Pauw's young Ireland players starved of game time overseas
Struggle of the likes of Toland and Barrett to break through is a concern for Pauw
Tyler Toland: has found it difficult to break into the star-studded Manchester City Women’s side. Photograph: Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Vera Pauw would tot up a fair amount of air miles if she was to keep a personal eye on the form of each member of the Republic of Ireland squad she named last week, with 11 of her players based in England, three in Germany, three in the United States and one in Australia, Portugal and Scotland. That’s some geographical spread.
Only six home-based players, from just two clubs, Peamount United and Shelbourne, were included in the 26-strong squad, among them the former’s Áine O’Gorman who has come out of international retirement at the request of Pauw.
But with the domestic league not starting up again until March 14th, there have been no competitive opportunities for other players to stake their claim for a place in the squad.
On top of that, in the last 18 months alone the league at home has lost a whole bunch of its leading players to clubs abroad, including six from the current squad – Claire O’Riordan (Wexford Youths to MSV Duisburg), Clare Shine (who rejoined Glasgow City from Cork City), Leanne Kiernan (Shelbourne to West Ham), Amber Barrett (Peamount to FC Koln), Chloe Mustaki (Shelbourne to Charlton Athletic) and, last month, the league’s 2019 player of the year Rianna Jarrett left Wexford for Brighton.
Jarrett marked her debut for her new club with two goals in their FA Cup win over Crystal Palace on Tuesday night, a welcome slice of good news for Pauw with two crucial Euro 2021 qualifying games just around the corner, Greece the opponents in Tallaght next Thursday followed by a trip to Montenegro the following Wednesday.
A real concern for Pauw is the lack of game time some of our most gifted young players have been getting since moving to clubs abroad, Barrett’s opportunities at FC Koln having been limited enough and Kiernan finding herself in and out of the West Ham team.
Just a month after turning 16, Toland became the youngest player to represent Ireland at senior level when she made her debut in 2017, the Donegal native opening the scoring for Ireland in the first game of this qualifying campaign, a 2-0 win over Montenegro in Tallaght last September.
Pauw, though, left Toland on the bench, once she took over from Colin Bell, for the 3-2 defeat of Ukraine and the draw away to Greece, and has now dropped her entirely from the squad.
That omission surprised more than a few who had been impressed by the maturity of Toland’s displays in midfield since she was promoted from the under-19s.
While her opportunities have been limited enough since she joined City, Pauw was off the mark in saying that she had only “played 15 minutes in the first squad” this season – that’s accurate in terms of her league experience, but she has also started a Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup game for City, while at least holding her place on the bench for the bulk of City’s other fixtures this season, when, at just 18, she’s in a squad brimming over with international talent.
In fairness to Pauw, she acknowledged what Toland is up against it at City in her effort to nail down a first team place, suggesting that a loan move might be the best route for her to take, citing the benefits of captain Katie McCabe’s loan spell with Glasgow City when she was struggling to break in to the Arsenal team.
But Marie Hourihan, the current Irish goalkeeper who spoke to this paper a few weeks back about her move from England to Portuguese club Braga, disputes the notion that it would be better for the likes of Toland and Barrett to stay in Ireland, where they would be guaranteed regular game time, rather than taking a chance on a move to a major European club.
“I played for Manchester City and I can only tell you what a fantastic club it is and what an opportunity it was for me,” she said.
“I was in a similar position to Tyler in terms of playing time, I didn’t play every week, but without a shadow of a doubt being in that environment and training with those players day in, day out brought me on as a player. I couldn’t begin to tell you how much it improved me.”
“Don’t get me wrong, you train to play, you want to get that game time, but for a young girl especially, to be exposed to that calibre of player, to train with them every day, and that level of professionalism, at a club of that size with that level of ambition, it can only bring you on. Tyler is going to go on to be a fantastic player, there’s no argument about that. And I’m certain she’s at the right place to further her development and realise her potential.”
“And,” Hourihan adds, “strange as it might sound, it’s not all about football. It’s like the girls who go to college in America and play there, it’s about a life perspective as well, it’s an experience that you want to try. You’ve got to look at it from all angles. That’s why I came to Portugal, random as that move might have seemed, it was as much about having a new life experience, experiencing another culture, it’s good for you as a person, and, you hope, as a footballer.”
As Hourihan said, it’s all about perspective, too.
Toland shares a house in Manchester with her club and international team-mate Megan Campbell, a player who has been plagued by injuries in recent seasons.
And earlier this week her club announced that she had surgery on a tendon in her right foot following another injury she sustained during last month’s game against Spurs.
The pair, you’d guess, are consoling each other as we speak. Better days to come, hopefully.