Uefa Nations League: Hungary v Republic of Ireland, Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium, Budapest, Tuesday, 6.30pm Irish time – Live RTÉ 2
After the glitz and the glamour of the summer’s World Cup, followed by their first ever appearance at the Aviva on Saturday, there’s a back to basics feel to the Republic of Ireland’s Nations League trip to Budapest.
With a crowd of no more than 1,000 expected at the 5,000 capacity Hidegkuti Nándor Stadium, named after the legendary Hungarian international of the 1940s and 1950s, it’s a far cry from Stadium Australia and all that jazz.
But if Ireland are to advance their prospects of qualifying for Euro 2025, which is the ultimate aim of the campaign, then games like this against Hungary on Tuesday evening are ones they have to win.
They should, too. Their hosts, 18 places below them in the world rankings, are coming off the back of a draw against an Albanian side in the nether regions of that list in what was the opening game of Ireland’s group last Friday. And they had to come from behind too to take a point.
But Eileen Gleeson, naturally enough, was talking them up when she arrived at the stadium for training on Monday afternoon. “They’re well-organised, it’s their home pitch, they’re aggressive in the press, they look to get their full backs high, so we’re not going to underestimate anything,” said the interim Ireland manager.
She’s probably wise to be wary, not least because Ireland are no strangers to being upended by banana skins of this variety before. And for all their struggles, Hungary’s squad, while largely home-based, has a sprinkling of players at clubs in Europe’s major leagues, among them Hanna Németh and Dóra Zeller in the German Bundesliga and Virág Nagy and Zsanett Kaján in Italy’s Serie A.
They have a wily coach, too, in Margret Kratz, the former German international who has a wealth of coaching experience in the game, particularly in Germany’s youth development system.
They’re the warning signs, then, but if they’re all heeded and Ireland knuckle down to the task, they should make it six points out of six.
Gleeson has no injury worries, Denise O’Sullivan taking full part in Monday’s training after hobbling off on Saturday with what looked like a knee injury.
North Carolina Courage would, no doubt, prefer to see their captain rested after that scare as they have a big game next Monday away to OL Reign, but the temptation for Gleeson, even if it means two games in four days for her players, is to stick with Saturday’s starting XI.
“These are all the decisions you have to make, you have to manage the players, manager their workload, and factor in the opposition too. But you want continuity as well, and we had some really good performances on Saturday. The starting 11? You’ll have to wait and see.”
And goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan isn’t too concerned about the occasion being a considerable downgrade on recent ones for the team. “When you play international football, there’s always varying crowd sizes but the games are just as important no matter how many people are watching. We’re top professional athletes, so we all have that drive inside us, we’ll have just the same focus on getting three points against Hungary as we did against Northern Ireland.”
Whether or not this will be Gleeson’s last game as interim manager ahead of next month’s double-header against Albania depends on the speed and success, or otherwise, of the FAI’s recruiting process.
For now, she’s enjoying double-jobbing, her chief FAI role that of overseeing the development of the women’s game in Ireland.
“I love both,” she said. “For me, being the head of women’s football is a dream job, so I’ll never shift from that. But who wouldn’t want to be on the pitch working with the girls and managing their national team?”
Would you like to do both?
“Let’s get serious here.”
Asked what kind of manager she is on the sidelines, she confirmed she is not “a mad rabbit”.
“You have to try and stay calm and focused. When there are pressure moments you’re the one who is expected to help the team. You can’t get overly emotional. It’s about staying calm. As coaching staff, we have to be prepared to make decisions or changes when necessary.”
A calm rabbit, then?
“Not a rabbit or a bunny of any description.”
Kratz, meanwhile, noted a new Ireland when she watched the Northern Ireland game. “The change in their coach has changed their philosophy and they played very well on Saturday,” she said. “Ireland are well-organised, aggressive, strong-willed. A very disciplined defence. And they are dangerous in counterattack as well as set-pieces.”
“It’s not 50-50 against Ireland. But I know we can learn and be hard also. Football is in Hungary’s blood. I’m sure we will qualify in the future for a major tournament. In football, anything is possible.”
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND (probable): Brosnan; Payne, Louise Quinn, Caldwell, Hayes, McCabe; Connolly, Toland; O’Sullivan; Carusa, Lucy Quinn.