Wales see off Ireland to burst Eileen Gleeson’s balloon

Ireland caught cold with early goals from Jessica Fishlock and Lily Woodham

Republic of Ireland 0 Wales 2

[Fishlock 7, Woodham 22]

It took eight games to burst the Eileen Gleeson balloon. The Republic of Ireland manager’s storming start, with six Nations League wins last year and a respectable draw in Italy on Friday, finally resulted in a loss.

Wales deserved their victory, catching Ireland cold with early goals from Jessica Fishlock and Lily Woodham. The reasons for defeat are clear. Too much chopping and changing. Too little Katie McCabe and Denise O’Sullivan.


And Ireland always miss Louise Quinn. The towering centre-half was needed to salvage something from this worrying February friendly with the neighbours. Still recovering from a shoulder problem, Quinn slammed the door shut on Welsh faces in the second half.

But this shaky defensive display had Gleeson’s starting XI chasing shadows from the opening gambit. Simply put, several green shirts failed to show up. Niamh Fahey’s late withdrawal with hip soreness should not have mattered, not with Diane Caldwell stepping into the back four, but another new formation and meshing of resources had Wales two-up inside 23 minutes.

They earned a seventh minute lead after winning three of four goalmouth duels from a Lily Woodham delivery. Calamitous stuff. Caitlin Hayes dampened the initial fire to concede the corner, but Gemma Evans beat her at the front post to force Courtney Brosnan down to deny Sophie Ingle. The danger was not cleared as Hayley Ladd cut the ball back for Fishlock to poke a 40th international goal.

Hayes and Amber Barrett had chances to equalise, off the same Megan Connolly corner, but a thicket of bodies and sharp reflexes from Wales goalkeeper Olivia Clark muted the 8,218 crowd.

For the second goal Rhiannon Roberts whipped a cross from the right, flicked on by Elise Hughes, before Woodham’s sliced a finish to the roof of Brosnan’s net. If all three Welsh players meant to do what they did then Ireland can have no complaints. Quinn was definitly missed.

Predictably the spectacle was enhanced by the sluggish Irish start. At least their shape remained intact, with Gleeson plumping for a 4-2-3-1 formation that shunted Leanne Kiernan to the left on the Liverpool striker’s welcome return from injury.

But the problem was the shape remained intact. Several out of position players struggled to perform. Lone forward Amber Barrett cleverly held up play, but Ruesha Littlejohn in the number 10 slot made little sense. Especially with McCabe restricted to left-back duties.

The skipper was not long expressing her frustration to Gleeson after being crowded over the sideline. Wales were containing the Ballon d’Or nominee. Far too easily. Nursing a heavily strapped hamstring, McCabe was replaced by Izzy Atkinson with 15 minutes remaining.

Half time came as a relief for Ireland. Only for Brosnan’s save from a tame Hughes shot the game would have been over. Again, collectively, the hosts were all at sea.

Ahead of the FAI board’s monthly gathering, the executive was out in force. As the directors went indoors for a hot cuppa, some bright spark noted: “Look, there’s the new men’s manager!” nodding towards under-21 coach Jim Crawford. An interim appointment may be needed to cover March friendlies against Belgium and Switzerland.

The stop-gap worked for Gleeson and the women last year but the now contracted head coach had her work cut out here. As did her assistants Colin Healy and Emma Byrne.

Wales were moving like the 24th best country in world football, not the 32nd.

The interval cull was rough on Barrett and Kiernan, less so Caldwell, because a couple of non-negotiables were clear. When fit Louise Quinn and Kyra Carusa must start. Former England under-21 Emily Murphy also arrived for her debut.

McCabe was pushed up the wing as Connolly slipped into the left of three centre halves, all marshalled by Quinn.

Down to business. Back to basics. And still no joy.

O’Sullivan was also missed this month due to a knee injury, but Jess Ziu’s return from ACL surgery partially covered the void left by the North Carolina Courage captain. Ziu is a rare footballer who can play wide or in tight pockets, with back to goal or dribbling at pace. Whenever possible, Wales kicked her. It was an effective tactic, breaking Irish momentum and getting Wales over the hour-mark with their lead intact.

It took until the 66th minute for Littlejohn to rattle an Irish shot on target. With incoming Wales coach Rhian Wilkinson watching from the stand, they were supposed to be the group in transition, not Ireland.

Not even Hayes’ injury time header could provide a consolation goal.

On to Tuesday and the Euro 2025 qualifier draw. Expect some heavyweight opposition. A Germany, an England or even world champions Spain.

Ireland: Brosnan (Everton); Payne (Everton), Caldwell (FC Zürich Frauen), Hayes (Glasgow Celtic), McCabe (Arsenal); Stapleton (Reading), Connolly (Bristol City); Ziu (West Ham United), Littlejohn (London City Lioness), Kiernan (Liverpool); Barrett (Standard Liége).

Subs: Louise Quinn (Birmingham City) for Caldwell, Emily Murphy (Wake Forest University) for Kiernan, Carusa (San Diego Wave) for Barrett (all 46), Atkinson (Crystal Palace) for McCabe (73), Agg (Birmingham City) for Stapleton (88).

Wales: Clarke; Roberts, Ladd, Evans; Green, James, Ingle, Woodham; Fishlock, Rowe, Hughes.

Subs: Holland for James, Estcourt for Roberts, Powell for Woodham (all 63), Jones for Rowe (72), Barton for Hughes, Joel for Fishlock (both 81)

Referee: Frida Mia Klarlund (Denmark).

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Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent