‘We’re building something phenomenal right now’: Ireland’s Diane Caldwell sees a bright future

35-year-old was critical of Vera Pauw’s reign but is now focused on continued success – and staying involved after she retires

As we learned back in November, Diane Caldwell is not averse to speaking her mind, the 35-year-old defender excoriating Vera Pauw’s reign as Republic of Ireland manager, suggesting that the achievements of her team were in spite of and not because of her.

Fortunately, the Balbriggan native is an infrequent user of social media, so she might have missed the mountains of flak that came her way after her comments. Five months on, though, she has no regrets about making them, but did they put more pressure on her to perform well in the Nations League campaign?

“Yeah, possibly, but you know what? My thinking was, I missed out on playing at the biggest stage at the World Cup and that really, really hurt me,” she says in reference to her being benched for all three of Ireland’s games in Australia, only coming on in injury time in the last against Nigeria.

“When Eileen [Gleeson] came in and gave me the chance to start, I just wanted to enjoy playing again. I just wanted to embrace having the jersey on my back again, playing in front of the Irish fans. A big moment for me was the Aviva game [against Northern Ireland in September]. I really wanted to do it for myself, to focus on things I can control, focus on playing well and enjoying being out there with the girls again because, honestly, I really missed that for a long time.”


Caldwell began falling out of favour with Pauw in mid-2021 when Savannah McCarthy took her place in the Irish defence. And while she reclaimed it for a spell after McCarthy suffered a cruciate ligament injury, she lost it again when Pauw opted to play midfielder Megan Connolly alongside Louise Quinn and Niamh Fahey for the World Cup.

That stung, but as soon as Gleeson took over as interim manager, Caldwell was back in the side, starting Ireland’s first four Nations League games and captaining her country in October’s meeting with Albania in Tallaght on the occasion of her 100th cap.

She knows that Ireland will face vastly superior opposition in the top tier of the Nations League, having secured promotion with six wins out of six in League B, but that campaign gave the team the chance to adjust to a new style of play.

“I think it always helps when you’re incorporating a new style to play teams that are perhaps a lower ranking. You can see from our results and our performances that we had really great success with it, so it’s just a matter of building on that now and doing it against better-quality teams.”

“I actually was surprised with how quickly we established that new style and how well it went straight away. Sometimes it can take a little bit of time, there are new ways of thinking, but I think we just took off with it from the very first game. You can see we really enjoy playing that way, the buy-in was definitely there from the very first moment. It was a really enjoyable campaign.”

Caldwell, whose career has taken her to the US, Iceland, Norway, Germany and England, is now playing her football in Switzerland with FC Zurich, who are currently top of their league. At 35, though, she’s having to turn her thoughts to life after football.

“I’ve tried to equip myself for that terrible time when you have to hang up your boots. I’ve been doing coaching licences, starting to get ready for that next stage. I’m very interested in coaching, being on the grass, being with players on a one-on-one basis.

“I definitely want to give back to football, especially in Ireland. That is really important for me. I’m very passionate about that, to develop the next generation and the younger age groups because I hope with what I’ve experienced that maybe I can help in some way.

“It takes time, but we’re building something phenomenal right now. The excitement levels around women’s football are fantastic. The participation numbers, especially in the younger group, are increasing. I visited my local club in Balbriggan when I was back in January, it’s been transformed since I was a player there. They used to have lorry containers for changing rooms, now there’s a clubhouse, an all-weather pitch, fantastic facilities.

“And as players, we just want to be successful long-term and contribute to that growth. We’ve qualified for our first major tournament – success is continuing that, it not just being a one-off. And I feel we can achieve that – we have the structures in place now.”

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times