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‘Momentum and belief is with us now’ – Ireland players react to World Cup qualifying win over Finland

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Megan Connolly fires Ireland into the lead with a free-kick in the Women's World Cup 2023 qualifying win over Finland in Helsinki. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Megan Connolly fires Ireland into the lead with a free-kick in the Women's World Cup 2023 qualifying win over Finland in Helsinki. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Megan Connolly fires Ireland into the lead with a free-kick in the Women's World Cup 2023 qualifying win over Finland in Helsinki. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

As Ireland’s three free amigos congregated around their 10th minute free-kick, it took almost a minute before they decided upon their best option.

I was screaming at Megan to take that free,” O’Sullivan later reports.

Megan Connolly had scored just once in 30 appearances stretching back five years but, even as Arsenal sharp-shooter and recent free-kick scorer on debut Lucy Quinn hovered, the Brighton woman had only one thing on her mind.

“Katie (McCabe) can take free-kicks with her eyes closed but from that angle we just felt it would suit a right-footer,” she beamed.

“I don’t want to give away too much of my secrets. Katie, Lucy and myself were standing over it, assessing where the wall was.

“We’d support each other no matter what but Katie asked me ‘What do you want?”. Once the keeper and wall were set, I had the belief in that moment to say: ‘I’ll take it’. “Lucy scored from one like that against Australia but I didn’t give her the chance.

“That angle was on initially. Lucy said that the far post was on but I said I’d curl it. Those are the hardest ones, getting the ball over the wall into the top corner. I’ve tried it a lot of times and it hasn’t worked. I just connected as best I could.

“I’ve had a few in big Irish games and it didn’t work. I was only saying to Rianna Barrett this morning that I had one in 30 and now I have two in 31.

“As a midfielder, I’ve tried to contribute goals but as a sitting midfielder you’re not going to get forward so it came from a set-piece.”

Ireland clung on to a deserved lead until a controversial 51st minute leveller from Adelina Engman, who had fouled McCabe moments earlier, forcing the skipper off after receiving treatment and thus leaving her flank exposed as the Finns created the goal down the right.

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However, Denise O’Sullivan popped up with the winner just four minutes later after a rampaging run and cross from Heather Payne.

“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,” said Payne.

"Just hit it back post and Denise got on the end of it. It's tough chasing balls sometimes but sometimes it does pay off, I got on the end of that ball and played it into Denise.”

“Dee’s goal kept us in it because you could hear their crowd building,” added Connolly. “They had the momentum and we caught them on the back foot.”

"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.

"We knew we had to win this game. 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."

O’Sullivan had been a doubt for this game after getting a kick on the elbow in last week’s defeat to Sweden but a scan cleared her for the task and she revelled in a roaming left-sided role.

“It wasn’t pretty but we’ll go home happy with the points,” said O’Sullivan, whose US club North Carolina Courage are currently embroiled in a sex abuse scandal.

“We scored some good goals. We stayed composed at times, we could have dome better with the ball but we have a few more games to get up to the level.

“My arm was kicked on the floor and I couldn’t move it but the scan was important and I was happy to be able to get back and help the girls.”

This significant statement now demands elaboration next month when Slovakia and Georgia visit Dublin next month.

“Us midfielders pride ourselves on being hard to beat,” says Connolly, “We had to work from the first until last minute, getting across to stop them having a way through. Jamie and Denise made it easy for me.

“The Sweden game gave us real belief and it showed tonight as we were brave by stepping up. By the end, we had to defend for our lives.

“It’s a massive three points going into the next camp, as Finland will definitely be ranked above us.

“It’s one game at a time. We have seen all the teams in the group, so after beating Finland we have to prepare right to do ourselves justice against Slovakia.

“Momentum and belief is with us now.” It can be assumed that they confidently freight both.


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