Netherlands stand between Irish Under-19 women and European final

Dave Connell’s side aim to defy critics and the Dutch in Oslo semi-final


Perhaps it’s all Jack Charlton’s fault but the Republic of Ireland Under-19 women have discovered old stereotypes die hard ahead of tonight’s Uefa European Championship semi-final against the Netherlands at the Mjondalen Stadium, Oslo (6pm Irish time).

This side, managed by Dave Connell, has already created history by, firstly, becoming the first Irish team to qualify for the Under-19 showpiece and, then, sweeping to the top of their group with victories over Spain, England and Sweden over a six-day blitz. Despite their ascent, it’s fortunate the squad is thick-skinned because credit for such unprecedented success has been hard to come by from their counterparts across the continent.

Sweden manager Calle Carrling had described the Irish as “a hurling team” even before they suffered a second successive defeat to them on Tuesday.

Dutch coach André Koolhof, too, delivered a damning assessment after the nations’ scoreless draw in April, branding Connell’s crew as purveyors of the “kick and rush” style.

Tonight the teams are reacquainted, with the reward of a place in Sunday’s final at the 30,000-capacity Ullevaal Stadium against either hosts Norway or Spain on offer.

That most of the countries they’ve faced have underestimated them perfectly suits the Irish. While forecasts of their reigning in Europe seem to be confined to the camp itself, Connell isn’t bothered by any external opinions.

“It was clear from when we played them last time that the Dutch don’t like playing against us,” said the manager yesterday at the team’s base in Lillestrom.

“We’ve taken a bit of stick from other countries but anyone watching our matches can see the girls like to knock the ball around and have plenty of ability.

“Although we only drew that game against the Dutch, and they were at home, I know that we’re capable of better and our team has greatly improved since.

“Of course, they’re a country with a massive football tradition but I doubt very much that they have as much camaraderie as our team.

“We’re staying in the same hotel as them and I haven’t seen that level of unity amongst their group.”

The return to full fitness of striker Clare Shine presents Connell with a selection dilemma. The neck injury she sustained in the win over England reduced top scorer Shine to a bit-part role during Monday’s final group match against Sweden.

“The advice from our medical staff was that Clare wouldn’t complete 90 minutes against Sweden but she’s all good now,” said the Ireland manager. “We juggled things around by switching Amy O’Connor up front in Clare’s role with Keeva Keenan coming into defence as a replacement.

“It will be tough to leave players out tonight but the substitutes have had an important part so far so it could be same in the semi-final.”

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