Connolly adds gloss as Ireland U-19 women march on to Euro semi-final
Ireland U-19s 2 Sweden U-19s 1
From being the source of ridicule across European football just two years ago, Irish football was the talk of the continent last night.
Dave Connell transported his Ireland U-19 women's team into the same realm as Brian Kerr's 1998 underage male heroes by overseeing their progression to a European Championship semi-final against the Netherlands in Mjondalen on Thursday.
And they will face that tie with every confidence of taking the final step, given how they've enhanced their reputation here on the way to the last four.
Sweden became Ireland's latest scalp in Oslo last night,meeting the same fate as Spain and England did before them in Group B.
Having won their opening two games, the Irish girls knew they could afford to lose this one by one goal and still reach the knockout stage.
An opener from the Swedes after only eight minutes provided another test of their mettle, but that was the most threatening situation the Scandinavians could fashion.
Savannah McCarthy levelled on 21 minutes before the provider of that equaliser, Megan Connolly, put the gloss on Ireland's passage into the last four with the best record of the eight competing nations.
"Our girls have beaten the top three seeds at these finals and they certainly won't fear the Dutch," professed Connell afterwards.
"There's no substitute for hard work and the team more than matched a good Swedish team both for effort and skill. This team doesn't know when they're beaten."
That Ireland's feat was achieved while sending the Swedes packing had special resonance for the Irish players and staff.
At the final whistle, manager of the 2012 champions, Calle Carrling, repeated the ungraciousness he'd shown in a previous defeat to the Irish.
"When we beat them in a friendly in March, he (Carrling) called us a hurling team," explained Connell.
"He wasn't saying that after this result – making some sarcastic remark about us being a good football team.
"Everyone, including him, could see that we were by far the better team against them."
Ireland certainly were superior despite starting the game with main striker, Clare Shine, on the bench.
Having shipped a heavy knock to the neck in Friday's win over England, the Cork maestro wouldn't have lasted 90 minutes and so Keeva Keenan made his first start of the tournament.
They began strongly only to concede from a breakaway. Stina Blackstenius latched on to a long pass out of defence, rounded the onrushing Brooke Dunne in the Irish goal and slipped the ball home from an acute angle.
With a stubborn Irish defence spearheaded by McCarthy, there would be no subsequent Swedish onslaught.
Indeed, the Listowel Celtic centre-back strode forward on 21 minutes to draw Ireland level – her header from Connolly's free-kick looping over stranded goalkeeper, Zecira Musovic.
Katie McCabe was foiled by Musovic shortly after as the Irish chased the winner.
They comfortably withstood the Swedes' long-ball tactics after the break and nicked the win 10 minutes from the end with the best goal of the game.
A foul on McCabe on the left presented Connolly with the chance to showcase her set-piece brilliance from 35 yards and she duly obliged with a curler that rattled the net in off the underside of the crossbar.
On their first appearance at their tournament, it was a fitting end to the group by Connell's surprise packets.
And the manager promised that they've plenty left in reserve to ensure Ireland emerge supreme.
He said: "It's not like we've nothing to lose. We came here confident and nothing has changed.
"There's a prize in Sunday's final at stake now, but the Irish public should be proud of them no matter what happens.
"I just hope that the players get the recognition they deserve and people come out in their droves to salute them when they return."
They may well make that homecoming clutching silverware.
IRELAND – Dunne (Peamount Utd); Keenan (Shelbourne), McCarthy (Listowel Celtic), O'Connell (Wilton), Wright (Texas University); Mustaki (Peamount Utd); Dwyer (Wexford Yths), Connolly (College Corinthians); O'Connor (Wilton), McCabe (Raheny Utd), Rowe (Castlebar Celtic). Subs: Shine (Raheny Utd) for Rowe (59), Carson (Holyhill) for McCabe (87).
SWEDEN –Musovic; Ekholm, Bjorn, E Karlsson, N Karlsson; F Anderson, Hurtig, Wahlberg, Curmark; Blackstenius, Zigiotti-Olme. Subs: Ökvist for Curmark (46), Jansson for Zigiotti-Olme (70), Angeldal for F Anderson (76),
REF – Z Kováèová (SVK)