The Republic of Ireland will bring 26 players to the World Cup in Australia next month.
Following a request by the FAI, supported by the Dutch and German federations, Fifa are allowing an additional three players to travel Down Under so injury replacements avoid long haul flights.
The FAI must pay for both travel and accommodation of the extra three players. Fifa picks up the tab for the official 23-woman squads from 32 competing nations. The governing body has also guaranteed a direct payment of €28,000 for every player at the tournament.
“Fifa allows us to go up to 26 after a special request that we made, together with the Netherlands and Germany, to have training players,” confirmed Ireland manager Vera Pauw yesterday.
“Otherwise you cannot periodise around, for example, the menstrual cycle; you cannot give players time off because you need to play 11-aside [in training]. Now we have the chance to do that or cover for injuries.”
A 27-strong group gathers this weekend for a training camp on the UCD campus, where each player gets their own room and a private bathroom, as Pauw tries to create a club atmosphere inside the group.
Irish captain Katie McCabe had been restricted from joining the panel until after the Zambia friendly on June 22nd, but the English FA confirmed on Friday that WSL clubs will release players on June 19th.
”The plan is for Katie not to play against Zambia but with Katie you never know,” said Pauw.
Ireland’s three American-based players, Denise O’Sullivan, Sinead Farrelly and Marissa Sheva, will arrive in camp on June 23rd, 13 days before the warm-up match against France in Tallaght.
Aoife Mannion has failed to be selected due to her latest knee issue. The Manchester United centre half meets a specialist on Monday to see if she can regain fitness before Pauw’s official World Cup squad announcement on June 29th.
Mannion, who made her debut against China in February after coming through the English underage ranks, would be a significant loss.
“The vibes are positive that Aoife will make this squad,” said Pauw. “It is tight but possible. Fingers crossed. We have a few issues, which is why we have loaded the squad with 27 players. Leanne Kieran and Niamh Fahey are building up [after injury] and Lily Agg is also fit.”
This means that five, possibly six of the current squad will be cut over the next fortnight.
Meanwhile, Pauw’s total commitment to the theory of football periodisation – a form of athletic preparation championed by Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen – has been fully accepted and funded by the FAI.
“I must say, the FAI has understood every step I have proposed and made it happen. I am so happy with all the preparations and the understanding why it is necessary. It would give us a big problem if we could not bring the extra three players. Not many countries will do it but I have made clear why through the periodisation we have that it is so important. It was a no-brainer for the FAI to budget for them.”
Pauw is working, in her spare time, on a book about training elite female athletes that she intends to publish in the Christmas market.
Before adding ‘author’ to a long list of career accomplishments, some tough calls must be made. Mannion’s return could come at a cost to Diane Caldwell, Harriet Scott, Hayley Nolan or Claire O’Riordan, with two of them possibly not selected.
It would also be a major achievement if all four League of Ireland players – Aine O’Gorman, Erin McLaughlin, Tara O’Hanlon and Abbie Larkin – made the flight to Brisbane.
McCabe, O’Sullivan, Farrelly and Megan Connolly are certainties, but competition for the remaining midfield slots is fierce. The same applies to the forwards now that Liverpool’s Leanne Kiernan has returned from ankle surgery.
“Well, she played 30 minutes [for Liverpool in May], that is all we have seen. In this situation we can give herself the chance to grow, build up match fitness and get game minutes. Then we will see what decision we have to make.”
Ireland will struggle to escape Group B, with their opening match against the hosts at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium followed by tricky logistical and tactical challenges against Canada in Perth and Nigeria at Lang Park, Brisbane, to set up a possible last 16 tie against European champions England.
“Just to be realistic,” cautioned Pauw. “We play Australia, the host country who are a top, top nation and there will be 82,000 fans at our game. I think we will respond well. Then we have the Olympic champions and the best African team so we have to be realistic.
“If I say we go out at the group stage, then you plan for failure. What’s failure for us at this stage? We must prepare to give every team our best and then see if we get out of the group.
“What did Jack Charlton say?”
‘Give it a lash’ came the collective response.
Finally, when asked about Sarina Wiegman, her fellow Dutch coach and the current England manager, Pauw refused to provide a soundbite.
“Oh, I am not talking about Sarina, sorry.”
Ireland WNT Squad
Goalkeepers: Courtney Brosnan (Everton), Grace Moloney (Reading), Megan Walsh (Brighton & Hove Albion), Sophie Whitehouse (Lewes).
Defenders: Harriet Scott (Birmingham City), Áine O’Gorman (Shamrock Rovers), Louise Quinn (Birmingham City), Niamh Fahey (Liverpool), Diane Caldwell (Reading), Hayley Nolan (London City Lionesses), Claire O’Riordan (Celtic), Megan Campbell (Liverpool), Chloe Mustaki (Bristol City), Tara O’Hanlon (Peamount United).
Midfielders: Katie McCabe (Arsenal), Denise O’Sullivan (North Carolina Courage), Megan Connolly (Brighton & Hove Albion), Ruesha Littlejohn (Aston Villa), Jamie Finn (Birmingham City), Ciara Grant (Hearts), Lily Agg (London City Lionesses), Sinead Farrelly (NY/NJ Gotham), Lucy Quinn (Birmingham City), Erin McLaughlin (Peamount United).
Forwards: Heather Payne (Florida State University), Leanne Kiernan (Liverpool), Abbie Larkin (Shamrock Rovers), Kyra Carusa (London City Lionesses), Amber Barrett (Potsdam Turbine), Marissa Sheva (Washington Spirit), Saoirse Noonan (Durham WFC).