REPUBLIC OF IRELAND have an uphill task ahead of them to pinch second spot in Group 4 of the Uefa Women’s Euro 2013 Qualifiers following a defeat to Wales at Turner’s Cross on Saturday evening.
In what was a quite tepid affair played at a pedestrian pace for long stretches Ireland’s insistence on going direct to offensive-minded trio Denise O’Sullivan, Áine O’Gorman and Michelle O’Brien was essentially counter-productive for the most part.
And, unfortunately, Ronan’s high-quality unit paid the ultimate price in the 71st minute when Sophie Ingle’s speculative ball in behind the Ireland defence resulted in striker Helen Lander looping a shot over Emma Byrne’s head, a goal that would prove to be match-winning.
The result, though far from ideal, is not campaign-defining, however.
Ireland will have to beat both Scotland and Israel and maybe even snatch a draw against France, a side that should already be qualified as group winners by then, which will be obviously difficult but by no means beyond the realms of possibility.
Ireland engineered nine attempts at goal, five on target however, they uncharacteristically failed to retain possession regularly enough to keep Wales on the back-foot throughout a contest whereby the vast array of talent on show appeared to be more conscious of avoiding mistakes rather than expressing themselves consistently, which, in the tension-filled situation both teams were in due to their qualification aspirations, was understandable.
The general theory banded about was that the loss of Niamh Fahey, Ireland’s player of the year, through suspension was keenly felt by the hosts as they struggled to string a sufficient number of passes together and her presence would have allowed for that to happen more frequently.
The first-half of the encounter failed to really ignite with no genuine goalscoring opportunity engineered at either end.
Wales captain and the game’s standout performer, Jessica Fishlock was the first to get a shot off in the game on 12 minutes when she fired over Byrne’s crossbar from 25 yards after being fed a neat pass by Michelle Green.
Five minutes had passed before the hosts’ O’Sullivan and O’Gorman shot at Nicola Davies’ Shed End goal however, the net-minder was not called upon on either occasion to make a save as both were narrowly off target.
Jarmo Matikainen’s unit were more than holding their own in the early stages of the half and Ingle’s testing 20-yard free-kick from left of centre drew a save from Byrne low to her right on 20 minutes.
Byrne’s misplaced goal-kick seven minutes later was collected by Natasha Harding who passed to Sarah Wiltshire at the edge of the area but the Wales’ midfielder’s shot failed to trouble the Arsenal stopper.
O’Sullivan very nearly caught Davies in no man’s land on 32 minutes with an intelligent chip from an acute angle but the Cork Women’s FC captain’s effort tailed off wide.
Set-piece specialist Megan Campbell subsequently struck a well-taken 25-yard free-kick however, Davies saved comfortably in the run-up to half-time.
Two minutes after the restart Byrne was forced into a wonderful reaction save denying Lander from inside the area after the Chelsea striker changed the direction of Gwennan Harries’ initial effort by instinctively connecting with the ball.
Fifty-five minutes into the contest Ireland defender and arguably the hosts’ top player on the day, Louise Quinn drew an excellent stop from Davies heading Campbell’s missile-like throw-in from the left goalwards from seven yards.
As the second period developed Ireland became the more likely to break the deadlock and O’Brien was unfortunate not to do so in the 68th minute swivelling in the area and blasting a venomous shot that flew over Davies’ crossbar.
However, just three minutes had passed before Lander’s sucker-punch left Ireland reeling.
Ronan’s team, buoyed by the introductions of the energetic Ruesha Littlejohn and attackers Cherelle Khassal and Stephanie Roche, upped the ante in search of an equaliser and looked far more threatening, particularly down the right.
And in the 89th minute Davies’ acrobatics were all that denied them a draw as the goalkeeper repelled Roche’s header in a clustered penalty area after O’Gorman hopefully lobbed Campbell’s half cleared free-kick back in the direction of the Wales goal.
Republic of Ireland: Emma Byrne, Sophie Perry, Megan Campbell, Louise Quinn, Yvonne Tracy, Shannon Smyth, Ciara Grant (capt), Julie Ann Russell, Áine O’Gorman, Denise O’Sullivan, Michelle O’Brien.
Subs: Ruesha Littlejohn for O’Brien (69), Cherelle Khassal for Russell (76), Stephanie Roche for Smyth (85).
Wales: Nicola Davies, Angharad James, Sophie Ingle, Kylie Davies, Nia Jones, Natasha Harding, Sarah Wiltshire, Michelle Green, Helen Lander, Gwennan Harries, Jessica Fishlock (capt).
Subs: Hannah Keryakpolis for Harding (59), Lauren Price for Wiltshire (86), Sally Wade for Green (86).
Referee: Sofia Karagiorgi (Cyprus).
Peter McNamara is a freelance sports journalist that works predominately for the Evening Echo in Cork covering mostly soccer and GAA at all levels. Peter writes extensively on the topics of Gaelic football and hurling for the newspaper. He is the former sports editor of local radio station 93.1 Life FM where he produced and co-presented the live Sporting Life show every Monday and Friday which stills run today. As well as that, Peter has worked as a sub-editor for the Evening Echo and has been working in the media industry for over four years now. You can contact him via e-mail at email@example.com, on facebook or follow him on Twitter @petermcnemo07