Republic of Ireland senior women’s team manager Sue Ronan had a lot to be content with despite her side losing to the USA for the second time in a week.
Ireland lost 2-0 to the USA at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, as the Olympic gold medallists stretched their unbeaten run to 20 games with a first minute goal from Alex Morgan and a 34th minute effort from Megan Rapinoe.
Coming three days after losing 5-0 in Portland, Saturday’s score line represented an obvious improvement but it was the performance of the Girls in Green that really pleased Ronan as she sets about the task of preparing for the 2015 World Cup qualifying.
Ronan said: “They caught us by surprise at the beginning by going 2-4-4 but once we regrouped and changed from 4-4-2 to 4-1-4-1 with Niamh Fahey sitting in front of the back four we were able to cope.
"Emma Byrne is getting better and better and led by example. She produced a string of super saves and even the Americans were full of praise for her performance.." - Sue Ronan
“Niamh did so well that their captain Abby Wambach, who has been nominated for FIFA Player of the Year, actually went looking for her after the game to get her jersey.
“Having watched the video it did look as though their first goal was offside and then their second goal took a deflection off one of the girls but it was a great performance from our girls and a few of them really shone.”
One of those was captain Emma Byrne. The Arsenal goalkeeper was winning her 93rd cap and produced a series of saves in the second half that were absolutely top drawer and kept Ireland in the game until the very end.
“Emma Byrne is getting better and better and led by example. She produced a string of super saves and even the Americans were full of praise for her performance after the game. She been at the top of her game for 17 years and she is still going strong.
“Our back four were very good and the midfield worked hard. We found it difficult to get the ball going in the final third so we weren’t able to threaten them but I was pleased with how we kept possession in the second half,” said Ronan.
Ronan admitted that 2012 had been disappointing as her hopes of steering the side to a possible European Championship play-off faded but she is now looking forward to the World Cup qualifiers which will kick-off next autumn having identified some of the areas where Ireland needs to improve in order to become competitive in qualifying.
"Our girls know the level they are at and what they have to aspire to" - Sue Ronan
She continued: “The European Championship qualifying campaign was disappointing but we are now focusing on the World Cup draw in February and the Cyprus Cup in March where we will play South Africa and South Korea whom we haven’t faced before. The qualifiers will begin in September and we will have a friendly before that.
“One area we have to improve on is power and strength. In the few months we have played the US and France, two of the top teams in the world, and you can see the different between us and these full time professional athletes.
“Our girls know the level they are at and what they have to aspire to. It’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to take a few years.
“Teams like Scotland, Switzerland and Holland have gone ahead of us and it’s down to power and strength and we have got to concentrate on getting back on level terms with them. The Women’s National League is a step in the right direction because those countries have had their own national leagues for years.”
Ireland U17 and U19 women’s teams have qualified for the Elite Phase of their respective European Championships and Ronan intends running the rule over these squads in the hope of identifying players who can follow in the footsteps of 18-year-old Denise O’Sullivan who has successfully made the jump from under-age football into the senior squad..
“We’ll be looking at everybody over the next few months and hopefully we can find one or two new players who are ready to come into the senior squad,” said Ronan.