Republic of Ireland 3 Northern Ireland 0
For a change, there were no dramatic twists or turns after the Republic of Ireland overwhelmed Northern Ireland in the first women’s international at the Aviva Stadium.
Just a very welcome Tyler Toland subplot. Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan had strong cases for player of the match but Toland existed at the same technical level as her senior team-mates, producing 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 the limitless potential she showed when signing for Manchester City as a teenager.
Pauw continually pointed to Toland’s struggles for game time at Celtic and Levante in Spain, when refusing to name her in Ireland squads. Eventually, the media stopped asking the question as four years passed between cap 13 and cap 14.
“Look, it’s never been easy but we’re going to keep going,” said the Donegal native. “Nothing makes me prouder than playing for Ireland and pulling on the green jersey and that’s just what I did today.
“The past is in the past, we’re just going to look forward. I’m really happy to get the result and to be back.”
As is everyone else in Irish football as Toland retains that rare ability of letting the ball do the work. Her vision was sorely missed at the World Cup.
Ireland dominated Northern Ireland from start to finish on a momentous day for women’s sport. In a nutshell, the 24th-ranked side in the world picked apart their 47th-ranked visitors with goals from Lucy Quinn, Kyra Carusa and Lily Agg.
Quinn entered the history books as she became the first female international to score at the Aviva stadium. The Southampton-born forward could have claimed a hat-trick before the interval but Ireland gave a record 35,944 attendance plenty to remember.
Interim coach Eileen Gleeson can point to a number of positives. Defensive veterans, Diane Caldwell and Louise Quinn welcomed the debut of 28-year-old Caitlin Hayes as the Celtic defender was parachuted into national camp with a newly processed Irish passport. The back three oozed calmness, albeit against poor opposition, which allowed Megan Connolly to anchor midfield and in turn pushed Denise O’Sullivan further up the pitch.
Hayes should have opened the scoring on 30 minutes when Lucy Quinn’s corner gave her a free header at the back post. Shannon Turner pushed the ball out for another corner which sparked excitement among the young crowd as Katie McCabe strolled over to line up a trademark Olimpico.
Instead of repeating her Perth goal, McCabe’s inswinger saw Rachel Furness’ clearance fall to Quinn who shot on sight. A deflection helped the ball to finish in the bottom corner of Turners’ net.
Quinn had two more chances before the break, a lob on to the roof of the net and another snapshot that Sarah McFadden cleared off the goal line after McCabe’s brilliant footwork created the opportunity.
As usual, Kyra Carusa was a nuisance up front, although a clear difference from the World Cup was the extra support provided by O’Sullivan and Quinn. Early in the second half, the San Diego Wave striker Carusa peeled around McFadden but Demi Vance blocked a goal-bound effort. Carusa’s moment would eventually come.
One of the biggest cheers of this sleepy lunchtime game was for the arrival of Abbie Larkin on 65 minutes. Born and raised a stone’s throw away in Ringsend, the teenager’s first contribution was to let fly from another McCabe delivery into the box. The shot skimmed wide of Turner’s left post.
Carusa secured all three points with 20 minutes remaining. Her goal came from two sources, a speculative McCabe assist and terrible defending by Rebecca Holloway.
Agg put the result beyond all doubt with a headed goal, off a McCabe corner, that was helped by half the Northern Ireland defence crowding and injuring Louise Quinn.
Ireland: Brosnan (Everton); Hayes (Celtic), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Caldwell (FC Zurich); Payne (Everton), Toland (Blackburn Rovers), Connolly (Bristol City), O’Sullivan (NC Courage), McCabe (Arsenal); Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City); Carusa (San Diego Wave).
Substitutes: Larkin (Glasgow City) for Payne (59), Agg (London City Lionesses) for Connolly, Barrett (Standard Liége) for Lucy Quinn (both 83), Whelan (Glasgow City) for Carusa, Atkinson (West Ham United) for Caldwell (both 89).
Northern Ireland: Turner (Wolverhampton Wanderers); Magee (Cliftonville), McFadden (Durham), Vance (Glentoran); Hamilton (Lewes), Furness (Bristol City), Andrews (Glentoran), Callaghan (Cliftonville), Holloway (Racing Loiusville); Wilson (Glentoran), Magill (Aston Villa).
Substitutions: Wade (Reading) for Wilson, Caldwell (Glentoran) for Callaghan (both 72), Rafferty (Southampton) for Holloway, McCarron (Glentoran) for Furness (both 82)
Referee: Hristiyana Guteva (Bulgaria).