Focus for Ireland squad members turns to World Cup as WSL season comes to an end

Grace Moloney and Diane Caldwell suffer despair on final day as Reading are relegated after eight years

You’d guess that Vera Pauw greeted the end of the English Super League season on Saturday with no small sigh of relief, the campaign having taken its toll injury-wise on several of the 13 Republic of Ireland players who featured in it.

Now, at least, they can turn their focus to international matters and work on getting themselves healthy in time to be contenders for places in her World Cup squad.

Claire O’Riordan, incidentally, will do the same, the central defender finishing her season with Celtic in the best manner possibly, scoring their second goal – her third in four games – in their 2-0 victory over Rangers in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park. And the Limerick woman’s day was topped off when she was named player of the match.

Back in England, just five Irish players saw game time in the final round of matches – Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool) and three goalkeepers, Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Grace Moloney (Reading) and Megan Walsh (Brighton) – all of them ending up on the losing side.


While Chelsea won the title for the fourth season in a row, finishing two points clear of Manchester United, there was consolation for United’s Aoife Mannion – currently recovering from a “small tweak” to her medial collateral ligament – and McCabe, both of their clubs qualifying for the Champions League.

There was despair, though, for Reading pair Moloney and Diane Caldwell, their club’s eight-year spell in the WSL ended by their 3-0 defeat by Chelsea. What the future holds for them both remains to be seen, 34-year-old Caldwell at particular risk having started just nine of the club’s 22 WSL games and left on the bench again on Saturday.

Walsh, Megan Connolly (Brighton), Megan Campbell (Liverpool) and Ruesha Littlejohn (Aston Villa) are all looking for new clubs after it was announced last week that their contracts would not be renewed. Littlejohn, in light of that news, opted not to make herself available for Villa’s final WSL games as she battles to get herself fit for the World Cup after an injury-plagued season.

A week after she made her comeback for Liverpool, having been out of action since the opening day of the season, Leanne Kiernan was absent again from their squad on Saturday – the hope being that, as manager Matt Beard promised, the club is taking a gently-gently approach to her recuperation in the hope that she’ll be fit for the World Cup.

Fahey, at least, played for 66 minutes on Saturday, having also returned for Liverpool the week before after being out injured since January, but Campbell sat out her sixth game in a row.

There was little joy either for West Ham’s two Republic of Ireland internationals this season. Jess Ziu has been out of action since October when she sustained an anterior cruciate ligament injury, which will rule her out of the World Cup, while Izzy Atkinson, who joined from Celtic last summer, struggled to establish herself, starting in just two of her 16 appearances.

She did, at least, have the distinction of being the only Irish player, apart from McCabe, to score in the WSL during the season, but was one of a group of five – completed by Mannion, Ziu, Littlejohn and Kiernan – who started less than 10 games between them.

McCabe, need it be said, started the most WSL games of any Irish player, 18 in all, playing more minutes than any Arsenal player in all competitions.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times