Ireland women’s coach Eileen Gleeson spoiled for choice with fully fit squad ahead of clash with Wales

Team selection dilemmas set to deepen when Denise O’Sullivan, Tyler Toland and Sinéad Farrelly return to the squad

Eileen Gleeson has a fully fit squad to select from for Tuesday evening’s friendly against Wales in Tallaght (live on RTÉ2, kick-off 7.30pm), Louise Quinn available again after a shoulder injury and Ruesha Littlejohn recovering from the Achilles strain that led to her substitution at half-time in Friday’s 0-0 draw away to Italy.

“Lots of headaches, which is a good place to be,” said the manager of her selection dilemmas for the game, dilemmas that will deepen when, as is expected, Denise O’Sullivan, Tyler Toland and Sinéad Farrelly return to the squad for the start of the European Championship qualifying campaign in April – the draw for which will be made next Monday.

For now, Gleeson has to decide whether to stick with the XI that started against Italy, a team that included the youthful trio of Jess Ziu, Izzy Atkinson and Jessie Stapleton, or to freshen things up, the selection of Leanne Kiernan, for one, an obvious temptation. She also has to choose between reverting to a more familiar five at the back, or to go again with the 4-4-1-1 formation she used in Florence.

This Welsh side, eight places below Ireland in the rankings, concluded an otherwise unsuccessful Nations League A campaign with an impressive scoreless draw at home to Germany in December, showing how defensively solid they can be. And while Gleeson was happy with the performance against Italy, she conceded that the team needed “a bit more quality in the final third”. Too often Kyra Carusa was left isolated, unlike during the Nations League when the quality of support she received from the likes of O’Sullivan and Katie McCabe saw her score five goals in six games.


McCabe’s stats from that campaign were remarkable – five goals and six assists – but having been given freedom to roam against weaker opposition, she returned to her left-back role against Italy. And so, the eternal debate about how to make the best use of her for Ireland rumbles on.

“Obviously there’s versatility as to where I can play,” she said on Monday when she appeared alongside Gleeson at the squad’s Castleknock base. “Playing at left-back, it’s about reading the game. If I feel like we are safe at the back and I can push on and support the attack, I’ll absolutely do that. But if the girls need me back to defend, then I’ll be doing that as well. It’s just about having game intelligence.”

It will be nine years next Monday since McCabe made her senior Irish debut, and never, she said, has the competition for places been fiercer – not just in the team, but on the squad too.

“And that gives Eileen and the coaching staff a real headache. We’re missing Denise, Sinéad and Tyler, but you see Jess Ziu come back in after 17 months - and having her back was a real breath of fresh air. We have such young, fresh and exciting talent. Izzy Atkinson, Abbie Larkin, Leanne Kiernan too. And there are others. You can see the talent they have. Now it’s just about all of us performing consistently each time we come in, and I feel like we’re really starting to get into a groove with that.”

“We can’t forget the foundations put in by Vera [Pauw], Colin [Bell] and Sue [Ronan]. They were all my coaches as a senior player, each made sure they left Ireland in a better place. There’s a lot to take from each coach, but we’re moving onto Eileen’s reign.”

Your reaction to the news Gleeson got the job on a permanent basis? “Where was I,” she asked her manager. “Flying,” she replied. “Yeah, I heard you were the manager, so I was leaving the country. I’m joking,” she reassured her audience, lest they respond with shocked-face emojis.

“It was a great period for us over the course of the Nations League. I think Eileen and her whole team was just a real breath of fresh air, something different. And you could see how we were enjoying it because we were able to express ourselves on the pitch.”

“She absolutely deserved it, and the staff as well. It’s a fantastic appointment in my opinion and I think the FAI got it spot-on in terms of who they think should take this forward. She’s got my full support and she knows that. That’s why I’m so excited, because I feel we’ve got the ingredients to do something really special as a team.”

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Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times