Sport Soccer

Saturday 15 December 2018

Bell keen to back up away form as unbeaten Ireland turn focus to Slovakia

Bell: One game at a time. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Bell: One game at a time. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

John Fallon

While the machine that is European Champions Holland is motoring here intent on revenge, Ireland women's team boss Colin Bell is more concerned with his World Cup hopefuls concentrating on Slovakia.

Bell yesterday named an extended 22-player squad for their first double-header of the current World Cup qualifying group.

Like the men's U-21 team, the senior women are tracking well towards reaching a first major tournament next year, having opened the campaign with two victories over Northern Ireland and Slovakia and then November's stalemate with the Dutch.

That all three results were achieved away from home is heartening. However, it won't mean much unless they deliver on home soil in the next three fixtures.

The first pair of those at Tallaght Stadium are against Slovakia on Friday week, followed four days later with the visit of Holland.

"We've given ourselves a good chance of qualifying for the first time but have to back up the strong away form at Tallaght now," said Bell.

There are further parallels with Noel King's current high-flyers insofar as second place in the pool will only clinch a play-off shot at reaching France should their points tally be one of the four best across the seven pools.

Despite Ireland frustrating them in Nijmegen, Holland are roaring favourites to take the automatic route, making it imperative that Bell's side don't drop points in the first part of the assignment.

Encouragingly, Slovakia have yet to claim a point from their four qualifiers and Ireland won both meetings in the past year; the friendly in Dublin and the 2-0 competitive victory in October.

Still, Bell is a stickler for first principles. His research has informed him that the pressures of playing in front of their home fans and families hasn't necessarily helped his players and the Slovaks will adopt a similar defensive approach that the Irish implemented in Holland.

That more than half the players selected operate in the FAI and Irish FA leagues, which aren't even semi-professional, is a concern when it comes to the fitness demands of two games over a short period. This season's national league only started in the past fortnight.

US-based Cork attacker Megan Connolly makes a welcome return to the fold, having concentrated on her studies last year, while Áine O'Gorman is back from injury. The game, though, has come too soon for Stephanie Roche in her battle to recover from knee surgery.

IRELAND WOMEN'S SQUAD: Marie Hourihan (Manchester City), Amanda Budden (Cork City), Amanda McQuillan (Shelbourne); Claire Walsh (Peamount United), Sophie Perry-Campbell (Brighton and Hove Albion), Diane Caldwell (SC Sand), Louise Quinn (Arsenal), Niamh Fahey (Bordeaux); Tyler Toland (Maiden City), Megan Connolly (Florida State University), Karen Duggan (Peamount United), Denise O'Sullivan (NC Courage), Roma McLaughlin (Shelbourne), Amy Boyle-Carr (Sion Swifts); Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Leanne Kiernan (Shelbourne), Amber Barrett (Peamount United), Isibeal Atkinson (Shelbourne), Ruesha Littlejohn (Celtic), Aine O'Gorman (Peamount United), Claire O'Riordan (Wexford Youths), Dearbhaile Beirne (UCD Waves).

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