Finland money

Ireland on the brink of a new world ahead of Finland clash

Tallaght Stadium will switch on Thursday. There will be 8,000 fans riding Katie McCabe and her team to beat Finland and confirm their place in next year’s World Cup play-offs in Australia and New Zealand. Those in the ground should count themselves lucky – there will be thousands of other TV viewers who couldn’t get their hands on a prized ticket.

The qualifier sold out within an hour. It had been argued that the FAI should have been more ambitious and brought the game to the Aviva Stadium, especially given the success of Euro 2022 on the water.

McCabe herself poured cold water on this suggestion a few months ago. “I don’t think throwing ourselves into the Aviva in the middle of a campaign would be a good idea,” said the Arsenal star.

Katie McCabe of Republic of Ireland celebrates after scoring her team’s first goal during the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Qualifying match between Georgia and Republic of Ireland at Tengiz Burjanadze Stadium in Gori, Ireland Georgia. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

The Ireland captain also pointed out that Tallaght has become the home of the women’s national team.

They are comfortable there, know its limits. And despite all the goodwill and hype generated by Vera Pauw’s team over the past 18 months, Thursday will be the first time they’ve sold out.

Méabh De Búrca has played over 50 times for Ireland and was on the frozen ground in Reykjavik the last time the team played in a major tournament qualifier (Euro 2009). During his time, games were played to small crowds at Tolka Park and Richmond Park while TV coverage was limited, limited to the odd appearance on Eurosport – which showed the controversial second leg of that play-off live of the Euros, “It’s great to see Tallaght sell out so quickly, it just shows that the public have really supported the girls,” said the Galway native, whose club career has taken her from Boston to Norway and Sweden.

“I can understand why some people say the game should have been moved to the Aviva, but we can see that the men’s team often struggles to sell the Aviva.

“And when you’re in there when it’s half full, with 25 or 30,000 people, the atmosphere can feel a bit dead. It may have also disturbed the concentration of the players. They have to be professional about it. They need to get a result, and their best opportunity to do that is in Tallaght.

“The result matters the most, getting to the play-offs. Maybe a top friendly would work better for their first game at the Aviva. There’s too much at stake on Thursday to move on now.

The Aviva is rarely sold out for the men’s team. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile

Marie Curtin, another former Ireland international, has a different view. Curtin’s own football career also took her to the United States and Scandinavia before hanging up her boots aged just 27, frustrated that Ireland weren’t making progress. It was ten years ago. Things are quite different now.

Curtin is back in the game coaching minor Treaty United sides in his hometown of Limerick, having won several UEFA badges. However, she believes the FAI should strike while the iron is hot, use the momentum created by Pauw’s team and the growth of women’s football globally to generate more revenue.

“We all know the situation in which the FAI has found itself in recent years. It hasn’t been in the right place, and I think if the girls can draw crowds of 25,000 or 30,000 to the Aviva, it will generate more revenue that can be injected into grassroots women’s football.

“There is a huge opportunity here to grow women’s football, but generating more revenue has to be part of it.”

The counter-argument is that if Ireland manage to break the glass ceiling and qualify for their first major tournament, it will present an even bigger opportunity to open up more money-making opportunities.

Other sponsors will flock to an already crowd-pleasing group of players. A first World Cup appearance at a time when interest in women’s football has skyrocketed will do wonders for this country’s football.

They still have a few hurdles to overcome before they can start planning for Australia and New Zealand. A win against Finland will guarantee a place in the convoluted play-offs. With nine groups in Europe, FIFA will rank the runners-up from one to nine. The top three will get a bye to the final, while the other six will play in the first round.

Marie Curtin, Republic of Ireland. Senior Women’s Soccer International Friendly, Republic of Ireland v Switzerland, Richmond Park, Dublin. Photo: Barry Cregg/SPORTSFILE

Even if Ireland manage to win the second round, there is no guarantee that they will book their ticket to the World Cup, as only the top two teams get an automatic slot while the third-placed winner must surrender. at the Inter-Confederation play-offs in Auckland next February.

