Denise O’Sullivan is primed to skipper the Republic of Ireland against the USA in Austin, Texas next Saturday, on the occasion of her 100th cap, regardless of Katie McCabe’s availability.
The regular Ireland captain is nursing a bruised ankle, sustained during her storming performance to help Arsenal beat Bayern Munich and reach the Champions League semi-final last Wednesday at the Emirates stadium.
“I never swear but at that moment, within my private area I had a bad word coming out,” admitted Ireland manager Vera Pauw.
Both scan and X-ray came back clear, allowing Pauw voice the relief of an entire nation, and half of north London. She even gives McCabe a chance of featuring against the Vlatko Andonovski coached world champions over two matches in three days.
“The biggest relief is of course that it is not a long term injury, it is just a matter of whether she can play against the USA or not, but no fear for the World Cup,” Pauw said.
When asked specifically about O’Sullivan taking the armband in Texas, Pauw responded with a smile: “The players will be told first.”
The 29-year-old took the captaincy at North Carolina Courage this season, having agreed a long-term deal to remain at the US National Women’s Soccer League franchise, which she joined from Houston Dash in 2017.
McCabe will remain Ireland captain, with Louise Quinn and O’Sullivan her trusty lieutenants in advance of a daunting World Cup schedule, beginning against hosts Australia at the former Olympic stadium in Sydney on July 20th. The task never dips in Group B as Ireland must travel the length of a vast continent to face Olympic champions Canada in Perth before facing a Nigeria side in Brisbane, spearheaded by Barcelona goal machine Asisat Oshoala.
Pauw also took an opportunity at the press conference in Abbotstown to explain the difference between Dutch and Irish women footballers.
[ Vera Pauw on US return: ‘If the crowd is going to boo or whatever, I will wave to them’ ]
[ World Cup countdown: An inside look at Vera Pauw’s Ireland training ]
“If you put pressure on Dutch women, they become passive,” said the former Netherlands coach. “It has to do with our feminine culture. But here [in Ireland], these players thrive under pressure. The higher the pressure, the more they feel like doing it. Whereas in the Netherlands we find fear.
“Katie, for example, said when we were discussing the difference in performance, when we played Morocco or Scotland, she said, ‘I need pressure, we need pressure’. There can be a moment that we collapse, we will see, but better now than at the World Cup.”
Only 23 players can be named in World Cup squads, and several established Irish names are struggling to regain fitness. The window is beginning to close on Liverpool pair Niamh Fahey and Leanne Kiernan, along with Chloe Mustaki and Ellen Molloy.
“Our medical staff is on the case [for Fahey]. she is running and getting back into it, so we are hopeful that she still has some games before the end of the season,” Pauw said.
Megan Campbell is absent for personal reasons, but the wing back is due to return for the friendly against Zambia in Tallaght on June 22nd.
Alannah McEvoy and Roma McLaughlin are recalled after the February camp in Marbella produced a lacklustre 0-0 draw with China. McEvoy’s late grandfather Andy was one of only two Republic of Ireland players, along with John Aldridge, to have finished as top scorer in the English top flight. He finished joint top scorer with Jimmy Greaves in the 1964-65 season when he scored 29 goals for Blackburn Rovers.
Pauw has dropped squad regulars Lucy Quinn and Isibeal Atkinson.
“Lucy is [out] on the basis that another player is better than her. We are trying to find more control, Roma was not in for a while because she didn’t play, only trained, and not at a high level. She’s now four months at the highest level [in Danish club football] and you can see that immediately.”
Three home grown defenders make the cut, with Peamount United’s Tara O’Hanlon joined by Glasgow Celtic’s Claire O’Riordan and West Ham-bound Jessie Stapleton. Fourth choice goalkeeper Naoisha McAloon has been replaced by the London born, Tanzanian raised Sophie Whitehouse, who qualifies via her Dún Laoghaire born mother.
Also, an unnamed player with Irish ancestry will join the squad for training in the US so she can be assessed by the Irish coaching staff.
Interestingly, Andonovski excluded 18-year-old Angel City striker Alyssa Thompson from his 26-strong roster.
Goalkeepers: Adrianna Franch (Kansas City Current), Casey Murphy (North Carolina Courage), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars). Defenders: Alana Cook (OL Reign), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Emily Fox (North Carolina Courage), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns FC), Naomi Girma (San Diego Wave FC), Sofia Huerta (OL Reign), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars), Kelley O’Hara (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns FC), Emily Sonnett (OL Reign). Midfielders: Julie Ertz (Unattached), Lindsey Horan (Olympique Lyon), Taylor Kornieck (San Diego Wave FC), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Ashley Sanchez (Washington Spirit), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit). Forwards: Ashley Hatch (Washington Spirit), Alex Morgan (San Diego Wave FC), Trinity Rodman (Washington Spirit), Sophia Smith (Portland Thorns FC), Mallory Swanson (Chicago Red Stars), Lynn Williams (NJ/NY Gotham FC).
Republic of Ireland
Goalkeepers: Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Grace Moloney (Reading), Megan Walsh (Brighton & Hove Albion), Sophie Whitehouse (Lewes). Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Jessie Stapleton (Shelbourne), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Aoife Mannion (Manchester United), Diane Caldwell (Reading), Claire O’Riordan (Celtic), Hayley Nolan (London City Lionesses), Tara O’Hanlon (Peamount United), Áine O’Gorman (Shamrock Rovers). Midfielders: Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jamie Finn (Birmingham City), Ruesha Littlejohn (Aston Villa), Lily Agg (London City Lionesses), Ciara Grant (Hearts), Roma McLaughlin (Fortuna Hjorring). Forwards: Heather Payne (Florida State University), Abbie Larkin (Shamrock Rovers), Amber Barrett (Potsdam Turbine), Kyra Carusa (London City Lionesses), Marissa Sheva (Washington Spirit), Alannah McEvoy (Shamrock Rovers).