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Vera Pauw: ‘The basic fighting spirit is so big.

Vera Pauw: ‘The basic fighting spirit is so big.

Vera Pauw: ‘The basic fighting spirit is so big.

Vera Pauw, one could argue, has known conflict all her life. How else could it possibly be when you are one of triplets in a busy Amsterdam household?

Managing conflict, underpinned by direct honesty, has been one of her key attributes throughout a long and distinguished career.

The Ireland women’s soccer manager, one could also reasonably suggest, might be more attuned to the Irish culture than even she had imagined. As she concedes quite willingly, while the Dutch are a notoriously individualistic race — a cursory history of Holland’s men imploding at major tournaments offer prime exhibits — the culture in which she is now immersed is not quite so self-centred.

Hence, the rites of passage during which she jostled and bustled with two boys seemed more in tune with the scenes from an Irish childhood.

And, while she retains the hard-edged single-mindedness of the traditional personality, she has managed to develop other traits to match her vaulting ambitions with a female sport that, neglected for so long here, is finally emerging into the blinking light.

“It is so difficult because every team is unique,” says Pauw, speaking as the Irish pitch up in Gori, 40 miles north of the Georgian capital Tbilisi, for the latest stage of their quest to secure a play-off spot and the chance to participate in the squad’s first major tournament, next year’s World Cup.

“The basic principles are respect and honesty. Lying is something I cannot handle. I never lie. Sometimes I might not tell a person something. But I never lie. We are all here to develop ourselves every single day. Every team has a different starting point and takes different steps, there are different cultures. But in all my teams, they have improved. But they are the starting point, not me.

“Here, they had that bond already when I came in. I called them a bunch of Tigers after the first game and it is a nickname now but that is what they showed. In other countries, it has taken time to develop these attributes.

“You need to know how people react because I am from a different culture, I am very direct. And of course that is Dutch. I try to be aware of that but there are moments players have to realise that is my culture. I find Ireland a very pleasant culture and we fit in very well. We Dutch are more direct. Some of the Irish will speak directly but others need to sit down and have space to say what they feel.

“The basic fighting spirit is so big compared to Holland, who think about themselves first because they are a very individualistic culture. Whereas me, I am the opposite because I am one of triplets. I am probably better in cultures like Ireland. So for me togetherness and team-work is key because I am one of triplets.”

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Pauw has incrementally improved every international team she has managed — Holland, South Africa and Scotland all recovering from an initial flawed campaign to achieve qualification on the second spin.

It wasn’t always inevitable that she would commit to do so with the Irish, following implosions against Greece and Ukraine in the last European qualification campaign; but once she did re-sign, she realises now she had no other option but to do so.

Alluding to the seminal Liberty Hall stand-off in 2017, when the Irish women publicly cast off the shackles of perennial neglect, through to the historic development of equal pay for the male and female international sides, Pauw explains why it was so important for her to continue her mission.

“Surely it has influenced me, yeah I think so,” she says after giving the question a lengthy assessment. “Not consciously. But surely it has given me a push to continue with the players. But the biggest thing was that I found we were on the road to the top.

“We didn’t achieve it the first time, but I experienced this also with the Netherlands, with South Africa and with Scotland. So a setback like that was a natural progress. So if I stepped back, it would not have been fair to the players. That was the biggest thing for me. The players had the right to have continuity in the programme and I felt responsible for that.

“And part of that also was the FAI showed that they really wanted to create everything for us to be able to make that next step. Everyone has said that 2017 was a crucial moment in the development of the game [here]. At that moment, things changed, where they stood up for their rights.

“The FAI is doing even more than people would expect, the Netherlands are only getting equal payment now and they are European champions and twice world champions.

“We have never qualified for a tournament but the FAI have created the conditions for us to play at our highest level. This group is talented and it is a basic human right to have the same level of development between men and women and that is the FAI’s approach.”

The hefty investment in more than a week at a training camp in Antalya, Turkey, combined with charter flights reflects that commitment. Now the squad must repay that faith.

Tomorrow’s task should be simply negotiated, securing second-placed behind runaway qualifiers Sweden, before the defining hurdles against Slovakia and Finland later this year promise a tantalising play-off tilt for unprecedented honour.

Georgia v Rep of Ireland

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