Pauw facing unenviable task when she chooses World Cup squad

Dreams of several players will be inevitably dashed when the travelling party for Australia is chosen

It would probably be easier to find out the formula for Coca-Cola than the exact salary Vera Pauw receives from the Football Association of Ireland, €150,000-ish the estimate.

But considering she will have to leave the dreams of several of her players in smithereens when she picks her World Cup squad, whatever that salary is, it’s not half enough.

Granted, there are tougher jobs in life, like, say, coal mining, with considerably smaller remuneration too. And yes, yes, decision-making of this kind is what coaches are paid to do.

But still, you wouldn’t envy Pauw’s task of telling players, possibly even veterans of the squad who are unlikely to get another World Cup chance, that there’s no seat for them on the plane to Australia.


She’s had to break that bad news to several of her wider squad already as she narrowed down her options. As she told The Irish Times’ Women’s Podcast: “When I have to tell players they are not going to the World Cup, they hate me. But if you cannot do that, you have to do another job . . . and in those moments, I wish I was doing another job”.

After the retirements of Marie Hourihan and Clare Shine, 49 of the 51 players Pauw has capped in her 3½ years as Irish manager are still playing, and while around a dozen of them have faded out of contention in that spell, most of the rest would have had aspirations to make the World Cup squad.

For some of them, though, it’s been a cruel journey.

Two who would almost certainly have been in the 23, Jess Ziu and Ellen Molloy, were ruled out by anterior cruciate ligament injuries suffered towards the end of last year, both running out of time in their recoveries. And even though Savannah McCarthy is now back in action with Shamrock Rovers after suffering the same injury just over a year ago, it looks like her return might have come too late.

And then Pauw has had to factor in the injury battles endured by another batch of her players. Leanne Kiernan only returned for Liverpool at the end of the season after injuring an ankle in the opening game of the campaign back in September. Her team-mate Niamh Fahey, the fourth most capped Irish player of all time, was out injured since January and also only made her comeback last month.

A groin problem kept Bristol City’s Chloe Mustaki out from December to April, while Ruesha Littlejohn broke her foot playing for Ireland last September and then suffered a grade one calf strain on her return.

Having suffered two anterior cruciate ligament injuries in the space of 27 months, Aoife Mannion came back for Manchester United in January, only to suffer a “small tweak” to her medial collateral ligament in training last month.

Midfielder Lily Agg, meanwhile, tore ankle ligaments in training with London City Lionesses at the end of March and has been battling to get fit ever since.

Pauw doesn’t just have to use her own judgment when selecting her squad, she needs her medical team on speed dial to check whether these players will be sufficiently fit to stand the test of a World Cup campaign.

The worry, of course, is that some of them have rushed themselves back in the hope of making that squad. Agg, in a fascinating monthly column with The Athletic, gave an insight to that particular danger when she described the gruelling rehabilitation programme she has been on with her club, the team she’s working with there trying to make sure she isn’t pushing herself too hard.

But, she said, “I need to get fit, I can do it. I need to push myself, make it harder, get through it – time is ticking.”

It’s easy, of course, to understand why players would battle that hard to get fit when the World Cup clock is ticking, but the last thing they need is to be risking longer-term damage. Because, as we’ve seen over the last few weeks, the club game is as ruthless as it ever was – not least to players with injury issues.

Four of Pauw’s squad contenders now have ‘unattached’ beside their names, having been released by their clubs – the three Megans, Campbell (Liverpool), Connolly and Walsh (both Brighton), and Littlejohn (Aston Villa).

Add in Grace Moloney and Diane Caldwell’s concerns about their futures after Reading’s relegation from the WSL, the club announcing this week that they will be going part-time in the Championship next season. Amber Barrett has her own worries too, uncertain about what’s next following Turbine Potsdam’s relegation from the Bundesliga.

The announcement this week that each member of this summer’s World Cup squads will receive around €28,000 from Fifa for just contesting the group stage of the tournament, and more if they progress, was no small boost, a fair chunk of Pauw’s players earning less than that with their clubs. And for those uncertain about their club futures, that €28,000 – and hopefully more – will be a godsend.

For many, then, the World Cup could work as a shop window to open up new opportunities at club level, but, much more than that, it will be the thrill of a lifetime. And not even a dream come true, because, for most of these players, their childhood dreams didn’t even stretch to playing in a World Cup, so remote did that possibility seem.

So, having to decide who to take with her to the World Cup, and who to leave at home . . . yes, whatever Vera Pauw is paid, it isn’t close to enough.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times