For a change, there was no dramatic twists or turns after the Republic of Ireland beat Northern Ireland 3-0 in the first women’s international at the Aviva Stadium.
Just a small plot twist, otherwise known as Tyler Toland.
If the player of the match came with a cash prize, Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan would have a decent case for appeal but Toland existed at the same technical level with a calm, efficient display from midfield.
Unfortunately for the 22-year-old, more has been written about her falling out with former Irish coach Vera Pauw than her once limitless potential at Manchester City.
This story has been well told. Back in 2020 Toland, while still a teenager, fell on the wrong side of Pauw’s strict methods of preparation. When her father Maurice Toland protested, Pauw accused him of “harassment and intimidation,” a charge the former Finn Harps player strongly denied.
Pauw’s word was law, until August when the FAI cut ties with her, so the Dutch manager could point to Toland’s struggles for game time at Celtic and Levante in Spain.
Now playing regularly for Blackburn Rovers, interim Irish manager Eileen Gleeson let her feelings over the Toland situation be know via selection. Firstly, she called her into the first post-Pauw era squad. Secondly, when Ruseha Littlejohn and Sinead Farrelly were ruled out injured, she named her in midfield alongside O’Sullivan and Megan Connolly.
This was a clear statement. Lily Agg was next in line but Gleeson selected Toland. The reward was instant.
Much like her performance, Toland let the ball do the talking, keeping her answers short, sharp and on message.
“Look we’ve loads of talent in the team. Everyone keeps their head down and works hard. It was tight. You’d never know who’s going to start but, look, I got the nod today.”
Ever a time you felt this day would not come? “Look, I just kept my head down. I’ve obviously been out a while now but I’m going to look forward, we’ve loads of games coming up, good, hard games, and we just want to keep creating history and legacy.”
Tough few years? “Look, it’s never been easy but we’re going to keep going. Nothing makes me prouder than playing for Ireland and pulling on the green jersey and that’s just what I did today. All positive and I’m going to look forward.”
Feel stronger having come through it? “The past is in the past, we’re just going to look forward.
“Obviously I knew a lot of the girls from previous times being in camp so I was made welcome again, as I do coming into every camp. I’m just happy to help.”
Feel the spotlight this week? “No, no. I think every footballer should feel nerves before games, before training, I think that’s what keeps you sharp, drives you on. That’s just a normal day for me, feeling nerves.
“When you’re on the pitch, you’re just in the zone. When the 90 minute whistle blows you can start thinking about that. But, look, I’m really happy to get the result and to be back.”
As is everyone else in Irish football.