Saturday 22 September 2018

The world awaits as Colin Bell sounds battle cry ahead of crunch Slovakia clash

Ireland’s Megan Connolly in action during training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland’s Megan Connolly in action during training at Abbotstown yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

John Fallon

After applying a serious approach to the job, Colin Bell feels his Ireland women's team are finally being taken seriously by the superpowers of European football.

Bell leads his team into their first home game of the campaign tonight when they face Slovakia at Tallaght Stadium (5.0) aiming to upgrade a positive start into a genuine tilt at reaching next year's World Cup.

The casual observer will train their eyes on next Tuesday's visit of European champions Holland to Tallaght, yet that fixture will only carry significance if today's first part of the double-header is accounted for.

Slovakia, despite possessing Bayern Munich playmaker Dominika Skorvankova in their ranks, shouldn't prove an obstacle to sustaining the bid to reach next year's finals in France.

They are anchored to the bottom of the table, without a point from four games, and nursed heavy defeats to Holland and Norway.

Mutiny

Bell certainly won't tolerate any excuses for the team faltering, a stance he made clear when appointed just over a year ago to manage a squad on the verge of mutiny. It took a high-profile industrial threat for their grievances to be settled, switching the onus back to the players to deliver on the pitch.

That they have duly done, swatting away Northern Ireland and Slovakia in the opening two qualifiers before holding the Dutch scoreless in Nijmegen. To finish between Holland and the Norwegians, another nation to have lifted the European title, a win today is a prerequisite.

"When the draw for this campaign was made, all that Holland and Norway were thinking was which of them would finish second," the former Frankurt coach explained.

"Our results have made those opponents take us seriously."

Having recently extended his contract to 2021, Bell has cautioned that it might take until the next European Championships for Ireland's major tournament duck to be broken. Even finishing second doesn't guarantee a play-off for the World Cup in France.

Another three points tonight, however, would keep the thought process in the here and now. Eight years ago, Denise O'Sullivan featured in the U-17 World Cup and has since graced a US Cup final for her club North Carolina Courage but has next year's showpiece in her sights.

"Being at the U-17 World Cup was an amazing experience but my goal always has been to get to a senior World Cup," said the Cork native.

IRELAND (probable): M Hourihan (Manchester City); S Perry (Brighton & Hove Albion), L Quinn (Arsenal), D Caldwell (SC Sand), K Duggan (Peamount Utd); N Fahey (Bordeaux), M Connolly (Florida State); L Kiernan (Shelbourne), D O'Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), K McCabe (Arsenal); A Barrett (Peamount Utd).

Ireland v Slovakia, Tallaght Stadium, Live, eir Sport, 5.0

Irish Independent

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