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Ireland snatch crucial draw in Gothenburg; Ulster must step up once again

The Morning Sports Briefing: Keep ahead of the game with ‘The Irish Times’ sports team

The Ireland players celebrate Katie McCabe’s opening goal. Photograph: Tommy Holl/Inpho

A performance so good that the FAI must now consider releasing a shirt with instructions on how to beat the Irish. The last time Sweden dropped qualifying points at home, Katie McCabe was 15 years old. She's now 26 and her first half strike last night had Ireland dreaming of a famous win until Kosovre Asllani spared the Swedes' blushes 11 minutes from time. Still, it feels strange to say it about a draw, but that result in Gothenburg changes the complexion of Ireland's World Cup qualifying group with a handful of games to go. Ireland's fate is in their own hands now and - whisper it quietly - qualification for a historic appearance in the global showpiece in 2023 seems more likely than ever. All of the above contributed to a smile from ear to ear on the face of Vera Pauw when she carried out her post-match press conference. In last night's other football action, Karim Benzema once again struck to deny Chelsea a famous Champions League comeback win, while Unai Emery's Villarreal dumped out Bayern Munich.

Saturday's visitors to Belfast will travel in expectation, not just hope. The last time Toulouse travelled to the Kingspan, they won by seven points, a result that would be enough to see them claw back the first leg deficit and knock Ulster out - their famous win away at Le Stadium would all of a sudden count for nothing. Previewing the game in his column this morning, Gordon D'Arcy believes that "what sufficed in France won't in Belfast because Toulouse should be better and if Ulster lose as many collisions again on Saturday night, they won't be able to survive against a team with a full complement of players." Meanwhile down in Limerick, after initial reports came through on Tuesday, Munster yesterday confirmed that Graham Rowntree will step up from his role as forwards coach to replace Johann van Graan as the main man at the end of the season.

The unseasonal cold makes it all the more discordant that the championship is upon us, this weekend no less. This year we'll see an All-Ireland final in July for the first time since 1907. This new condensed schedule for the championship is but a trial - it's worth pointing out - but Seán Moran today looks at the chances of it continuing into the long term future. One of the opening clashes is Sunday's meeting between Tipperary and Waterford at Walsh Park. Tipp boss Colm Bonnar is well placed to talk up the strengths of his opponents given he lives in that county and managed Waterford IT and was even team trainer in 2002 when Waterford won the Munster title. His view of his 'home' county's attitude heading into the Munster championship opener? "The general feeling here in Waterford is that Limerick is the only team getting the better of them over the last couple of years. The fact that then Liam Cahill (from Tipperary) is their manager makes it a bit more intriguing."

Kellie Harrington has announced that she will retire from boxing after her gold medal defence at the Olympic Games in Paris, 2024. Ahead of this summer's World Championships in Istanbul, she has been talking up their importance on her road to Paris, while still managing to remain her usual relaxed self. "These World Championships, they are massive. But it is preparation for next year when the qualification system starts. I'm not really sure how that's happening but this is just preparation. What will happen will happen, what will be will be." In racing news, the Fairyhouse Easter festival got a significant boost on Tuesday when Willie Mullins indicated there is "every chance" his brilliant novice Galopin Des Champs will run there this weekend.