Eileen Gleeson pleased with ‘solid performance’ against Italy

Draw against Italians proved Ireland belonged at the top level, says head coach

Seven games, six wins, one draw. Eileen Gleeson might be forgiven if she’d started thinking that this international management lark is a walk in a park, but with the challenges ahead mighty ones, she’s not losing the run of herself.

Still, she was chuffed with her Republic of Ireland side holding a team ranked 10 places above them to a scoreless draw in their own back yard, on a rainy night in Florence, in what was her first game since her appointment as Vera Pauw’s permanent successor following that interim spell at the helm. Not least because her charges had to adapt to a different formation to the one they used in their all-conquering Nations League campaign last year.

“It was a very solid performance, I’m proud of the girls,” she said. “We changed to a back four to see how that looked, and they adapted really well, they went toe to toe with Italy. And we want to be adaptable, we don’t want to be tied to any formation. We were still aggressive, we were able to push the full-backs up high, and I think we showed tonight that we belong at the top level.”

“For me, that performance just shows how this team has really developed, Over the last few years they’ve become hard to beat, but I think in terms of potential, they wanted to express themselves a bit more creatively and play a bit higher up the pitch. I think that they’ve shown that they can do that.”


“Of course there’s things to work on, but it’s really promising. The talent pool is getting deeper, we’re getting more options, we’ve got some very good young players coming through, we’ve got more players playing in higher level leagues and fully professional. It’s a really positive time for the team. We wanted to be in League A, we’re there – and I think we’ve shown tonight that we certainly belong there.”

It was a game of limited thrills, but in the absence of several key players, among them centre-half Louise Quinn and three of Gleeson’s top-of-the-shelf midfielders, Denise O’Sullivan, Tyler Toland and Sinead Farrelly, as well as Jamie Finn, who suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in training on Thursday, she had to ring the changes.

She was, at least, able to welcome Niamh Fahey, Jess Ziu and Jessie Stapleton back in to the fold, Ziu making her first appearance for Ireland since the World Cup qualifying game against Slovakia in September 2022, the month before she suffered an ACL injury when playing for West Ham. And Leanne Kiernan returned too after another lengthy spell on the sidelines, coming on in the second half having not played for Ireland since last June.

“Leanne’s lightning pace causes trouble for everybody and anybody, it’s great to have her back. Amber [Barrett] wasn’t in the last camp, she’s in tonight. She comes on, she has a really strong impact. It makes it more competitive, it keeps people on their toes and it gives us a lot more options.”

Should Kiernan’s “goal” have stood? “It was super tight,” said Gleeson, but she conceded that she didn’t have a close-up view of the moment she was deemed offside, and with no VAR on duty, she was left none the wiser.

Next up for Gleeson and her team is the visit of Wales to Tallaght on Tuesday for another friendly. After that, they have one more week to go before the draw for their Euro 2025 qualifying campaign is made. With one of world champions Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands guaranteed to be in their group, things are about to get a whole lot trickier. The walk in the park is done and dusted.

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times