Subscriber OnlySoccer

Karen Duggan: Time to focus on the bright future of Ireland women’s team after recent distractions

It is vital the next manager is fully committed to a long-term strategic plan and is willing to put in the work

There’s something a bit ironic about all these people taking to Twitter to express their opinion that it was wrong for a Republic of Ireland player of long-standing to express her opinion about the manager she had played under for four years.

Diane Caldwell has taken no little flak since she spoke out on Monday about Vera Pauw’s time as Irish manager. But I loved the rawness. I loved the honesty. We’ve become so accustomed to footballers saying a load of fluff when they’re asked a question, it was refreshing. I respect her for having the backbone to speak her mind.

Whether you agreed with her or not, whether you thought her comments were ill-advised, she was entitled to express them. She has been playing senior football for Ireland since 2006, she has 97 caps, she is part of the squad’s leadership group and is hugely respected.

And I don’t believe she went rogue. I don’t think she would have voiced those opinions, gone nuclear like that, if they hadn’t been echoed by others in the set-up.


Once Pauw’s position became the subject of debate and the players were being constantly asked about it, there was an inevitability about the FAI’s decision not to renew her contract.

Reaching the World Cup was such a phenomenal achievement, but there was a heaviness around it all, with so many off-the-field distractions. There had to be some kind of change, and if the view was that a new manager would be best placed to push this team forward, then it’s time to get on board with that decision.

I absolutely hate that “player power” was ever mentioned. Ultimately, it will always be the FAI who will make these decisions, but why shouldn’t the players’ opinions be taken into account? Historically, they never were.

Before Liberty Hall in 2017, if we’d expressed views about the management, no one would have paid a blind bit of notice. We weren’t listened to at all, we were met with shut doors. At least there’s a more open dialogue now, maybe a respect from the powers-that-be for these players because of what they have achieved.

So, time to look forward.

And I really like the look of this interim coaching team. Emma Byrne will automatically garner respect because of her history, I’m thrilled to see her in there, and while I don’t know Colin Healy personally, I’ve heard really, really good things about him.

Interim manager Eileen Gleeson was a brilliant appointment to the role of overseeing the development of the women’s game in Ireland, a role that is just as important as that of the next manager. For that reason, I would prefer her to remain in that position with the FAI looking elsewhere for a successor to Pauw.

Where they will go, I have no clue. But this is a pivotal moment for the women’s team; there’s still so much room for its development, so it is vital that the next manager is fully committed to a long-term strategic plan and is willing to put in the work. And, ideally, it will be someone who understands the footprint of women’s football across this country, as well as the English WSL and Championship where so many of our players now are.

It’s not a given that we are going to continue qualifying for major tournaments – a lot of work has to be done before we reach that point, but the blueprint is there now. It’s about picking it up and making it better.

It’s a really important time for this team and with a lot of injuries to contend with, these Nations League games against Northern Ireland and Hungary are not going to be as easy as some might expect.

But they’ll offer the chance for a number of players who didn’t feature much, or at all, over the last few years to show that they should be part of the future.

I was really happy to see Tyler Toland come back in, she deserves her chance. She took my place in the Irish team when she was just 16, so I’d like to think that she was very good – maybe even unbelievable.

I hope that her exile from the Irish team hasn’t plateaued her development, but even if it has, she’s still a young player, only 22, she has plenty of time. I can only commend her for her resilience these past four years, after her falling out with Pauw.

She’s obviously had a tough time, but she stuck it out. She went to Spain and is back in England now with Blackburn Rovers and seems to be doing really well. I just say, good on her. But give her time, she doesn’t have to set the world on fire in this game or the next.

And I was delighted to see Emily Whelan back in too. When she was playing in the National League as a kid, she was the hardest person I’d ever had to mark. She scores goals, she has pace and a directness. Like Tyler, we need to give her time, but if she can gain confidence from being back in the squad, she might be able to really kick on to the next level.

At this stage, I’m just looking forward to being able to focus on football and the future of this Irish team after all the distractions of the last few weeks. At times, it almost felt like the actual football was an afterthought. Even Saturday’s historic occasion at the Aviva Stadium.

But the future can be bright. I see the talent coming through from training with the younger ones, it’s on its way. We need more, though, there are certainly some areas that need improvement. We know we can defend really well, but now it’s about retaining that solidity while introducing more technical elements game by game. That doesn’t happen overnight. We don’t produce world-class players overnight. We need patience. But it can happen.

And here’s hoping we’ll only be talking about football from now on.