Georgia 0 Republic of Ireland 9
Workmanlike and ruthless, a Katie McCabe-inspired Ireland team came, saw and conquered a Georgia rabble only good for reckless fouling in Monday’s 2023 Women’s World Cup qualifier.
Ireland made them pay over and over again, with McCabe plundering a hat-trick.
Attack of the crosses and corners, Georgia failed to cope with whatever Megan Connolly and McCabe conjured from set pieces, in a World Cup qualifier squeezed into the football calendar. Three hundred-odd souls had plenty of room inside the 5,000 capacity Tengiz Burjanadze stadium in tiny Gori, 90 kilometres from the capital Tbilisi, for a ridiculous 8pm kick-off.
Unsurprisingly, all three points were secured long before the sun had set over The Caucasus. Job done, a campaign full of promise and unknown pleasures reaches its zenith when Finland arrive at Tallaght stadium on September 1st.
The women’s side of the FAI house has never known a more important date.
“I hope the crowds will come out, because we need you, and if we win against Finland we are through (to the play-offs),” said Ireland manager Vera Pauw. “Let’s finish it off now.”
The Finns are one point shy of second placed Ireland with two matches remaining. McCabe’s team finish with a tricky trip to Slovakia on September 6th while Finland expect disinterest from neighbours Sweden, who have already topped Group A and are eyeing up the Euros in England this summer before turning their focus to the main event in Australia and New Zealand next year.
Only one way to join them. McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan drove at the heart of their hosts, scoring early when McCabe unleashed that lethal left foot after Heather Payne’s ball found O’Sullivan ghosting between Georgia’s brittle lines.
The wonder is what Ireland’s eternal duo must do to make ESPN’s top 50 players list. The 24 judges, which includes Emma Byrne, must not be watching Arsenal and North Carolina Courage matches, never mind Ireland’s.
Connolly was equally outstanding here. When Louise Quinn sent her lofted corner back across Tatia Gabunia’s goalmouth Niamh Fahey finally bagged an international goal. The Liverpool defender’s team-mates knew full well it was her 104th cap.
Georgia were atrocious at defending set pieces with Connolly’s third of the campaign providing a glaring example as the Brighton midfielder intentionally shinned McCabe’s dangerous inswinging corner.
Three-nil up after 18 minutes, the tempo trailed off for the remainder of the first-half as the majority of the Irish squad are deep in off-season. The rest are stalled in the amateur Irish league or, like O’Sullivan and Payne, needed to ghost through multiple US and European airports to reach Gori.
Pauw was considered and ruthless in the selection of this team. Jamie Finn travelled only to be excluded from the match day squad so she couldn’t receive a third yellow card that would rule her out of what comes next.
“We need Jamie for Finland,” Pauw told RTÉ before adding that Stephanie Roche’s expected return from the international wilderness was shelved by the Dutch coach’s preference for a striker “who stops the first ball forward.”
The high press being vital to this Irish project, Abbie Larkin elbowed Roche from the bench as Pauw’s belief that the Shelbourne striker possesses the “mobility and capacity to turn and speed up the game” was supported by the rangy teenager’s first goal in green.
“Abbie is only 17 years old but I hope everyone sees how talented she is,” said Pauw. “She needs to go a long way and we will take it easy with her but it was fantastic what she did on the pitch today.”
Larkin’s cameo came long after McCabe claimed her second, swiping at Connolly’s short corner, to make it 4-0 at the turn.
Quinn’s trademark header made it 5-0, thanks again to Connolly’s pinpoint delivery, but the Birmingham City centre half was only warming up as she flicked McCabe’s gorgeous free-kick past a hapless Gabunia to make it six.
McCabe latched on to another quality ball from Connolly, to match O’Sullivan’s hat-trick against Georgia earlier this year, with a gentle reminder that the Arsenal winger belongs among the top 50 players on the planet.
O’Sullivan’s delicate touch, turn and finish deep in injury-time was a more pointed protest.
Next stop, Tallaght. To finish it.
Georgia: Gabunia (Lanchkhuti); Chkhartishvili (Sivasspor), Kvelidze (unattached), Kalandadze (Lanchkhuti), Danelia (Sivasspor); Bakradze (Çaykur Rizespor), Pasikashvili (Kvartiali); Danelia (Kvartiali); Tchkonia (Lanchkhuti), Chichinadze (Nike); Cheminava (Fomget GS).
Subs: Khaburdzania (Lanchkhuti) for Bakradze (half-time), Gujabidze (Lanchkhuti) for M Danelia (62 mins), Gotsiridze (Lanchkhuti) for Chichinadze (83), Alelishvili (Lanchkhuti) for Khaburdzania (89).
Ireland: Brosnan (Everton); Fahey (Liverpool), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Caldwell (Manchester United); Payne (Florida State University), Connolly (Brighton and Hove Albion) Littlejohn (Aston Villa), McCabe (Arsenal); O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Ziu (Shelbourne); Barrett (FC Koln).
Subs: Agg (London City Lionesses) for Littlejohn, Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City) for Payne, Larkin (Shelbourne) for Barrett (all 62 mins).
Referee: Melis Özçiğdem (Turkey).