Republic of Ireland senior women’s defender Karen Duggan flew home from Germany today already looking forward to the Euro 2017 qualifying campaign, even though it doesn’t start for another 12 months.
With 16 teams set to qualify for the finals for the first time ever, there is genuine optimism within the Irish camp that the World Cup qualifying campaign has laid a solid foundation for a crack at reaching a major finals for the first time ever.
Duggan said: “We have got this experience now and we have got a young squad and I think this campaign will bring us on leaps and bounds from where we are now.
"We will be more mature, fitter and stronger when the next campaign starts so it bodes well.”
It has been a good campaign for Duggan who was one of those who benefited from the back-to-back defeats at home to Germany and Russia last Spring.
A fringe player, she was one of three changes to the Irish back four for the game against Croatia in June and, after shipping six goals in two games, Ireland went on a run of four clean sheets that was only ended by European champions Germany last night in Heidenheim.
Duggan continued: “I came into the team after the Russia game and we managed to keep a few clean sheets so personally I am happy with that and the back four are pleased with the record we had.
“It’s not a bad record although I would have liked to have kept the record up yesterday but it wasn’t to be although we did keep a clean sheet in the second half.”
Those clean sheets and getting a run of games under her belt were the personal highlights for Duggan who had to wait patiently for her chance to stake a claim for a place in starting XI.
She added: “I have been waiting a while, just hoping for a break with the team, so I was delighted to get a few caps to my name.
“It’s nice to get a few consecutive games. It helps shake off the nerves and you feel a bit more confident because you gain confidence with each game you play. Hopefully I can keep getting a few games in and establish myself as a main payer in the squad.”
From a team point of view Duggan admits that there were highs and lows in the campaign with some disappointing performances but these were balanced by being beaten only once away from home, keeping six clean sheets in 10 games and finishing on 17 points.
”Only one away loss to an unbelievable German side is a good record.
"We set out to finish second but didn’t achieve that. However, we did get the highest points total that we’ve ever had which is a good achievement so we have to be happy with that,” said Duggan.
While the home based players will continue to train together each week at the National Sports Campus, the squad won’t come together as a group until the winter training camp in January but Duggan admits they have plenty to keep them busy until then.
“Luckily enough we are still going to be busy with our clubs so it will help to keep us focused on football.
"We are not going to be taking a massive break at all and we should be okay come the Cyprus Cup in March. We will start to build towards the Euro campaign from there.”
Duggan switched clubs during the summer, leaving Peamount United to join UCD Waves, the new addition to the Continental Tyres Women’s League, and she is enjoying her new surroundings.
Duggan said: “We have couple of big games coming up over the next few weeks so they will be a good test to see where we are at. We are a new team and we are still trying to gel together.
"We have started very positively and it will be exciting to see where it will go.”