It’s hard to sum up how it will feel to watch Ireland kick off their first ever major tournament in Sydney against Australia on July 20th. In what is arguably one of the toughest groups, it still felt like fate when they drew the hosts in the opener. As if that moment could be any more special! I’m not sure I’ll fully believe that the girls in green have actually made it to the FIFA Women’s World Cup until I see them line up, shoulder to shoulder in a sold-out Stadium Australia belting out Amhrán na bhFiann. My biggest concern first and foremost is whether I’ll be able to take decent photos through what will no doubt be tear-filled eyes; my second is… Australian captain Sam Kerr.

A lot has changed in the Irish game, in particular over the last 5-6 years. Like women’s football in many parts of the world, it is growing rapidly, and federations are investing in their women’s teams (at least most of them are). Driven on by the disappointment of missing out on Euro 2022 qualification, the team have shown that while they may come from a small country, they can compete on the world stage. Rising in the rankings from 31 to 22 this year, they have illustrated the true meaning of hard work, grit and a little bit of Irish luck to qualify back in October. As they navigated the complicated qualification process, the proverbial chips fell their way at every turn. They still had their own part to play, making sure they won both their final group game and their knock-out game against Scotland at Hampden Park, but they also had to rely on a number of other results swinging in their favour. As Donegal native Amber Barrett slid that ball into the back of the net against Scotland with one of her first touches of the game, it really did feel like Ireland were destined to qualify.

That night in Glasgow is without doubt the most historical moment in Irish women’s football and the team has been riding that high ever since. Backed by a proud nation who continue to ‘Outbelieve’, the team have sold out their national stadium in Tallaght several times since their final group game. Vera Pauw and her squad of coaches have since used their international windows to test themselves against some of the best. Facing off against World Champions, the USA, twice in April, matches they ultimately lost 2-0 and 1-0 respectively, they showed that Ireland are a team that needs to be taken seriously. There is no doubt that Australia, Canada and Nigeria know that they will face a tough test. With talismanic captain Katie McCabe leading her side from the flanks, magician Denise O’Sullivan pulling the strings in midfield and brick wall Louise Quinn conducting the back line, there is a blend of youth and experience that makes this side an exciting one to watch.


Katie McCabe, Scotland v Republic of Ireland, FIFAWWC Play-Off


Seeing the rise of this team and the way the Irish people have backed them is hugely exciting. From appearances on the Late Late Toy Show to being Grand Marshalls in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, there is no doubt that the whole country is invested. The girls were celebrated at a pre-tournament event in Mansion House in conjunction with Off the Ball where the squad were presented with their official World Cup jerseys. They were then hosted in Farmleigh House by the Taoiseach, the Táiniste and various government ministers in a send-off event. Here a commitment of €500,000 in additional funding for women’s football in Ireland was announced by Minister of State for Sport and Physical Education, Thomas Byrne. The impact this team has made before they have even stepped foot on Australian soil is immeasurable.

But getting to this point has been down to the work of so many more than just the chosen 23. Many of those who made the squad have recognised the importance of the players involved in qualification and those who have gone before on their social media. It is important in these historical and exciting moments to recognise the hard work that led us here. It was only six years ago when the Irish team had to threaten to forfeit a match in order to get equality for the squad. As the starting XI line up on July 20th, they and all the others involved in the game in Ireland will remember all of those who have stepped up for their country in more ways than one to get them to this point.


Republic of Ireland


While many sides featuring in this World Cup will feel the weight of expectation on their shoulders from their home nations, Ireland will be driven on by a wave of pride, belief and excitement from Emerald shores and beyond. Whatever the outcome, this is already a team of heroes who have been sent off proudly and will be welcomed back with just as much gusto for putting our little country on the footballing map. All that is required of them now is to go out there, represent the badge and enjoy the moment. The first time only ever happens once. And while this may be the greatest achievement the Irish women’s football team has experienced, it is merely the start. There is so much more to come.

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