Denise O’Sullivan ‘like playing with Kevin de Bruyne’ as she stars against Hungary

O’Sullivan and McCabe enjoying their new found freedom on the pitch under Eileen Gleeson

You might recall all that chat during the World Cup about the need to get Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan further up the pitch? In the second half of Tuesday night’s game in Budapest, the pair played in such advanced positions, they looked like twin strikers at times.

And post-match, neither was hiding their glee at this whole new ball game, even if their Nations League opposition so far has been several notches below the quality they faced in Australia.

“I’m really enjoying the freedom,” McCabe beamed. “You can see the smile on my face. I might be cranky out there a couple of times, but I love the freedom to roll in from the left and find the spaces. Playing close to Denise has been good.”

“But you can see that we’re all enjoying ourselves, and we’re looking forward to developing this attacking side of our game.”


Has she been surprised how well their new formation has clicked in these last two games? “No, I’m not surprised. We’ve always had a hunger for playing attacking football. We’ve such quality players who can score, link up and play in small spaces. We’ve got Denise O’Sullivan, one of the best pocket players in the world, in my opinion.”

“Eileen [Gleeson], Emma [Byrne] and Colin [Healy] have been fantastic in the build-up by painting those pictures and giving us the confidence to play like that. You could see that in the two games.”

For her goal, had she spotted the goalkeeper off the line? “Yeah. I do my due diligence before the game, watching goalkeepers. I had my eye on her from the warm-up. I saw it roll out and sometimes they’re just asking to be hit.”

The fact that all four of Ireland’s goals came from open play, when set pieces have been the chief source of joy for so long, brought no small pleasure to player of the match O’Sullivan, who scored the fourth and earned a sizeable chunk of praise from Carusa after who said “it’s like playing with Kevin de Bruyne, you just make the runs, and she finds you. She’s awesome.”

“And four different scorers too, Caitlin [Hayes] getting her first, there are so many positives to take away. We’re trying new things, a new style of play, the team is coming together, we rallied around each other and we’re really enjoying the football right now,” said O’Sullivan.

Gleeson, who’d hardly stopped beaming since Saturday at the Aviva, was all smiles again. And little wonder: “Six points, seven goals, two clean sheets, top of the table, happy days.”

Will she be in charge for next month’s games against Albania? “I’m not told anything. Whether it is me or somebody new, we’ll still be able to share information, pass things on and keep the battle going. We’ll just make sure the team is ready, regardless of who might be in charge. But six points so far? You’d take that.”

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times