The bandwagon rolls into Budapest. Amid a multitude of first-time experiences at the Aviva stadium on Saturday, the Republic of Ireland delivered a 3-0 victory over Northern Ireland with Katie McCabe and Tyler Toland producing high-grade performances.
Diane Caldwell attempted to close the Vera Pauw chapter in Irish football by delivering a harsh pre-match assessment of the former head coach, so the 35-year-old really needed to perform. Caldwell duly held the defensive line on the occasion of her 98th cap.
Denise O’Sullivan was another boon, embracing the creative responsibility of dancing between midfield and attack. The North Carolina Courage skipper is expected to recover from a muscular injury to face Hungary on Tuesday night. The same goes for Louise Quinn, despite suffering a head injury when Lily Agg nodded the third goal beyond Northern Ireland goalkeeper Shannon Turner.
A day of firsts, then. First women’s football international after 151 years of sport on Lansdowne Road. A first Nations League game. A first competitive win since October 2022. A first step on the road to qualifying for Switzerland 2025 as Lucy Quinn became the first woman to score at the Aviva.
In between the Quinn and Agg strikes, Kyra Carusa took advantage of calamitous Northern Ireland defending with a striker’s finish.
“It’s magic, it is magic,” said interim manager Eileen Gleeson. “You’re standing there and you’re like, ‘ah, what happened three weeks ago? I was just travelling along, doing my job, happy out, and now I’m standing here with Amhrán na bhFiann playing … best group of girls, best group of staff. It’s a collective, it’s not just me. Everybody on that bench — Emma Byrne, Colin Healy, Richie Fitzgibbon. Stalwarts of the game.”
A return to the Aviva stadium in 2024 depends on results in 2023. Projected ticket sales and the bottom line will hold sway. The next female appearances at the venue are rugby’s All-Ireland club final in April before Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour in June, so the FAI might need to block book dates in case England or Spain come calling. Such blockbuster ties can only happen by Ireland qualifying for the top tier of Uefa’s new competition.
“This is another step along the legacy, and pushing the game forward,” said Gleeson, who is double jobbing as FAI head of women and girls’ football. “We’re seeing younger players coming through who want to be on the ball and we want to develop those players more, we want to be Irish footballers that are comfortable on the ball, physically competent and athletically smart.”
She was describing player of the match Tyler Toland and Abbie Larkin, whose enormous popularity was confirmed by the crowd’s reaction to the Ringsend teenager’s second-half arrival.
“That’s what we’re driving right through our underage clubs, pathways and how we develop those players. It’s all integrated. We’re getting a glimpse of it now, we’ll continue to build on that and keep driving forward. The legacy today is increased participation, increased visibility and that’s what we need to keep pushing forward and keep developing those players.”
Gleeson the manager had a good weekend but, in her administrative role, she has failed to solve an ongoing dispute concerning girls’ football in Dublin as multiple fixtures went unfulfilled on Sunday morning due to the migration of 151 teams from the Metropolitan League to the Dublin and District schoolgirls’ league.
Plenty to sing about at the top of the FAI’s football pyramid but there are plenty of problems down below.