Vera Pauw proud of Ireland’s ‘tigers’ as they dig in to beat Finland

Niamh Fahey’s key late block at the death typifies Republic’s never say die attitude

Ireland celebrate their landmark win over Finland in Helsinki. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

Ireland celebrate their landmark win over Finland in Helsinki. Photograph: Kalle Parkkinen/Inpho

 

In the end, the very end, Niamh Fahey’s knee proved the ultimate difference between winning and drawing. Between an unforgettable night in Helsinki and another one of those regrettable stumbles.

The professional athlete will talk until the cows come home about small margins. It’s meat and drink to them. A last ditch block here, a fingertip save there, one second too slow or too fast, all the well-worn clichés that only sport can conjure.

“I don’t know if you noticed the block by Niamh Fahey at the end?” Ireland manager Vera Pauw asked the small band of travelling media. “It would have been a definite goal but the way she threw herself into that just shows that our tigers never, ever give up.”

Pauw is free to keep selling the feline cliché after this relentless yet largely controlled defensive display. Because it’s true. Fahey’s 86th minute intervention, to deny Linda Sällström from heading her 50th international goal, encapsulates a desire that is now entrenched in this Ireland squad.

“It becomes our mantra: never collapse, never give up, stay in control,” said Pauw. “Keep playing your game plan whatever happens on the pitch.”

Not that the Dutch tactician was willing to avoid criticising individual lapses in concentration. Lucy Quinn, who must be feeling the heat from Leanne Kiernan ahead of Slovakia’s visit to Tallaght stadium on November 25th, was name checked as the culprit who allowed Emmi Alanen create the Finland equaliser for Adelina Engman when Katie McCabe was being treated for the umpteenth time after a Finn snapped at the Irish captain’s heals.

“We were playing with 10 players and it proves that you actually need everybody!” Pauw exclaimed. “In that case the striker needs to pick up immediately to her task. It is true a player let her opponent go, I don’t know if you seen that.”

We didn’t but we have now. That was the height of negative reaction from a groundbreaking win for the Republic of Ireland.

“We knew we had to win this game,” said Heather Payne, who really belongs on the famous red asphalt that surrounds the Olympic stadium’s grass. “It was such an important game. Away from home it was even bigger. They are second seeds in the group, this was our most important win so far.”

Payne means ever. In the entire history of Irish women’s football.

“Ireland were smart tactically,” conceded Finland coach Anna Signeul. “They broke the game down and defended their own box, we ended up having to play a lot of crosses in and the goalkeeper [Courtney Brosnan] and Louise Quinn are good at taking crosses. We should have scored in the first-half, we had chances.”

Many, many wobbly moments as Ireland went deep into themselves following Megan Connolly’s ninth-minute free kick beat Tinja-Riikka Korpela.

“Very important,” was how Pauw described this World Cup qualifier before upgrading this to: “Extremely important.”

The winner came via three cerebral players connecting in an exhilarating counter attack, as Jamie Finn dazzled before Payne sent a cross through Korpela’s grasp and onto the head of Denise O’Sullivan.

“I can’t really remember,” said Payne, looking like she had just pipped Emil Zátopek to gold in the 1952 marathon. “I was just over on the right side, near the goal and just said I’d take it on, whip it into the box because I knew we had players forward. And Denise got on the end of it.”

What’s it like being the Irish version of The Road Runner?

“It’s tough chasing balls sometimes but sometimes it does pay off. It was a tough game, everyone had to put in a shift. We all worked extremely hard. Tough job but there was a reward at the end of it.”

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