Measure this moment for the Irish women’s teams by the flow of tears streaming down captain Katie McCabe’s face.
Celebration, not capitulation, for her team, brimming with character and palpably deep humanity. From Liberty Hall to a sense of liberty.
Ireland’s stealthy advance on a maiden major tournament voyage remains afloat. They continue to come of age as an international force; even if large sections of this display would have aged some of their supporters.
Lily Agg’s bravely constructed 54th minute header, from what until then had seemed a fitful Ireland’s best route of attack, a set-piece, ensure their heads remain above water.
A play-off is secured; their caution for much of a poor match was perhaps understandable given what Ireland could achieve, and knowing what they had lost in the past.
Finland dominated the first-half without being clinical; Ireland, always in retreat, relied almost solely on set-piece routines.
Agg, an early replacement for Ruesha Littlejohn, has now scored twice for Ireland since confirming her allegiance earlier this year.
Her journey mirrors her team; it took the grand-daughter of a Cork woman an extended period before her she could establish her international credentials.
Vera Pauw’s self-styled tigers are slowly making a name for themselves, too; they are now in a play-off and that will require yet more endeavour and no little nerve.
Their anxiety here, before a record crowd of 6952, was perhaps then understandable; after their goal, they played with much more freedom, and on the front foot, too.
As suspected, Drogheda’s Megan Campbell returned to the Irish defence after a long absence, a bookending appearance of sorts as the Liverpool defender had last appeared in the manager’s maiden international at home to Ukraine in 2019.
Back then, it could never have been countenanced that Katie McCabe could possibly be deployed in a starting position beyond the half-way line.
However, now she adorned the fulcrum of an attacking line-up.
Campbell’s cover, and the well-drilled nature of this emerging side since Pauw’s first game in charge, allowed such largesse, with Jess Ziu retained, as well as the gambolling Heather Payne, indicating that the Irish would approach their goal on the front foot.
This is far from the nervy, naïve group who ultimately subsided in Ukraine, costing them a place in this summer’s recently completed European Championships in England.
Finland arrived seeking redemption on a variety of fronts, wanting to avenge a 2-1 defeat in Helsinki as well as a pallid three-loss Euros campaign which cost them their manager, Anna Seigneul.
They started well, Rita Oling allowed to carry unthreatened after Heather Payne’s poor early touch; Ireland,
Campbell’s namesake Connolly was then required to clear as the Finns probed dangerously in the early stages.
Courtney Brosnan then fluffed the subsequent corner as Anna Westerlund swiped at a loose ball; McCabe was one of three green amigos on the line and she hacked clear.
Ireland were frantic and playing long; Finland assured and building short. There was no press from Ireland; hence more pressure from the visitors.
Swathes of empty seats and a flat atmosphere in the “sold out” stadium hardly helped., thogh
Ruesha Littlejohn offered a rare jump from the settled shape but Payne dithered on the ball and was easily dispossessed.
An injury to Littlejohn allowed an unscheduled water break and a hasty congress between the senior players and the Irish bench.
The wily Oling tested Brosnan after Connolly’s poor pass put her side under the pump yet again.
Ireland’s best weapon was an old one; Campbell’s famed long throw forcing Olga Ahtinen to nod behind for a corner. McCabe’s rasping drive forced a second corner, her side finally sustaining their attacks.
Ireland thought they had scored from the set-piece just before the half-hour but before Diane Caldwell had nodded home, her defensive colleague Louise Quinn had nodded the ball back when it was already out of play.
The Finns responded well, Kollanen again conspiring to thwart Finn, her cross causing havoc from which Brosnan was forced into an acrobatic save when Campbell diverted a goal-bound shot.
Littlejohn was forced to concede her battle with a persistent knock, making ay for Lily Agg, as the befuddled Irish again approached the bench for counsel.
Ireland did finish the half well, especially down the right, although they created their best chance with a belatedly accurate cross from the other side by Campbell, Diane Caldwell’s header nestling in Tinja-Rikka Korpela’s midriff.
Then, Connolly’s free-kick, poorly struck, ricocheted into Payne’s path and the Spurs stopper almost fumbled the effort into onrushing Irish traffic.
That Kollanen finished the half with a zipping shot over the bar seemed fitting. “Freed from desire” boomed by the PA; more like trapped by it.
Set-pieces remained Ireland’s preferred route to goal; the Finns were undone by the high bombs and Pikkujamsa almost deflected a Campbell throw into her own goal; from the corner, Caldwell almost pounced.
Then a deepening scare, as McCabe succumbed in a midfield joust with Emma Koivisto; the Finnish player was removed from the fray, though not McCabe, as Connolly lined up the half-way line free in the 55th minute
Her looping ball from left to right found Agg, who had stolen unmolested into space and she outjumped the advancing Korpela to notch her second goal in an Irish shirt.
Now they were indeed freed; belatedly passing with purpose and linking coherently, the Finns now forced to counter-attack as a confident Ireland coyly abandoned their low block.
Payne almost added a second as the buoyant Irish sought a decisive second; corners continued to wreak havoc, McCabe fizzed another rasper over as the Finns faltered.
Jamie Finn was booked for timewasting – with 20 minutes still left- meaning she will miss the trip to Slovakia on Tuesday.
She will not be alone as Ireland already being to plot the next course in a journey that has still some road to travel.
Ireland: Brosnan; Caldwell, Quinn, Connolly; Finn, O’Sullivan, Littlejohn (Agg 41), Campbell (Mustaki 76), McCabe; Ziu, Payne (J Ziu 85).
Finland: T-R Korpela; E Pikkujamsa (JJ Danielsson 73), A Westerlund, E Kovisto, N Kuikka; O Ahtinen, R Oling, E Summanen, H Kollanen (Franssi 67); J Rantala, L Sallstrom.
Referee: S Frappart (France).