WATCH: Stephanie Roche scores as Ireland start new era with a win
Ireland 1 Slovakia 0
SIX days after supplying an explosive insight to the mistreatment of the Ireland women’s squad, Stephanie Roche followed her talk with action by scoring the winner against Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium today.
The Sunderland striker, who the FAI trumpeted as their model ambassador two years ago when she finished second in FIFA’s Puskas Goal of the Year contest, nestled a 47th-minute penalty home to conclude a dramatic week for the squad.
From the depths of last Tuesday’s press conference at Liberty Hall, where revelations about the paltry conditions they operated under were aired to the shock of the public, the players turned their game-face on and were much the better side in this friendly.
In the end, they should have won by more than Roche’s spot-kick. She sent goalkeeper Lucia El Dahabiova the wrong way for her 14th international goal after Megan Connolly had earned the penalty.
Arsenal’s Katie McCabe – from nearby Kilnamanagh – was the standout performer for Ireland, setting the tone by whipping in a low delivery on 17 minutes which Aine O’Gorman was inches from getting a connection to.
Captain Emma Byrne was hardly tested in the Ireland goal and she made way for Manchester City’s Marie Hourihan at half-time in a pre-arranged switch to allow new boss Colin Bell assess both stoppers.
The former Champions League winning boss must have been impressed with Denise O’Sullivan, the Cork player now based in the United States with Houston Dash. The attacking midfielder almost grabbed the lead at the interval approach only for a double-save from El Dahabiova.
Once Ireland forged ahead, they remained in control and fashioned a number of chances to extend the lead. Roche might have grabbed her second while Connolly should have kept her effort down rather than smashing it over the crossbar.
McCabe was nearly rewarded for her masterclass with a goal on 73 minutes following a slaloming run which culminated in a shot from distance which El Dahabiova gathered.
The best opening for add a second, however, fell at the feet of Claire O’Riordan but the Wexford striker could only poke her low shot a yard wide after racing clear on goal.
“Football is all about results, so I’m delighted with the result,” said Bell following his first home match since taking charge in February.
“We were a bit cautious in the first-half but the goal gave the players a boost to let fly and they could have scored a few more goals.
“There was a high level of energy to our play in the second half and we defended well, not allowing Slovakia much of the ball in our half.”
Ireland are back in Tallaght on 8 June for their next assignment, a friendly against Iceland, before they travel to Scotland in their last warm-up game before the World Cup qualifiers kick off in September. Bell’s side will discover their opposition for the qualifying group when the draw for the 2019 finals in made in a fortnight.
IRELAND: Byrne (Hourihan 45); Perry, Caldwell, Quinn, Perry; Duggan; O’Gorman, O’Sullivan, Connolly (Russell 75), McCabe (O’Riordan 90); Roche (Littlejohn 88).
Referee: Cheryl Foster (WAL).