Heady days for the women’s game in this country. After a record attendance for a domestic Cup final, record ticket sales for international on an icy night in Tallaght.
But Ireland were caught cold here; a month after igniting their World Cup hopes, they froze when least expected.
The cost of dropped points will not be swiftly realised; the psychological damage inflicted could yet be more hurtful.
Slovakia’s narrow reverses to Ireland’s chief rivals for qualification marked them down as a gnarly outfit, but they are much more proficient than advertised on this evidence.
Sweden’s defeat of Finland last night confirmed the importance of Ireland’s Helsinki win; the currency was devalued here and the manager’s conservatism, so beneficial elsewhere, was also costly.
Ireland are better, should be better, but were not. It is a setback; it seems like a sadly familiar one.
Comfortable in possession, they engineered the game’s opening shot on target and, though Ireland’s wing-backs began the game on the halfway line, they were soon pressed deep.
Katie McCabe displayed her class early on, with deft footwork near the bye-line and a searching cross that evaded Heather Payne, while Andrea Horváthová was carded for testing the fabric of the local heroine’s jersey.
But McCabe was reined back, required to head clear an occasional Slovakian long punt, as the game descended to a scrappy affair, only rarely interspersed by flashes of quality, not always housed in a green shirt.
Pauw likens her side to tigers but McCabe was like a caged beast, imprisoned in the redundant left-back role.
There was no obvious creativity where it was required, in the middle, nor the energy demanded to supply width so a drab stalemate ensued.
Both sides exchanged possession with frightening regularity; neither could sustain the lasting pattern passing one might have expected.
There was either no final pass or else the initial long pass, from defence, received no supporting cast of attackers.
As if stunned by Slovakia’s willingness to try and play, Ireland were unable to. Slovakia relaxed into the night; Ireland fumbled in the dark.
The initially exuberant crowd was quietened as the white-shirted visitors dug deep. Denise O’Sullivan was aloof as disorder rampaged around her, and often above her.
Ireland’s best passage of first-half play took 37 minutes to arrive.
O’Sullivan found her range with a delicious pass from the outside of her boot to release Payne who, perhaps attracted by the pint-sized stature of the ’keeper, could only find the passing cars on the N81.
Payne is a wonderful player but a more natural winger than goal-getter.
Slovakia’s goal resulted from some slipshod defending, which Pauw has done so much to eradicate, revisiting at the most inopportune moment.
The genesis was the imbalanced midfield, unable to retain possession before their left-flank was haplessly exposed.
The sucker punch was delivered with a ruthless precision, seemingly beyond the hosts. Stunned, they regrouped in time; McCarthy, McCabe, O’Sullivan and Payne combining with rare fluency to allow Megan Connolly to escape from defensive midfield duties to sting the ’keeper’s hands.
The holy trinity of Payne, O’Sullivan and McCabe hauled Ireland level.
The captain’s left foot has authored some of the most spectacular goals in English football this season; this may prove to be her most valuable.
Pragmatic Pauw, too conservative perhaps, changed her right-back as Slovakia sent on a striker, still threatening despite belated local ascendancy.
Ireland’s goalkeeper almost imploded, reminding us that many scarring memories of the last campaign still linger.
This result demonstrably revealed they have not yet been fully healed.