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23rd Feb 2024

Ireland hungry to test themselves against the best after World Cup highs



“We would like to test ourselves against the best.”

Ireland have confirmed Eileen Gleeson as new, permanent manager, writes Fiona Shields, but have retained the core group of players that got them to the World Cup. Four more experienced players – Niamh Fahey, Aofie Mannion, Jess Ziu and Leanne Kiernan – have all made return from injury.

Gleeson’s side have two tough challenges in a short space of time in fellow World Cup side Italy and former UEFA Nations League A team Wales.

News came in, on Thursday, that Birmingham City player Jamie Finn has torn her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) during training in Florence. The Blues’ recent regular starter was controversially left out of the World Cup squad despite playing regular minutes in qualification campaign. Finn has been getting decent minutes under Gleeson in recent matches, and it is an unfortunate blow to the squad so close to UEFA Euro 2025 Qualifiers.

Jess Fitzgerald, right, and Aoife Mannion arrive for a Republic of Ireland women training session at Viola Park in Florence. (Photo by David Fitzgerald/Sportsfile)

‘Two good tests’ for Ireland

Denise O’Sullivan suffered an impact injury to her knee, which has caused excessive bruising, and is out of the reckoning, Sinead Farrelly had a slow return to pre-season after a concussion picked up in Ireland’s last game and Tyler Toland has also been ruled out of the squad due to injury.

Gleeson has also brought in some unfamiliar faces into the preparation camp in Emily Murphy and Jess Fitzgerald. This makes it the first senior call-up for the Peamount United and Wake Forest University players. After getting a taste of the highest level of competitive football, the duo want to be in the mix with the very best in the world. Up next are a strong Italian team, that won’t be easy for the Girls in Green but it is exactly what they are looking for.

“For this camp, very important that we got two good tests,” said Gleeson. “We think both teams can give us that.”

Glesson is set on using the next two games to see how well Ireland compare up against top teams in Europe. “Two good levels in terms of benchmarking ourselves and, yeah, good tests.”

Italy narrowly lost out on going through to the knock-out stages of the World Cup with a 3-2 injury time loss to South Africa meaning they finished third in group G with three points. The Italians also put on a good showing in the UEFA Nations League A, finishing second with 10 points beating the likes of Switzerland and Spain, while drawing to Sweden, the world No.5.

Wales had a tough time in the UEFA Nations League A finishing last in their group. They did manage to pick up a point after drawing to group winners Germany in a 0-0 game. Even though their results were disappointing, their experience against tough oppositions could give them an advantage.

The manager isn’t the only one looking forward to the idea of tough games ahead. The players also have an eye out for the upcoming draw on March 5 for the UEFA Euro 2025 Qualifiers. Aofie Mannion is especially looking forward to playing some big name teams.

“I think teams like England, like Spain. You know teams that were right at the top at the end of the World Cup. They’re all incredible teams and as a team we would like to test ourselves against the best.”

After a very successful Nations League campaign, winning six from six, Gleeson seems to have made a positive impact on players. With this being Niamh Fahey’s and Aoife Mannions first camp with the new manager in charge, they have only heard about Gleeson from their teammates.

“I spoke to the girls and they said what a positive environment it was,” said Fahey. “Everything is really professional, really well ran and just really good positive things.”

“I’m really keen to get in and listen to what she has to say, and really excited about that,” Mannion added. “Seems like she’s really well received and well liked.”

The Girls in Green’s first test of 2024 against Italy will kick off at 5:15pm (Irish time), on Friday February 23, in Florence – live on RTE NewsNow. Their second game is on Tuesday, February 27, in Tallaght Stadium against Wales. Kick off at 7:30pm is live on RTE 2.

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