This group of Irish players have been no strangers to making history the last while, and on Saturday at the Aviva Stadium they made some more.
In front of a crowd of 35,944, the biggest an Ireland team has ever drawn on home soil, they played their first ever game at Irish football’s HQ.
They won it too, kick-starting their Nations League campaign with a 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland, with goals from Lucy Quinn, Kyra Carusa and Lily Agg. All in all, it was a heck of a way to get the post-Vera era up and running.
After a year that has travelled from the thrilling to the turbulent, this occasion marked the first time since October 2019 that Vera Pauw wasn’t in the Irish dugout after the FAI’s decision not to renew her contract.
It fell to interim manager Eileen Gleeson, then, to take over at the helm, with no little pressure on her and the players to produce the goods against a Northern Ireland side ranked 23 places below them.
But produce them they did, after an unconvincing opening half-hour, Quinn’s goal settling nerves and transforming the contest.
If it wasn’t for a couple of goal line clearances, the margin of victory could easily have been double, but a beaming Gleeson had no complaints.
“Three goals, three points, a clean sheet, our first time in the Aviva, the size of the crowd – what more could you want,” she said having been serenaded over the speakers with ‘Come on Eileen’ during the lap of honour. Mind you, when that tune was released back in 1982, the bulk of the crowd were around 25 years away from being born, so they’d have been forgiven for not singing along.
The occasion, said Gleeson, was “magic”. “I didn’t know what to expect coming here today, but it is like nothing we’ve ever experienced before. It will stay with us for the rest of our lives.”
She brushed away questions about the end of the Pauw era and the start of a new one, insisting her sole focus now is on the future of this team, and not its past.
To that end, she saluted a returning face to the squad, player of the match Tyler Toland who, six years ago this month, became Ireland’s youngest ever senior international when she played against Northern Ireland at Mourneview Park.
After a four-year exile under Pauw, against the same opposition it looked like the midfielder had never been away. Nothing flash, but a solid, tidy performance alongside Megan Connolly in midfield, her passing unfussy and neat.
“Tyler was terrific in training all week, so that’s why she started today. And she did really, really well,” said Gleeson. “She was comfortable in the centre, she slotted right in, she covered lots of ground and used the ball well. That’s exactly what we wanted from her.”
She also had praise for debutante Caitlin Hayes, the Warrington-born defender who plays with Celtic and with whom Gleeson was familiar from her time as Glasgow City manager.
“Caitlin trained so well this week too, you can see what she brings us. She’s so solid defensively but really progressive on the ball, she’s a good passer. She earned her place today, it was an amazing experience for her.”
She concluded by doffing her cap to “everyone who has come before us, who built the women’s game to where it is now.” This, though, was “a new day”. “We respect everyone who has been involved in this journey, we continue to move on.”