Wednesday 16 October 2019

Pauw aiming to combine Irish passion with purpose in crunch sell-out clash against Ukraine

Ireland manager Vera Pauw
Ireland manager Vera Pauw
David Kelly

David Kelly

One of Vera Pauw's first tasks as Irish women's manager was to find some jobs for the boys.

With her selected squad temporarily whittled by bruises, bumps and knocks, the Dutch native was keen to maximise the limited training time available to her.

New Ireland boss Vera Pauw is eager to give playmakers like Katie McCabe (pictured) the platform to show her talents. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
New Ireland boss Vera Pauw is eager to give playmakers like Katie McCabe (pictured) the platform to show her talents. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

And she was also anxious to replicate the increased intensity she expects from the Ukraine side who visit a sold-out Tallaght for Ireland's second Euro 2021 qualifier.

And so she sought help, from an unfamiliar source maybe; then again, perhaps piquantly in this age of aspirational equality, one that seems empowering in its cunning simplicity.

Male players from UCD's U-15s were drafted into their team base with the explicit aim of ensuring that Pauw could amplify the traits she wants to see in her first outing this evening.

"We train only game-related," says Pauw, whose restricted exposure to the squad has been alleviated, she claims, by the "most professional" set-up she has encountered in her international career.

"Therefore we have trained against boys this week (from UCD) to exercise what we are learning under the highest pressure."

"It is the type of pressure we will expect against Ukraine and I am pleased with the results," says Pauw; the actual result was 3-1 but that wasn't the point about the exercise.

"I enjoyed it, all of us did. We hadn't done it in a while. For us, having that physicality, the lads are stronger and quicker, they could see that pass forward. We wouldn't have the same intensity in training.

"It is about a team-building process," adds Pauw, "and getting the best out of them, when we are faced with the resistance of an opponent who is obviously trying to do the opposite.

"Because of that you can only develop under the highest pressure. So a lot of the training we do is at 11-a-side and I have said already we had a few injury doubts.

Pressure

"So we needed to bring in a few boys to ensure we had those matches. It means that the set-up of the game, and what we expect from ourselves under pressure from Ukraine, will be clear in our minds."

The pressure points she wants to illustrate are those that impinge on the side's periods in possession which, as she will have witnessed in person when the team kicked off their qualification attempt against Montenegro, were largely aimless.

Often slow on the ball, the side struggled to extract the best qualities from its obvious stars - Denise O'Sullivan and captain Katie McCabe - even if victory against the hapless minnows was rarely in doubt.

This seemed to have little enough to do with Tom O'Connor - the caretaker who deserved to have his prospective candidacy handled in a better manner - but rather remained a legacy issue from the previous reign of Colin Bell.

The Englishman may have thought rather highly of himself but not always the same applied to his players; to some, his attitudes smacked of arch-conservatism, in style and selection.

Pauw's aim must be to reverse that trend, as it much as it manifested itself in occasionally high watermarks, such as the famously gritty act of defiance in her native land.

She has already ruled out the prospect of challenging Germany in this qualification but, rather than being defeatist, Pauw and her team will instead seek to define themselves as being better than the rest.

This may include smatterings of an all-too-familiar sense of restraint.

"Don't be too disappointed with ten minutes to go if we decide that a draw with ten minutes to go is a favourable result for us," she warns a crowd who may be expecting much more than mere pragmatism.

For Pauw, though, her side's journey will be defined by purpose; and that takes us back to her training sessions with the opposite sex.

McCabe, along with Denise O'Sullivan, are two of the key playmakers that Pauw is eager to ensure are provided with a platform to ply their wares.

"We've been working on more purposeful possession," says the coach. "We need to make sure that every pass has a meaning and that will lead to more pressure going forwards.

"Our culture is all about going 100 per cent but we have identified the creative players too. We need to give them the freedom to operate alongside the players who are disciplined."

The returns of Megan Campbell and Leanne Kiernan along with, significantly, that of the previously self-enforced retiree, Julie Ann-Russell, reflects the sense that Pauw's recruitment has made some initial impact.

More evidence will be accrued this evening; as she says when pressed on selection and formation, "it may be better if I tell you after the game."

Tonight's game is technically a sell-out in that all tickets have been accounted for but, with poor weather forecast, some may choose the couch option.

"I really hope that those who have tickets will come or if they cannot, please try to pass on to those who need them," says McCabe.

Pauw, who has promised a play-off spot at least, hopes to give them something to smile about.

"It feels like I have been already here for months. I think we're absolutely ready. There are no excuses."

Ireland (Possible team v Ukraine): Hourihan; O'Riordan, Quinn, Caldwell, Campbell; Toland, Fahey; Russell, O'Sullivan, McCabe (capt); Kiernan.

Irish Independent

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