De Búrca sat down and tried to make sense of it during the week. The upshot was that if Ireland beat Finland and Slovakia in those two games, they had a chance of making the top three finalists, although they were still dependent on Belgium falling in one. of his last two games.

“A draw will be enough, but the way the play-offs are going, we could still be one of the best runners-up.” And the way FIFA has designed the play-off system, the top three teams will be greatly advantaged.

“Of course, one of the play-off winners may have to go to this ten-team tournament next year, so there is still a long way to go for this team, but at least they have put themselves in the game. shot,” she added. .

Curtin believes the progress made by the Irish team dates back to that afternoon at Liberty Hall five and a half years ago, when a group, which included Emma Byrne, took a stand against the way they were treated by the Association. Since then, players have been respected, with Ireland becoming one of the first countries to implement equal pay for male and female players on international duty.

“When I hung up my boots in 2012 I was frustrated with the lack of progress made with Ireland compared to other countries of a similar size. I’m not talking about the USA and Germany, but I had just played in Norway and saw what they were doing, what they were doing, and here in Ireland players were still paying to play the game – there was no expense or anything like that.

“And you come to a point where you have to think about yourself and your career outside of football.”

Stephanie Roche, left, of the Republic of Ireland women’s national team, speaks alongside Aine O’Gorman, center left, captain Emma Byrne and Karen Duggan, and other team-mates during a Women’s National Team press conference at Liberty Hall in Dublin. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile

“But there have been incredible changes in the last ten years, and even in the last few years, which is reflected in the way the game has grown globally. When the girls made the decision to strike and showed up at Liberty Hall to show all the issues they have to deal with, I think that was the pivotal moment for women’s football in this country,” Curtin observed.

And more girls are playing the game. Curtin sees it herself in Limerick with the amount of young talent coming in now. The FAI’s stated goal is to double the number of registered female players over the next three years, from 25,000 to 50,000. With figureheads such as McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan possibly given the opportunity to show off their world-class talent on the biggest stage next summer, even more girls will be enticed to play the game.

Perhaps the biggest challenge in the years to come will be how to develop this talent. It is hoped that the rise of the national team will elevate the national game, especially as the likes of Áine O’Gorman and Abbie Larkin play in the Women’s National League (WNL).

The WSL’s presence across the water will always be a problem as teams are plundered for talent, but Curtin believes clubs should use that as an advantage.

“We should develop our domestic league as a stepping stone to the WSL and the Championship. And we saw Heather O’Reilly, a superstar of our game and one of the most successful players of all time, come and play here for Champions League football. It will raise the profile and could attract more players to the league.

The likes of Áine O’Gorman and Abbie Larkin play in the Women’s National League. Photo: Ben McShane/Sportsfile

Pauw believes the WNL faces the same problem the Finnish league faced a few years ago with its neighbours. “The same thing happened in Finland when their players were going to the Swedish league,” said the Ireland manager. “But we have an opportunity if we set up a national academy, I think Emma Byrne’s idea was fantastic. This is how we proceeded in the Netherlands. Austria did it, Switzerland did it. A national academy for the best players during the week, then they played for their clubs at the weekend. This helped to develop these countries into top countries without having a league at WSL level.

“I don’t know if it will work here, but we have to sit down and discuss what will suit Ireland.” We have to sit down and think about how to develop the league, what we can do for Ireland, because everything is going very fast.

De Búrca believes that the WNL should become semi-professional and clubs should partner with third-tier institutions to offer scholarships. “If the national team reaches the play-offs and maybe beyond, there will be a real opportunity to develop the league, and we have to do everything we can to make the most of it.”

First of all. Ireland are due to get the job done at a sold-out Tallaght stadium on Thursday night.

From there, the discussion can delve deeper into the move to the Aviva and the development of the domestic league as the hype kicks in ahead of the play-offs.