Thursday 8 April, Tallaght Stadium
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BUILDING TOWARDS THE FUTURE
It's may be the same manager and much the same squad as missed out on the European Championship play-off last year, but there’s still very much the sense that this is the start of a new era, as Vera Pauw begins to build towards qualifying for the 2023 World Cup campaign.
Pauw’s decision to stay with the Ireland team and sign a new two-year contract is a huge vote of confidence not just in her work, but in the continued development and growth in the women’s game in Ireland.
Having raised both the profile and the standard of the National Team over the last qualifying campaign, there was the sense that Pauw would have been leaving work unfinished had she opted to walk away but instead, she now looks to take Ireland to the next level.
That job starts in earnest this week with friendlies against Denmark and then a trip to Belgium ahead of the qualifying draw on 30 April. Rather than line up friendlies against smaller, more beatable teams, Pauw wants to test her side against the best.
"Denmark are a fantastic opponent for us to play in this international friendly game," she said. "They are ranked 14th in the world, possess some excellent players, and are very much a team that will test us."
LOOKING FOR SQUAD DEPTH
While Pauw has named a familiar looking squad for the friendlies with Denmark and Belgium, she is also casting her net wider than usual in order to find and hopefully bed in some new blood.
Pauw extended squad invites to four players eligible to declare for Ireland while the manager insists she is not putting any pressure on them, she hopes that getting a first-hand taste of life in the Ireland squad will convince them.
Into the training squad came Florence Gamby of London Bees, Lily Agg from London City Lionesses and Emily Murphy of Chelsea but currently on loan at Birmingham. Glasgow City's Aoife Colville was due to join up also but withdrew.
While the newcomers are not eligible to be part of the match-day squad, Pauw is hoping that just having them experience life within the Ireland set-up will sway them.
Elsewhere injuries mean that Megan Campbell, Leanne Kiernan and Clare Shine are all absent, while Julie-Ann Russell and Nicole Douglas have been unable to link up with the squad due to Covid-19 restrictions.
"This team is so determined," Pauw explained.
"And this team is developing the qualities so much and it's becoming clear what we need and what we need to add and how and how to approach things that even without having activities we have performed every game better.
"I expect that that will keep growing."
DENMARK OFFER A MAJOR CHALLENGE
When Pauw speaks of testing her side against the best, it isn’t hyperbole. Denmark are one of the strongest teams in Europe and will let the Ireland manager know just where her side are right now.
Qualifying top of their group for European Championship, the Danes dropped just two points throughout their entire campaign with nine wins and one draw. That singular blemish came against Italy in their final group game with qualification all but confirmed already.
A squad comprised primarily of Scandinavian players, with a sprinkling of those plying their trade in the English, French and Italian leagues, the Danes have a solid backbone along with some of the most exciting players in the women’s game.
The star of their squad and the women that Ireland will have to be most wary of is Chelsea’s Pernille Harder. Her move from Wolfsburg to Chelsea last September reportedly saw her become the most expensive transfer in world soccer and she has been named the UEFA Women's Player of the Year in both 2018 and 2020.
In a potent attacking front line, Ireland will also have to worry about the experience Nadia Nadim, who is undergoing something of a renaissance at Paris Saint-Germain, following on from a disappointing spell at Manchester City.
Manager Lars Sondergaard also has some very promising young midfielders to call upon in the shape of Fortuna Hjorring duo Emma Snerle and Olivia Holdt.
Goalkeepers: Courtney Brosnan (West Ham United), Marie Hourihan (SC Braga), Grace Moloney (Reading)
Defenders: Keeva Keenan (Celtic), Claire O’Riordan (MSV Duisburg), Louise Quinn (Fiorentina), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Diane Caldwell (North Carolina Courage), Claire Walsh (Peamount United), Niamh Farrelly (Glasgow City), Áine O’Gorman (Peamount United)
Midfielders: Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Ellen Molloy (Wexford Youths), Jamie Finn (Shelbourne), Hayley Nolan (London City Lionesses), Ruesha Littlejohn (Birmingham City), Emily Whelan (Shelbourne), Alli Murphy (London City Lionesses), Katie McCabe (Arsenal)
Forwards: Rianna Jarrett (Brighton & Hove Albion), Amber Barrett (FC Koln), Heather Payne (Florida State University), Kyra Carusa (HB Hoge).
Goalkeepers: Kathrine Larsen (Djurgardens IF), Lene Christensen (KoldingQ), Katrine Svane (AGF)
Defenders: Rikke Sevecke (Everton), Sofie Svava (FC Rosengard), Sara Holmgaard (Fortuna Hjorring), Simone Boye Sorensen (Bayern Munich), Sara Thrige (Fortuna Horring), Luna Gevitz (BK Hacken)
Midfielders: Olivia Moller Holdt (Fortuna Hjorring), Nanna Christiansen ( Brondby IF), Sanne Troelsgaard (FC Rosengard), Emma Snerle (Fortuna Hjorring), Sofie Junge Pedersen (Juventus), Kathrine Kuhl (FC Nordsjaelland), Josefine Hasbo (Brondby IF), Katrine Veje (FC Rosengard)
Forwards: Pernille Harder (captain) (Chelsea), Nicoline Sorensen (Everton), Frederikke Thogersen (Fiorentina), Caroline Moller (Internazionale), Nadia Nadim (Paris Saint-Germain), Signe Bruun (Paris Saint-Germain), Stine Larsen (Aston Villa)