jillian Maloney equal to anything the Serbs fired at her, the Irish were able to hold their lead this time and record a famous victory.
“This was an absolutely excellent performance from the girls because Serbia are a really good side and had several senior internationals in their line-up,” Connell said afterwards.
“Our midfield of Denise O’Sullivan, Emma Hansberry and Claire Sine were superb and Claire O’Connell at the back was the player of the match.
“It’s been a great few weeks with the U17s and now the U19s qualifying and winning their groups with 100 per cent records.
"It shows the amount of work that is being done on the ground by the clubs, the coaches, the leagues and the Emerging Talent Programme and there are some seriously good players now coming through.
“We’ll wait now and see who we get in the draw for the second round. I hope we avoid the really big guns and get a good chance at qualifying for the finals but there won’t be too many wanting to meet us and the girls, after this performance, won’t be afraid of anybody.
"They are a great group and have knuckled down and taken on board everything we’ve asked them to do. I am very proud of them.”
Serbia: Vojinovic; I. Damnjanovic, Krstic, Smiljkovic, Jankov, Popov (Velickovic 52), Elenkov, Savanovic, Stankovic (Trišic 40), J. Cubrilo, J. Damnjanovic (C) (Milinkovic 73). Subs not used: Stojakovic, Lazarevic, Stojanovic, Sopka.
Republic of Ireland: Jillian Moloney (GSA 95 Phoenix Red, USA); Lauren Murphy (Cork Women’s FC), Chloe Mustaki (Peamount United), Ciara O’Connell (Cork Women’s FC), Grace Wright (Challenge FC, USA); Denise O’Sullivan (C) (Cork Women’s FC), Emma Hansberry (Castlebar Celtic), Claire Shine (Cork Women’s FC); Gemma McGuinness (Greencastle FC), Katie McCabe (Raheny United), Orlagh Nolan (Shamrock Rovers).
Subs: Kelly Halligan (Blackburn Rovers) for Nolan (16 mins), Rhianna Jarrett (Wexford Ladies) for Halligan (46). Subs not used: Courtney Brosnan (PDA Slammers, USA), Shauna Newman (Raheny United), Carys Johnson (Everton), Emily Cahill (Peamount United), Sinead O’Farrelly (Raheny United).