Diane Caldwell's personalised attack on Pauw still casts shadow over North-South clash
Women’s UEFA Nations League Group B: Republic of Ireland v Northern Ireland (Saturday, Aviva Stadium, 1pm)
THE press conferences involving the Republic of Ireland women’s team lately have been box office – but it’s fast approaching the time when their players need to start concentrating on their football rather than grabbing negative headlines.
While the deposed Vera Pauw is history, the controversial Dutch woman is clearly not out of Ireland’s rear view just yet.
The ghost of Pauw, seemingly, still haunts some of the Irish players – notably veteran defender Diane Caldwell who felt it a wise move to drag her former manager’s name and coaching reputation through an excruciating press conference earlier this week.
It’s hard to know the rationale behind the shamelessly personalised attack on an ex-manager and who it actually served.
Given Caldwell’s wealth of experience, it might have been a better call to side-step any reference to Pauw and focus minds – and media headlines – on an actual football match that’s taking place at the Aviva Stadium this weekend – namely the inaugural UEFA Nations League showdown with Northern Ireland.
The whole unsightly episode lacked class and leadership.
Caldwell’s embittered broadside demonstrated that there is still a fair degree of negative energy floating around the Irish camp especially at a time when they are under new leadership with admirable backing from the FAI’s top brass and an exciting 18 months of football paved in front of them.
Caldwell was the kind of distraction the new interim manager and former assistant to Pauw, Eileen Gleeson, could have done without this week – just as the squad could have done without Pauw’s incendiary press briefing in Tallaght just days before the World Cup finals.
It’s hard to know what head space the current group of Irish players are in right now.
If they’re still thinking about what might have been Down Under, they will give Northern Ireland a bigger chance of springing an upset in the Irish capital on Saturday.
On paper, this Nations League tie should be easily enough negotiated by Gleeson’s squad who added defender Caitlin Hayes from Celtic yesterday after her Irish citizenship application was completed.
After all, Gleeson can call upon a host of Irish players from the Women’s Super League and the America’s Soccer League [NWSL] – two of the powerhouse leagues in women's football – while the north draw the vast majority of their players from the local Irish League.
The events of the last couple of months in the corridors of Abbotstown have put the upheaval in the northern camp firmly in the shade.
It took the IFA eight months to find a permanent successor to the outgoing Kenny Shiels who, like Pauw, will go down in history as the ones who guided their respective teams to a first-ever major tournament.
Northern Ireland’s Euro 2022 odyssey feels like a distant memory at this stage. Outclassed in their three games against Norway, Austria and England, the north’s achievement was getting to a major finals with meagre resources.
Andy Waterworth and Gail Redmond held the fort over the last eight months - losing to Wales (4-1) and Scotland (3-0) and beating Czechia (0-2) - before handing over to Aussie Tanya Oxtoby who has coached in England alongside the highly-rated Emma Hayes of Chelsea.
Oxtoby made all the right noises during her unveiling to the media at the beginning of the month, with veteran midfielder Marissa Callaghan commenting: “Her coming from the WSL and coaching players like Sam Kerr and Millie Bright, two of the best players in the world, she knows what it takes to be a top player.”
While the northern squad is laced with some quality – including Aston Villa striker Simone Magill and Lauren Wade of Reading – there is much greater depth of quality among their hosts.
It’ll be interesting to note how Gleeson goes about getting the best out of captain Katie McCabe of Arsenal and midfield schemer Denise O’Sullivan of North Carolina Courage who seemed inhibited in a holding role during the World Cup finals.
The Republic also leave the intimate surroundings of Tallaght Stadium and take their bow in the Aviva Stadium.
With over 30,000 tickets sold and an expectant home crowd descending on Lansdowne Road, it’s time the microphones were dropped for a while and the Republic of Ireland women's team started walking the walk.